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Pirates celebrate African-American Heritage Day

The annual African-American Heritage Day celebration at PNC Park took place on June 16 when the Pirates hosted the Chicago Cubs. The two teams honored the history of Negro League baseball that night by wearing uniforms of Negro League teams from their respective cities. The Pirates wore Homestead Grays uniforms and the Cubs featured Leland Giants uniforms.

The day's festivities began with an African-American Heritage Sports Luncheon in the ballpark's Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club. The keynote speaker was former All-Star second baseman and current MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds.

The three-time Gold Glove Award winner and former American League stolen base champ (60 with the Seattle Mariners in 1987) addressed a crowd of more 250 people. He spoke about his experiences as a player and an analyst, offered his thoughts on the history of Negro League baseball, and encouraged the African-American community to continue to connect through the game of baseball.

"Harold Reynolds was a very engaging speaker and marvelous storyteller," Pirates Coordinator of Community Outreach Joel Gray said. "He spoke about lessons he learned during his 12-year career in the Major Leagues, the inspiration he embedded into his career from Negro League legend Buck O'Neil, and his thoughts on the state of baseball for generations to come. He was very well received by our audience."

Another distinguished guest at the luncheon was Curt Roberts Jr., whose father -- Curt Roberts Sr. -- was the first African-American ever to play for the Pirates. Roberts Sr. was Pittsburgh's starting second baseman in 1954. He also played for the Pirates, more sparingly, the next two seasons. Roberts Sr. passed away in 1969 at the age of 40.

Youngsters involved with The Pittsburgh Project, The Citizen Science Lab, and the Josh Gibson Foundation also attended the African-American Heritage Sports Luncheon as guests of the Pirates.

"It was great that those youths were able to be there and experience that," said Michelle Thomas of The Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA. "It's refreshing to know the Pirates' intentions are to be all-inclusive in the community. They made sure that African-American youths were included in the outreach efforts that went into that day. That's important because the Pirates have such a presence in the community."

Before the Pirates-Cubs game on African-American Heritage Day, the team welcomed students and teachers from the Perry Hilltop Corner of Hope Negro League Murals, and recognized them for their work. The Corner of Hope is a recently renovated park in Perry Hilltop on the North Side. Earlier this year, the students there worked with teachers and professional artist Sandy Kessler Kaminski to restore 20-year-old Negro League-themed murals.

In addition, the Pirates honored Pittsburgh RBI Swissvale player Eli Wilson and 2017 Josh Gibson Foundation scholarship recipient Terence Johnson-Hart, as well as additional players, coaches and families from the Pittsburgh RBI program.

The pre-game festivities concluded with Reynolds throwing a ceremonial first pitch to Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen to get the weekend series against the Cubs underway.

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