U of T joined the Jays Care Foundation to bring baseball to youth from vulnerable neighbourhoods

The Varsity Blues men’s baseball team and the Jays Care Foundation teamed up this past Saturday to run a baseball clinic for kids from vulnerable neighbourhoods. The event featured several Blues baseball players who ran drills to introduce baseball to the kids  and give them the opportunity to play a sport that they might not otherwise have the chance to play.

The event was hosted by the Jays Care Foundation and KidSport Ontario, which recently received a $50,000 grant from Jays Care. The grant is designed to give children, who would usually not be able to participate in baseball, the opportunity to play during the 2013 season.  It will be distributed to families that cannot afford the cost of baseball registration and equipment.

The event this past weekend aimed to introduce participants to the sport of baseball and give them the chance to have some fun while trying a new sport.

“It’s really about removing barriers from access to baseball. A lot of these kids have never played before, and a lot of kids are newcomers to Canada,” said Brendan Mohammed of the Jays Care Foundation. “This is about introducing them to baseball and having them be physically active through the sport of baseball.”

“It’s just kind of opening a door for them, giving them a taste of the sport,” added Blues outfielder Jonathan Isaac.

The event was also intended, in part, to promote baseball’s popularity among youths in Canada. “This is for the kids. Some of these kids will never get an opportunity to see a baseball field, and this is an opportunity for them to do that,” said Blues head coach Jim Sheppard.

“U of T baseball has been doing events like this for years,” noted pitching coach Nick Cunjak. “The goal is to help promote the game of baseball in Canada and to give these kids an option other than hockey or some other sport out there.”

During the clinic part of the event, Varsity Blues’ players taught the skills involved in hitting, base running, and fielding. Both Blues players and participants seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, with smiles beaming on the faces of the kids across the sports complex.

“You walk out of here with a good feeling. I get a good feeling just by watching, so I’m sure they are getting a good feeling participating,” noted Sheppard.

The morning ended with a talk given to the kids by Blues’ player Patrick Jachyra, who spoke about his experience as an immigrant to Canada. He grew up in a rough neighbourhood and did not learn English until the third grade. Jachyra explained how baseball and school helped him make the right choices in life to eventually turn his life in the right direction.

“Life is kind of like baseball ­— it’s got strikes, outs, and home runs. Sometimes we make mistakes in our lives and we get a strike. Sometimes we get lucky and get on bases. Sometimes when we work really hard in our lives we can get a home run,” explained Jachyra.

As the event concluded, those involved spoke about the benefits to both the kids and the players involved in hosting the event and the community at large.

“Everybody wins in this situation. The kids get to have a fun day and our players get to take on some leadership roles, and the community benefits because we’re out there teaching baseball,” said Cunjak.

“We feel that when everything is all said and done, when our guys go out into the work field or be a parent, educator or whatever, this is where it starts — this is the exposure that they need and this is what can turn one of our guys onto teaching, or a leadership position” added Sheppard.

Sheppard was also grateful for the opportunity given to the Blues by Jays Care Foundation to come in and participate in the clinic.

“By the Jays doing this, it gives us an ‘in’ to help, and that’s what we’re about,” said Sheppard.

The Blues players involved had nothing but positive things to say about the opportunity and looked forward to future community events such as this.

“Any opportunity we have to help out, we’re going to take it,” said Isaac.

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