SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — One of the best things about my job is, you sometimes never know what will happen from one minute to the next.
I began today by greeting Pirates owner Bob Nutting and prez Frank Coonelly over scrambled eggs on the top floor of an ocean-side hotel in the capital city of the D.R.
Eight hours later, I was riding in a van down a rutted, twisty road in the middle of nowhere during a tropical rainstorm. Coonelly was in the seat behind me, Nutting a row in front. Roberto Clemente Jr. and his brother Luis also were aboard.
Riding shotgun was the Pirate Parrot.
Like I said, expect the unexpected.
After celebrating the opening of their Academia de Beisbol in El Toro, D.R., the Pirates brass piled into the van for a 30-minute trip to Escuela a Primaria “Madre Laura” — a public school which received $125,000 worth of materials through Pirates Charities.
Madre Laura handles more than 900 students, who attend classes in two shifts. The students come from 25 rural towns, including Estorga, Bani, La Gina, La Catalina and the sugarmill towns of La Amelia and Santa Lucia.
Money from the Pirates has paid for new computers and desks, and construction of a classroom, a perimeter wall and a dining hall. When the Pirates’ spring training home of Manatee County, Fla., donated a school bus, the team found a way to ship it to the Dominican.
This afternoon, a group of students and one of the nuns who teaches at Madre Laura rode that bus from the Pirates’ baseball academy to the school. The rest of us followed behind in the van.
As we were about halfway there, it began to pour. Still, everywhere in the streets there were children, playing in the rain. The Parrot did … well, he did that stuff he usually does with his beak and the gesturing and everything. As you might expect, none of those kids had ever before seen a 7-foot-tall green Parrot zoom through their neighborhood. They were delighted.
We toured the school — again, the Parrot was a big hit — then returned to the van. “You are a blessing to us,” one of the nuns said in Spanish as we packed up. “We have nothing to offer you in return but our thanks. Hopefully, the Lord will return your good works to you — and the Pirates will be champions!”
On the ride back to the hotel, vice president of community and public affairs Patty Paytas said the Pirates plan to have a long-term relationship with the school. The partnership is still very much in its infancy.
“No (other MLB team) really is doing something like this,” Paytas said, noting that San Diego Padres officials are taking notes on the Pirates’ progress. “So it’s, ‘How do we begin? How do we get people in Pittsburgh involved?’ We’re still trying to figure out (the school’s) needs, then we can decide who to go to and what to ask for.”
For starters, the school needs improved Internet access and various educational supplies. Another visit from the wacky Parrot would be more than welcome, too.