Given the challenges of unearthing infrastructure dollars for sporting facilities these days, the Sudbury baseball community will welcome with open arms any outside help they might receive.
Enter the Jays Care Foundation, the Toronto Blue Jays initiative aimed at helping kids get involved in the game, building safe places in which they can play, and supporting organizations dedicated to improving the lives of all Canadian kids.
Earlier this week, the Jays Care Foundation, in partnership with the local Fabio Belli Foundation, unveiled the new turfed infield at the Terry Fox Sports Complex, an undertaking that will not only benefit all of those who currently use the facility, but will also create a whole new program as well, all on its own.
"We always look for applications that are going to have a significant impact on the community, that have a huge amount of volunteer support," noted Robert Witchel, Executive Director of Jays Care Foundation, the group whose donation of $150,000 ultimately allowed this new and improved field to come to life.
"When we saw the application from the Fabio Belli Foundation, we noticed a few things," Witchel continued. "There is a track record of doing great community work, with key community support. But the application also included local interest in starting up a Challenger Baseball program, our program for kids living with cognitive and physical disabilities."
"That's a really important program for us."
The man behind much of the push to help further popularize baseball in our community is understandably thrilled with this latest collaborative effort. "Having Jays Care only a call away is an amazing resource for this community," suggested high-school teacher and owner of The Baseball Academy, Jean-Gilles Larocque.
"They have and will continue to open doors for us that we did not even know existed. They have helped by way of resources, networking and equipment, and we can't thank them enough." In fact, beyond simply the dollars that were doled out in northern Ontario, the Jays Care Foundation helped to bridge the partnership that allowed what was formerly the articificial turf that was used at the Rogers Centre to make its way to the infield at Terry Fox.
In the end, many should benefit from this undertaking. "I think we have now covered almost all bases with baseball opportunities in this community," added Larocque. "We have baseball all the way from t-ball to varsity at Laurentian, we have Challenger baseball with people with special needs."
"I am hoping this will allow us to have access to the field (weather permitting) in early May, and allow us to stay on until late October. This will allow for more practices and games for local players, which can only improve their play."
And that speaks volumes to the likes of Jesse Barfield, the former Blue Jay and MLB all-star, who joined Roberto Alomar and Duane Ward in not only attending the ribbon cutting ceremony in Sudbury, but also in assisting with the Jays Super Camp last week.
"Sure, we were in the limelight, playing on those big stages, but to me, I get more satisfaction from being around the kids, seeing them laugh, telling me how they're going to rip balls over my head, and me telling them that I'm going to brush them back," said Barfield.
The numbers might not be in their favour, but one never knows if a future major leaguer might be groomed right here in Sudbury. "The fact is that Canadian kids are making it and they're making a dent in major league baseball," said Barfield.
"This should fuel these kids desires to come out and be the best, to learn and take this stuff to heart and go and work on it." Still one to follow his former team closely, Barfield can empathize with the current Jays, seeing some similarities, and some differences, between what he and Lloyd Moseby and Tony Fernandez and others endured, prior to back to back championships, and the state of the current squad.
"I have no doubt those kids are going to be fine," said Barfield. "These guys now, the Vladimirs (Guerrero Jr) and (Cavan) Biggios and all of those guys, they're playing against both righties and lefties. They don't get a break."
"Some of us didn't even play against righties. It took me three years of development and they were patient with me. It's a little bit more difficult for them, but it's going to make them a lot better in the long run."