The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 12, 2013

Pirates CARE-a-van brings joy

Tony Sanchez entered the room and almost immediately three children gravitated toward the Pittsburgh Pirates catcher

Two boys occupied the seats to each side of Sanchez. A third stood behind him. The kids excitedly asked questions. Sanchez answered them all – high-fives and hugs included.

The kids were smiling and laughing.

So was Sanchez.

“I think I’m having more fun than they are,” said Sanchez, who wore his No. 59 Pirates jersey as part of Wednesday’s Pirates Charities CARE-a-van stop at Boscov’s in The Galleria. “We walked in and they lit up. That automatically puts you in good spirits. It’s impossible to not be in a good mood here.”

Sanchez joined Pirates teammates outfielder Josh Harrison and pitcher Tony Watson at the charity event that provided 16 Johnstown area children, ages 5 to 10, with a meal and a shopping spree for winter coats and other attire. The Salvation Army’s Project Bundle-Up event also included Pirates broadcaster Greg Brown and coach Rick Sofield.

The Pirates Parrot mascot made an appearance near the end of the dinner and then accompanied the children on the shopping spree through Boscov’s.

“This is very special,” said Harrison, who has played with the Pirates the past three seasons, as the team made significant strides and finally ended a 20-year string of losing records with a playoff appearance in 2013. “We have a chance to give back. We can help kids get winter clothes to help them keep warm. They look at us, and we definitely can impact their day. Something like this can impact their lives.”

A quiet employees’ lounge quickly was filled with the sounds of children laughing and playing.

“For the kids it means the world to them,” said Melissa Fereday, director of Project Bundle-Up with The Salvation Army Western Pennsylvania Division. “There is a sense of self-esteem as they’re trying to get up out of bed in the morning, get dressed, go to the bus stop and go to school. To have a brand new coat and brand new boots means the world to them. For the Pirates to come out and shop with them, it means even more. It makes them feel special.”

Once the meal concluded, the group took the elevator to the second floor, where each player, Brown and Sofield took their children around the store.  

Similar scenes unfolded throughout western Pennsylvania as the Pirates CARE-a-van made a number of stops with different groups of players participating.

“We’ve seen kids all day,” Watson said. “To put a smile on their face during the holiday season, especially around Christmas, is great. It’s good for us. It’s putting a smile on my face and making me feel good about what I’m doing and that the Pirates are doing a great thing out here.”

The Pirates aren’t doing so bad on the field either.

Pittsburgh finished 94-68 – 26 games above .500. The Bucs were second in the NL Central behind the St. Louis Cardinals, eventual World Series runner-up.

The Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 in a wildcard playoff game played in front 40,487 fans – the largest crowd in PNC Park history.

“It was unreal,” Harrison said of the fan support. “I know for a fact it was the loudest place I’ve ever been in. But when you have people come up to you and say they’ve been to World Series games and the atmosphere at PNC Park was louder than that from years past, it speaks volumes about the fans and their enthusiasm for us.”

Pirates fans had waited 21 years between playoff games. Once the Bucs dispatched the Reds, the storybook finish eluded the team as St. Louis won the division series 3-2.

“The past couple years has been something different every year,” Harrison said. “First (playing competitively for) full seasons. Then you get into fighting for the playoffs. Then you get into the playoffs. We want to build off of that and take that momentum of building each year and put it together.”

Watson also feels the foundation is in place.

“Everybody is hungry for 2014 and ready to get things going,” Watson said.

 

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