The game played in PNC Park Friday night wasn't the most important battle that took place inside the stadium's walls.
The real battle wasn't even visible to the naked eye.
The Pirates organization partnered with Mylan Specialty L.P. on Friday to sponsor PNC Park's first ever Allergy Awareness Night. For their first edition, the Pirates chose to focus on life-threatening peanut allergies.
“We are excited to work with Mylan to ensure increased awareness of this important issue, and to help provide a fun experience at PNC Park for our dedicated fans with life-threatening allergies,” said Pirates president Frank Coonelly. “Pirates baseball is one of the hottest tickets in town and we want to take steps to ensure all fans are able to enjoy the best ballpark in America.”
Not only are peanut allergies the most common food allergies among children, but it hits very close to home for the Pirate organization.
Pirate coach Mark Strittmatter is all too familiar with the health risks associated with this all-too-common issue.
"Peanuts may be a baseball tradition, but not everyone can enjoy them safely. In fact, my own son—of course a huge Pirates fan—has a life-threatening peanut allergy," said Strittmatter.
"That’s why I’m so proud the Pirates are partnering with Mylan Specialty L.P. to raise awareness of life-threatening allergies. I want to make sure that all our fans are able to enjoy Pirates games,” the Pirate coach added.
Of course, Strittmatter's son isn't the only person facing this relatively overlooked affliction. In fact, food allergies in general are more common than most people realize. The only thing separating a peanut allergy's adverse effects is the severity.
That word may not be familiar to you, but mentioning it around someone suffering from this would evoke a cautious reaction.
The Pittsburgh Pirates' website describes anaphylaxis like this:
Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that has many possible triggers, occurs quickly, without warning and should be treated immediately with epinephrine. Symptoms may include hives or redness of the skin, tightness in the throat, nausea, dizziness, breathing problems and/or a decrease in blood pressure.
They then go on to mention that epinephrine is the only "first-line treatment" for anaphylaxis, and people at risk must have the naturally occurring hormone available at a moment's notice.
At the very least, peanut allergies are an unavoidable, life-altering situation. At their worst, they're, well, worse than that.
The severity, and the prevalence of this allergy, is exactly why awareness is important. That, at least in a sense, is where I come in.
I attended Friday night's game for non-baseball purposes.
I spent the first half of my night in the press room on purpose. When I decided to take a trip down to “The Deck,” I wanted it to look different.
Allergy Awareness Night isn’t about the allergy itself. It’s about promoting awareness so simple things like this can be made possible more often.
"Life-threatening allergies are a growing public health problem, particularly among children and teens. In fact, a recent study shows as many as one in 13 children in the U.S. suffer from a food allergy,” said Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan Inc. “We are proud to partner with our hometown team to help the people of Pittsburgh and their family members with life-threatening peanut allergies experience the fun and excitement of a night out at the ball park.”
I wanted to feel that when I entered Section 335 and walked the length of The Deck. The press room certainly holds its advantages in terms of observing the game itself, but it does lack a certain human quality. Baseball, at least for me, is defined by that human quality, and that was never truer on Friday night.
I knew it would be different from the second I approached. A sign stating “Private Event: No Access Past This Point” blocked my way, and I had to ask the gentleman standing guard at the gate very nicely if I could pass through. I stated my purpose, and he let me in.
The first feeling that came to me after turning my attention to the section before me was the happiness emanating from every kid and the adults sitting with them. It was contagious. I didn’t know any of these people personally, but you could tell this meant something to them.
Away from any, and all, danger Friday night was just about baseball, in a way that they may not have enjoyed before. The atmosphere was cozy, and the people were happy.
Most of that can be attributed to the food stand located directly behind their seats.
The food was still food per say, but it didn’t include one thing (peanuts) that most people associate directly with America’s pastime. Everything on the menu, from nachos to salsa to hot dog buns, had their ingredients laid out on a custom-made, peanut-conscious menu.
This allowed kids to order whatever they liked on the menu without a care in the world. They even had two salads on the menu for the ultra-health conscious individual.
PNC Park has played host to 35 Pirate victories this season, but Friday's was the biggest. Despite the team's heart-wrenching 9-8 defeat at the hands of the Padres, this was a game everyone could go home feeling good about.
Friday night's game was the 12th sellout of the Pirates' season, and that was due, in part, to the individuals sitting by the enormous scoreboard in left field. Their presence goes back to Coonelly saying, "We want to take steps to ensure all fans are able to enjoy the best ballpark in America.”
They should, and they did.
That's how it should be, and steps should be taken to make this more than a one-time thing.
Since Friday night's event was all about raising awareness, let me do my part by supplying you with some more information:
- Strittmatter spoke to fans Friday night via Jumbotron, asking everyone to take a look at myallergysurvey.com. If you have a chance, check it out. It's quick, easy and there's a ton of information.
- Check out foodallergyfoundation.org. More major league teams are taking part in events like this. The foundation's site will tell you when and where to find them.
- This cause has a whole blog dedicated to it. Peanutfreebaseball.com tells you where to find events like this in the minor leagues as well as the majors.
- Lastly, so you're aware of the attention this movement is getting, NBC Nightly News had a feature on it. Watch the short video here.
Admittedly, I didn't know much about any of this prior to Friday night's festivities, but now I'm completely aware.
The information is out there. The Pirate organization, and every other participating group, should be proud.
Baseball, and sports in general, have a chance to raise awareness like many groups cannot. There are thousands of eyes on professional sports franchises every time they take the field, court or rink. If one person leaves that game, or turns their TV off, knowing more than they did before about something like this, then it's a victory.
Congratulations, Pittsburgh Pirates. Not only does the Steel City have their baseball team back again, but Friday night allowed everyone to enjoy the ride.
*Quotes supplied by Kenneth Meyer.