Miracle League fields are designed with a rubberized synthetic surface that allows children with special needs, including those who use wheelchairs and walkers, to move about safely while playing the game of baseball.
Ever since the region's first such field opened in Cranberry Township four years ago, Pirates chairman Bob Nutting has made it clear that the program and the youngsters involved are a high priority for the ballclub in general and himself in particular.
"Pirates Charities is involved in a number of different programs throughout the region that have a positive impact on families and communities, but there's nothing that I enjoy being a part of more than the Miracle League," Nutting said.
"The most remarkable thing to me is that every single one of these Miracle League fields has had someone who just put their heart and soul into the program. In every community, there has to be that catalyst, that individual who helps pull the whole program together. Here in Wheeling it was Lorraine McCardle. She just relentlessly pushed and pushed and pushed to pull the community together. We've been fortunate to have that type of person with that type of commitment at every one of our Miracle League fields."
McCardle -- who has a son with special needs -- came up with the idea of building a Miracle League Field in Wheeling five years ago, and she had a look of absolute satisfaction on her face during the dedication ceremonies and the inaugural game that followed on May 18. For years, the nearest such facility was located nearly 80 miles away in Morgantown, West Virginia.
"It took us five years, but we got our field built finally and it's going to be so awesome," McCardle said. "Now our kids are getting a chance to participate just like everyone else. Always remember, they want to play just like you or me. We just make it adaptable for them. This is so wonderful. We needed it and we will only grow from here, and I look so forward to that.
"I thank the Pirates and Mr. Nutting and everyone. I would be here all day if I thanked each and every person that has helped us in one way or another. It was Mr. Nutting that called me at home. He's a Wheeling, West Virginia person just like me, and when he offered to help us, I was thrilled."
In addition to making financial contributions to Miracle League fields such as the one in Wheeling, the Pirates also help by bringing partners to the table and lending expertise to the construction process, having been involved with several fields. The team can also raise visibility for the project as it did on May 18 when President Frank Coonelly, pitcher Mark Melancon, broadcasters Greg Brown and John Wehner and the Pirate Parrot were on hand for the festivities.
"What a cool opportunity for these kids to come out and just have a blast and enjoy this new facility that was built for them," Melancon said. "It's so neat for the Pirates' organization to give back to the community and give these kids an experience they probably wouldn't have if it wasn't for a field like this."
As he continued to survey the scene, Melancon -- who made the trip to Wheeling that day with his wife Mary Catherine and the couple's one-year-old daughter Brooklyn -- couldn't help but think about the parents of the special needs children as well.
"As a parent you want nothing more than for your kids to have a smile on their face and for them to enjoy the opportunities that other kids have, and special needs kids don't always get that same opportunity," he said. "So to have this field built for them and to see so many people helping out, I'm sure that's making this an incredible day for the parents too."