MLB joins Boys & Girls Club renovation
All-Star Week project to help 700 local kids
McKEESPORT, Pa. -- The LaRosa Boys & Girls Club was a flurry of activity on Friday, as volunteers, kids and area residents joined together on a massive baseball field improvement project.About 200 community volunteers collaborated with 150 volunteers from Home Depot, representatives from KaBOOM! -- a national non-profit playground and field-building organization -- and Major League Baseball to refurbish the field at the club in McKeesport, located just outside of Pittsburgh. This is the second time MLB has partnered with KaBOOM! and Home Depot for a youth baseball field project during All-Star Week, with the first during All-Star Week 2005 in Detroit. MLB supports a variety of youth field refurbishment projects throughout each year, and will continue with several other projects during this year's All-Star Week as well. Brandon Lewis, 12, expressed his thanks and said he thought "it's cool" that people would take time out to refurbish their field. He's been involved with the club for three years and enjoys playing baseball there. "It's fun being with all your friends [at the club] -- it's just a time to have fun," Lewis said. "[Baseball is] a real fun sport to play because it's only one, two, three and you're out. You get to catch the ball, hit the ball, hit homers -- I like being a baseball player." As a disc jockey spun tunes over on the club's nearby basketball court, new sod was put down in the baseball field's outfield, new clay spread over the infield, new outfield fencing and a perimeter fence were built, and a concession stand and storage shed were constructed, along with a new batting cage and dugouts. The various volunteers and club members happily wheeled around piles of sod to be spread out, carefully laid down and blended in the sod patches, raked out the mounds of infield clay, packed it down with an infield roller and measured out baselines for the field. By the end of the afternoon, both the kids and adults had grimy hands and shirts, but judging by the grins on their faces, no one seemed to mind. The LaRosa Boys & Girls Club representatives were excited about the sudden transformation of the field. "This is a great event," commented Tom Maglicco, executive director of the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club, as he hurried across the field all smiles to direct the sod-layers and dirt-rakers.
Seven-time All-Star and former Pittsburgh Pirate Al Oliver joined in the festivities at the club as well. He held court with a group of kids in the outfield, sharing stories about his playing days and encouraging them to do their best and make positive choices in life.Oliver said he was happy to get involved with a project that would benefit children. He currently lives in Portsmouth, Ohio, and is active with the YMCA there. He was involved with Boys & Girls Clubs during his Major League career and said he has enjoyed working with youth-related organizations throughout his life. "As soon as I heard Boys & Girls Club, I jumped on that," said Oliver. "I really believe that it's important for our young people today to make positive choices. ... The younger we are when we learn, then we just carry those things on." In another corner of the outfield, the Pirate mascot entertained the kids as he posed for photos, danced and played "Simon says" with them. The club members were happy to see the renovations and can't wait to try out the new field. Kasey Dansak, 10, said she's been involved in baseball and basketball activities and camps with the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club for two years so far and said she likes baseball because "it's the only sport you can strike out in." "Half the fun of it is striking out and then coming up with a big hit the next time you're up," Dansak said. Devin Hill, 9, has been with the club for three years and said he enjoys playing in the gym and getting involved in games and activities there, such as baseball. "It's a fun activity I can do in the summer, so I don't have to sit in the house," Hill said. "[The new field] is very cool -- the Boys & Girls Club in McKeesport rules." The dignitaries present, including McKeesport Mayor James R. Brewster, U.S. Representative Mike Doyle, State Senator Sean Logan, McKeesport City Councilman Michael E. Cherepko and MLB's vice president of community affairs Tom Brasuell, the volunteers and kids gathered for a board-cutting ceremony at the end of the day's work. Then ceremonial first pitches were thrown by representatives from Home Depot, KaBOOM!, the Boys & Girls Club and MLB's Brasuell to christen the refurbished field. "This ground that we're standing on -- future kids, and you [kids] here are going to be able to play, enjoy and learn baseball and softball -- we hope it's going to produce future Major Leaguers one day," said Brasuell. With the bright green grass covering the outfield, the fresh infield dirt just waiting to be slid in and Oliver standing nearby reminding them he was just like them not so very long ago, the kids seemed to think that perhaps those big-league dreams could come true for them one day also.
Christie Cowles is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.