Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

Typically, in this space, I’d lead with something regarding the Steelers and their schedule or rookie mini-camp taking place this weekend. And we will get to those later.

But first, there are more pressing things involving life – and unfortunately – death that need to be discussed.

For those not aware, for the past 17 years, I’ve been involved in Washington Youth Baseball, including as a league president for the past 11 years, first at Shetland, then at Pinto and finally, the past seven years at the Pony level.

I’ve stuck with it even though my own sons are each long gone from the program because I see the benefits it has on our local youth. And somebody else served in my positions when my kids were coming through the program, be it Tim Gorby as Pinto president, Jeff Bainer as Pony president and head of umpires, Dan Brown as treasurer or Don Zofcheck, Mark Murphy and now Rick Herrnberger as the organization president.

None has kids in the program any longer. Some are now on to having grandchildren in the league, which is great. But we all do it and remain involved for the kids.

Unfortunately, sometimes bad things happen to those kids. And in the case of 14-year-old Parker Muhleman, who passed away Monday while having yet another surgery on his heart, it can be a serious reminder that some of those kids feel like they’re your own.

You spend so much time around them, coaching, umpiring, just doing the day-to-day things around the league that you feel an attachment to the kids.

Muhleman, whose father, Dave, also is a longtime member of the WYB Board, certainly fell into that category. He was always at the baseball fields, whether he was practicing, playing or watching his friends play.

Despite his heart condition, Parker just enjoyed the game and being around the game, even though life had dealt him some hardships. You couldn’t help but root for that kid to do well.

He wasn’t the biggest. He wasn’t the fastest or strongest. But nobody got more out of their tools than Parker. He was the definition of a gamer, a kid who just loved the game and left it all on the field – until he couldn’t.

One of the most difficult things about COVID-19 last year was that Parker wasn’t able to play his second Pony League season because of health concerns. That didn’t stop him or his family from attending games. We still saw them at Lew Hays Pony Field on a regular basis cheering on his friends – and extended baseball family.

That’s what makes this loss so tough. For a kid who had issues with his heart, he sure had a lot of it.

It’s because of kids like Parker and the countless other boys and girls who just love the game that you put in the time and effort to ensure there is an outlet for their baseball enjoyment. Sometimes, life just throws us a curveball that none of us can hit.

That was certainly the case in this instance. Rest in peace, Parker.

  • While everyone is caught up in the Steelers’ strength of schedule – something we’ve known about since the end of the season – realize that the team gets onto an airplane once from Sept. 13 through Nov. 20, a span of more than two months.

The Steelers only leave the friendly confines of Heinz Field twice during that span. The first is for a flight to Green Bay Oct. 3. The second is a bus ride to Cleveland Oct. 31.

In between that are home games against the Raiders, Bengals, Broncos, Seahawks, Bears and Lions. Those are all extremely winnable games.

Win one or two of the early road games and the Steelers are set up for what will be a difficult stretch run, but one that could end in another playoff berth.

  • We’ll get our first look at the Steelers’ rookie class at rookie mini-camp this weekend. We’ll also start to get a feel for what a Matt Canada-led offense might look like.

The question arises about what that might entail. But realize that since Canada was hired as quarterbacks coach in January of 2019, he’s spoken with the media exactly one time on a Zoom call. And he hasn’t spoken at all since replacing Randy Fichtner as offensive coordinator earlier this year.

Don’t think for a second that the Steelers can’t use that uncertainty surrounding what their offense might look like this season to their advantage.

I would expect the team to be even more vanilla than usual in the preseason so as to not tip its hand.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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