This year, while Andrew McCutchen has emerged as a legitimate National League MVP candidate, a group of local high school baseball players has had the opportunity to spend time with him through the efforts of the Pirates and The Pittsburgh Promise.
Oliver High School and Perry High School have been long-time rivals on the city's North Side, but this year they are merging into one school. McCutchen has been working with the young men from the schools' baseball teams to help ease any tensions that may have existed as they make the transition into being classmates and teammates.
On July 23, the Pirates made arrangements for the student athletes to tour the new exhibit at the Heinz History Center called "The Story of Negro League Baseball: We Are The Ship." The group also received a "We Are The Ship" book autographed by McCutchen and Sean Gibson -- the great grandson of former Negro League star Josh Gibson -- and a Homestead Grays t-shirt.
Courtesy of the All-Star outfielder, the boys also got tickets in the center field stands for that night's Pirates-Cubs contest as well as Aramark dollars to use at the concessions stands. McCutchen also visited with the group and posed for pictures before the game. It was the second time this season he has hosted the group from Oliver and Perry at PNC Park as part of his "Cutch's Crew" community outreach effort with The Pittsburgh Promise.
"Oliver and Perry are rival high schools when it comes to sports, and the adults who are involved in the merger -- whether it's in the neighborhoods or the schools -- were concerned about whether that rivalry goes beyond sports and includes territorial or even gang-related or turf issues," said Saleem Ghubril, the Executive Director of The Pittsburgh Promise. "Well, I can tell you without an ounce of hesitation that bringing the two teams together as part of 'Cutch's Crew' has very quickly eliminated any sense of rivalry. In fact, one of the most heartening things about the outing to the History Center and the game was to see the boys from the two different schools relate to each other so well and with such levity. They were having great fun together. They were joking around -- sometimes at each other's expense -- but they were clearly jelling beautifully."
The mission of the Pittsburgh Promise is to provide Pittsburgh Public School students with scholarship funds to pursue higher education and to work to reform urban public schools and develop urban neighborhoods.
McCutchen, who grew up in Ft. Meade, FL, is ever mindful of the fact that baseball has had a positive effect on his life. When asked what message he's delivered to the Oliver and Perry players he said: "Basically I've just encouraged them to come together as a team and to put all of their differences aside and play for one purpose. Guys can't be hating one another when they're on the same team playing together and trying to win. Winning will never happen unless everybody is focused on the same goal."
Naturally, young people tend to focus on the remarkable things McCutchen can do on the field, but Ghubril has been equally impressed with the way he uses baseball as a platform to deliver his thoughts and information that will help others.
"The boys are clearly aware of Andrew's star power. They get that this is somebody who is really special," Ghubril said. "Plus they get the significance of what Andrew is doing here. They're respectful of that and they're not taking it for granted. They're blessed to have the opportunity to spend some time with him and learn from him and his experiences, regardless of whether they want to pursue baseball as a career. In all likelihood they won't, but there are so many life lessons to learn from baseball and from Andrew.
"I'm very grateful to the Pirates for their interest in The Pittsburgh Promise and to Andrew for his involvement with a group of very fine young men from two urban high schools that are merging this fall. Not only is Andrew giving his time to this initiative, he's also sharing some very valuable life lessons about hard work, about studying, about focusing on doing the right thing at the right time, and about getting the fundamentals and the basics done right. It's been terrific for him to use baseball as a way to talk about some very important life principles -- and our boys are just soaking it up."