The cul de sac at Mazeroski Way outside PNC Park was a festive scene just before 9 a.m. ET on Saturday, as the Pirates and approximately 1,000 of their fans prepared for the start of the Pirates Charities Family Walk presented by Highmark and Allegheny Health Network.
There was abundant sunshine and crystal blue skies. A DJ and the Pirate Parrot had folks dancing to upbeat hits by artists such as the Spice Girls, Stevie Wonder and David Bowie. Manager Derek Shelton and pitchers Wil Crowe, Chris Stratton, Chase De Jong and JT Brubaker — decked out in their crisp, white Pirates jerseys — chatted with fans and posed for pictures as the crowd included many families with young children.
Master of ceremonies Joe Klimchak proclaimed: “It’s a party at the best ballpark in America, and all in support of a great cause.”
The goals of the event were to bring increased awareness to the importance of mental health, help reduce the stigmas surrounding mental health and raise funds for critical mental health programming and initiatives in the Pittsburgh area.
The Pirates Charities Family Walk took participants on a non-competitive, one-mile stroll throughout PNC Park that included the main and upper concourses, the left-field and home-plate rotundas and the players’ garage — and then onto the field along the warning track before finishing at home plate. There, fans were greeted by Shelton and Pirates president Travis Williams with high-fives and more picture taking. The course was designed with accessibility and inclusivity in mind and thus was fully ADA accessible.
“We at Pirates Charities, along with our community partners, feel it’s our duty to try and reduce the stigmas surrounding mental health,” said Jacque Skowvron, executive director of Pirates Charities. “We want to make sure people know that it’s OK not to be OK, and if they need help, to seek it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. We’ve all had times in our lives when we haven’t felt quite right.”
“Yeah, that’s the big thing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” added Brubaker, a 28-year-old right-hander in his third season with the Pirates. “Honestly, if I didn’t ask for help at certain points along the way, I don’t think I’d be where I am today. Mental health is very important.”
Participants received a commemorative black and gold Pirates Charities Family Walk T-shirt and a voucher for two free tickets to an upcoming home game. Everyone was also treated to a post-walk carnival on PNC Park’s newly enhanced Riverwalk that featured food and beverages, family-friendly games and activities, music and additional opportunities to interact with members of the Pirates.
In addition, representatives from AHN, Highmark and local mental health organizations — such as the American Federation for Suicide Prevention, Canine Companions, EMBRACE, Joggin’ for Men, Chuckie Mahoney Foundation, NAMI, and People’s Oakland — were on hand to talk and provide information.
“The collaboration with the Pirates for this event was wonderful and it helps bring to light the importance of the topic,” said Dr. William Davies of Allegheny Health Network. “What’s most important about today is that we all come together with one purpose. It doesn’t matter what neighborhood or community you come from. We are here as one Pittsburgh family to bring awareness and our loving support to the mental-health needs of our region and to be the sparks of change that will help transform the lives of those who are suffering.”