The Pirates Charities Fields for Kids program was founded in 2009 to provide financial support in the form of matching grants between $1,000 and $5,000 for the improvement of youth baseball and softball facilities in the region. Four years later, a total of 114 grants have been distributed as a result of the initiative.
The Fields for Kids program is open to any independent non-profit, tax-exempt organization, school or local government agency that operates youth baseball and/or softball programs within the Pirates' market area -- which is primarily Western PA, Eastern Ohio and West Virginia. Any such organization that has secured funds equal to or exceeding the requested amount may apply for a grant, and secured funds can include in-kind contributions of materials and labor.
The matching grants are available for the renovation or construction of baseball and softball fields that are used primarily by youth. Eligible projects include the upgrading of essential field components such as new sod, infields, fencing, dugouts and irrigation systems, and upgrades to the overall facility to include lights, bleachers, batting cages, scoreboards and concession stands.
The Riverside Baseball Federation in Beaver Falls, PA, was one of 11 organizations that received a Fields for Kids grant at the end of April this year. The funds will used to renovate the concessions stand and to purchase new fencing.
"We're remodeling the inside of the concession stand because it's been there since the beginning of time (laughing). We're way overdue for that," said Andy Jeannette, who serves as president of the Riverside Baseball Federation. "We're also putting up more fencing, extending our permanent fencing on our backstop so it goes all the way down to the dugouts on both sides. Right now it's a real bad area for foul balls hitting cars, and plus we lose a lot of baseballs in the woods. So that's our plan, to have that put up this year."
This is the second time Riverside has received a Fields for Kids grant and the funds from Pirates Charities not only help with the renovation and upkeep of the facility, they also enable the cost of playing youth baseball there to remain affordable. The high school baseball team in Riverside has been highly successful and is a source of community pride.
"We're a small community and a small Double-A school, so we're trying to keep our fees down to enable more kids to play," Jeannette said. "On top of that, there's field maintenance and all of the expenses that go with it. So the Pirates' grants have helped out with that tremendously.
"We were forced to raise prices a little bit for registration, but we try not to do it to the point where parents can't afford to have their kids play summer baseball. Our high school is the only team in the WPIAL that has four state titles. So we have a pretty good program. For whatever reason, we produce good baseball players and we want to keep that going."
The Wilkinsburg Baseball Association also received its second Fields for Kids grant at the end of April this year. Its field is located next to Turner School in Wilkinsburg and all of the 400-plus youngsters who play there participate in the Pittsburgh Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities (RBI) program.
"The Fields for Kids grants are very helpful because there's so much work that needs to be done and the Wilkinsburg School District just doesn't have the money to keep the field in the shape that it should be in," said David Reese, the president of the Wilkinsburg Baseball Association. "So far through the Pirates, I was able to get new benches for both dugouts as well as have the field reseeded, fertilized and then laser graded so the water will run off a lot sooner and we can play a lot faster.
"This year we're going to be able to do some repairs to our concession stand. In past years we've had several break-ins because the security on it hasn't been that good. With the new grant, I'll be able to install new metal doors -- both the entrance door and a rolling garage door -- that will aid in securing it. So primarily that's what we'll be doing this year."
Other organizations in Western Pennsylvania that received Field for Kids grant this time around included: Deer Lakes Softball Association, Friends of Collier Parks & Recreation, Oakdale Youth League, and Steel Valley Youth Baseball Association in Allegheny County; Jefferson Township Youth Organization in Fayette County; Maxwell Activities Association in Westmoreland County; Rockwood Area School District in Somerset County; and Oil City High School Baseball in Venango County. The Grant County Little League of Petersburg, WV, was also on the list.
The 11 April grants totaled nearly $50,000. In 2012, a record 31 grants were distributed.
Two more rounds of grants will be announced this year -- at the end of June and the end of September. Interested organizations must complete an application and submit all required documents for consideration. The application and additional information on the program are available here at pirates.com.