Bucs begin Puerto Rico disaster relief drive

Supplies to be collected 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday before leaving for island

Bucs begin Puerto Rico disaster relief drive

PITTSBURGH -- Francisco Cervelli was standing outside PNC Park on Monday evening when a fan approached him and asked for a picture. The woman had something in return, too: a donation she felt was a long time in the making. She was too young to have helped Roberto Clemente, she told Cervelli, but she could now help the Pirates as they seek to aid Clemente's homeland in a time of need.

For 12 hours on Monday, members of the Pirates' organization unloaded items from the steady stream of vehicles that circled around the cul-de-sac on Mazeroski Way. They'll do the same thing in front of Bill Mazeroski's statue from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. on Tuesday, gathering needed relief supplies for Puerto Rico as the island recovers from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.

"This is about human beings helping other human beings," Cervelli said. "What we're seeing today is there's more good people in this world than bad people. It's just lines of cars and cars and cars donating things."

Cervelli, Sean Rodriguez, special assistant Mike Gonzalez, third-base coach Joey Cora, team president Frank Coonelly, general manager Neal Huntington and dozens of front-office staff members spent the day unloading supplies.

Kent Tekulve was there, greeting fans with Clemente T-shirts, smiles and stories. Felipe Rivero and Andrew McCutchen stopped by. University of Pittsburgh basketball coach Kevin Stallings, father of Pirates catcher Jacob, filled his car with supplies on Sunday night and emptied it outside PNC Park on Monday afternoon.

Cervelli, Rodriguez, Gonzalez, Cora, Coonelly, owner Bob Nutting and others will depart Thursday on a FedEx cargo plane that they hope to see full of items that will help the people of Puerto Rico.

"It reminds me of the legacy of Roberto Clemente," said Gonzalez, whose family mostly resides in Puerto Rico. "It reminds me that life is deeper than baseball. It's bigger than baseball. We recognize the reality. This is a family. As a family, what we do is we lift one another up.

"You look around at everyone serving -- different ethnicities, different cultures, different age groups -- coming together to tell Puerto Rico you're not alone."

They hope to see more of the same on Tuesday. The club is asking fans to donate bottled water, non-perishable food, baby formula and diapers, pet food and batteries of all kinds. As much as they gathered on Monday, they have room -- and Puerto Rico has need -- for even more.

Clemente, the Hall of Fame player and legendary humanitarian, was ever-present during Monday's relief drive on the north shore of the Allegheny River. He was represented by the No. 21 T-shirts given to each fan who made a donation and perhaps more so by the spirit that sparked the event.

Cervelli was talking to Gonzalez in the dugout late last month, kicking around traditional fundraising plans. They thought about how to best support Puerto Rico, perhaps through a donation to Yadier Molina's foundation. Then they had another idea.

"Why don't we do it in person?" Cervelli said. "Why don't we think a little bigger?"

They looped in Rodriguez. Cora, a native Puerto Rican, got involved. Gonzalez proposed a plan -- they would deliver the relief supplies themselves -- to upper management. Then Coonelly and Nutting went to work, securing a massive cargo plane thanks to FedEx.

They announced the plan on Sunday morning. All day Monday, Pittsburgh stepped up and contributed.

"Awesome. Humbling. Eye-opening," Rodriguez said. "Just to see how many people can answer the call that quickly in this city, that's a tribute to the people here. That's a tribute to Clemente, obviously, for what he did."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.