In 2013, Andrew McCutchen sent out a tweet asking Pittsburghers to wear black to the Wild Card Game. Nearly 40,000 people showed up on the North Shore in black shirts and jerseys.
This week, he’s got a new request and he’s hoping just as many respond: He wants us all to consider pitching in as volunteers to improve the lives of our fellow Pittsburghers.
As they await the imminent birth of their second child, McCutchen and his wife Maria are unveiling a nonprofit initiative with a series of volunteer events. They call it Project Pittsburgh.
The McCutchens will be helping out throughout the week at a range of nonprofits around the city to highlight the many ways we all can pitch in.
“I want to show that it’s not just me. It takes more than me,” McCutchen said. “It takes a lot of people.” Cutch Charity Week kicked off on Saturday with High School Senior Development Day at Macy’s at South Hills Village, which was planned with help from the Pittsburgh Promise.
At 8 a.m. on Saturday, a group of 20 Pittsburgh high schoolers from the Hill District’s Milliones University Prep filed off a school bus and into Macy’s to find the former Pirates star waiting for them.
The 2013 National League MVP and Roberto Clemente Award winner introduced himself modestly (“My name is Andrew McCutchen. I used to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates.”), and explained to the students what the morning would hold: They’d get advice from human resources professionals on interviewing and job hunting, and then he would help them choose professional outfits to wear on job interviews after they graduate.
McCutchen wasn’t just there to pose for selfies: Weaving his way through the men’s department, McCutchen worked with the students individually, helping several boys choose suit jackets and offering advice on details like finding a jacket with sleeves just short enough keep shirt sleeves visible.
And although his high school graduation in 2005 led directly to the MLB draft and a $1.9 million signing bonus from the Pirates, he sought to put this group of students at ease as they were being offered free clothing. As a teen, he said, his life was very different from the way it is now.
“I was the hand-me-down king,” McCutchen said with a warm smile.
Though he told the students he’s “not much of a talker,” he shared a story about enrolling at a private school where he had to wear a uniform but couldn’t afford one. His mother, he said, had to call other families at the school to see if anyone else’s son had an old, second-hand uniform that McCutchen could wear.
His goal for the day, McCutchen said, was to have the students leave the store feeling like they’d gotten something useful out of the experience.
Cutch Week continues Monday morning with McCutchen working volunteer shifts at several Light of Life Rescue Mission locations. He’ll serve meals, hand out coats, help with community cleanups and meet with community members served by the Mission.
On Tuesday, he’ll be at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh to spend time with some of the patients in their rooms and host an art therapy event.
On Wednesday, Cutch will work alongside volunteers at the Homeless Children’s Education Fund in the morning, then visit the Free Store in Braddock to meet with local kids, take donations and sort clothing. He’ll end the day at the Carnegie Library on Federal Street volunteering with the Reading Buddies program.
McCutchen’s message seems to be getting through: Shifts to volunteer alongside him at these nonprofits are, as you might have guessed, all filled.
Although he’s been away from baseball due to an injury (he’s five months out from ACL surgery, and just returned to limited batting practice this week), McCutchen is excited to work with kids this week and said he expects to be ready for a good season when spring training begins in February.
In the meantime, he said, this week his goal is to spread the word about volunteering and to see what kind of response Cutch Charity Week gets from Pittsburghers.
“I don’t know how many people are going to show up for the events,” McCutchen said, but he’s hopeful that the response will be strong. “I know this city always comes together for a cause. That’s what makes it special.”
McCutchen says he’s committed to the city — the place where he met Maria and they’re raising their growing family. His wife grew up just two hours away and her family is here, so they decided early on that Pittsburgh is their permanent home no matter where he plays baseball. (He pointed out that it’s always good to have grandparents nearby as trusted babysitters.)
At the moment, no decisions have been made about what’s on the horizon for Project Pittsburgh — and Cutch told NEXTpittsburgh he’s good with that. Depending on how people respond and what he learns during this immersive week of volunteering citywide, he and his team will work on what might be next.
But this week, he said, he’s focusing on the needs and the people right in front of him.
“As a wise man named Clint Hurdle once told me,” McCutchen said, “just be where your feet are.”