On September 3, the Varsity Blues took on the Ontario Blue Jays in the fourth annual Michael Tambureno Memorial game. The Blues fell 6-5 to the Blue Jays, but the score was of little importance to the teams.
Tambureno played for both the Ontario Blue Jays (OBJ) (1997, 1998) and the Varsity Blues (1999-2003) after playing one year with Texarkana College in Texas. During his time with the Blues, he helped the team win its first two Ontario University Athletics (OUA) titles in 2001 and 2003. In 1999, the Blues won the Ontario East Championship and were silver medalists in the Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball association championships.
“Unfortunately I was not around when Michael was a player at U of T,” said U of T assistant baseball coach Patrick Jachyra. “From what I heard from the previous U of T head coach (Dan Lang), he was a player who always worked hard, was very supportive of his teammates, and strived to make others better around him both on and off the field,” Jachyra added.
Shortly after his time at U of T, Tambureno was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. In March 2011, Tambureno, then a Brampton school teacher and beloved teammate, died at the age of 31.
For the past four years, U of T has been hosting the game in Tambureno’s memory and to raise money and awareness for the disease. The inaugural memorial took place on June 18, 2011, shortly after Tambureno’s death, with a double header between the OBJ and the Toronto Mets.
“[The Varsity Blues] were scheduled to play the Ontario Blue Jays (OBJ) in an exhibition game in preparation for our regular season when the head coach of the OBJs, Dan Bleiwas suggested that both teams participate in a pre and post-game ceremony to honour the life and death of Michael Tambureno,” explained Jachyra.
After the game, players and coaches from both teams gathered in centre field to form the letters “ALS” and simultaneously poured coolers filled with ice water over their heads. Footage was captured by a drone rented by the teams for what they called an epic Ice Bucket Challenge.
As typical of Ice Bucket Challenge participants, the OBJ and the Blues challenged others to participate. “We have now challenged all amateur sporting and university organizations to participate in the challenge, learn more about the disease and donate to the appropriate organization,” said Jachyra.
“Each and every player who was in attendance for this game on Wednesday participated in the ice bucket challenge and after the event, many of the first-year players spoke about the fact that they felt that the event and day as a whole strengthened their collective [identity] with the current team and the great honour of representing U of T,” said Jachyra.
The OBJs donated $500 to ALS Canada and U of T donated $250. So far, Canadians have raised over 12 million dollars for ALS Canada from Ice Bucket Challenges and donations promoted by the social media campaign.
“It was a very special moment for both the family and our players to come together with the [OBJs] to remember a student athlete. The family was very appreciative of this endeavor and has participated each year we have held an exhibition game in [Tambureno’s] honor,” said Jachyra.