May 2010

TP16: Now Batting, Johnny Mac

Whether it was braiding my hair before school, driving to early morning practices on a dewy field at the ballpark, or teaching me how to properly barbecue, my Dad has always been a big part of my childhood and my life. It was due to his love for classic rock, car racing, and lacrosse that I took an interest in those things as I grew older. He has had a key role in the person I have become today. I can only imagine the fear my father endured when at twenty-four, he become a parent to a daughter, his first-born child. My parents worked in tandem as much as possible to give myself and my two younger siblings the best life and everything possible, always putting us first. At this young age, I’m happy I can look back and have vivid memories of my parents throughout my childhood, not to mention the numerous home videos and photo albums (read: pictures of me in cardboard boxes) to look through.

I’m not at the age yet that my friends and the people around me have started having kids but I do know people that have or are planning to in the foreseeable future. Every young father I’ve met worries about new children and the skills and challenges that they will face, especially when the first child is a daughter. Even the men in my life who had sworn they would never have children in earlier years, have made mention of how scary fathering a daughter would be and how their protective instincts would naturally kick-in to gear. That’s what happened to Blue Jays Infielder, John MacDonald, when he became the proud father of a daughter a couple years ago. As a professional athlete, a lot changed when the parenting began but according to him (and the smile on his face) he couldn’t have asked for a better change.

Thirty-five year old McDonald, a native of Connecticut, was drafted to the Majors in 1996 to the Indians. After brief stints in Toronto, Detroit, and a final trade back to Toronto, McDonald has been around for quite some time. He’s witnessed changes around the league and throughout his own career, but it’s his life away from the field that has seen the biggest alterations in recent years.  

“I think first getting married changes your life. You start thinking more about two people than you do about one,” said McDonald, who’s been with his wife for well over ten years. “Then having our daughter; everything isn’t about either of us anymore, everything is all about her. I’m not looking forward to some of the things that come along with having a daughter but I am looking forward to her getting older and learning more and she’s just starting to learn how to talk now.”

Having seen baseball in the Majors since 1996, John McDonald has seen his fair share of
rookies come up and through the system. When asked if there were any skills he acquired through baseball that he can apply, McDonald thought hard before responding that the lessons and skills of parenting and being professional athlete, seem to go hand in hand in his life.

“As my role of someone that’s been here for a while, it’s teaching younger players how to go about playing the game, how to respect the game and how to be prepared. It’s not unlike watching my daughter go from crawling, to walking, to running. You see those same things and you try to help people become better,” said McDonald, of his daughter who will celebrate her second birthday in
July. “I try to help my daughter get better at anything she’s trying to do that day and I want to make sure she does it right. We have guys that continue to come up to the big leagues and you want to make sure that they’re ready and prepared and they’re getting better every day too.”

As spring turns to summer and the days grow longer, Father’s Day approaches and polka-dot ties, golf tees, and coffee mugs start flying off the shelves. This year, think about all the ways you’ve spent time with your Dad and the memories you have together. Be it current or past, those memories and bonds created will linger in thoughts for the rest of your life. The Toronto Blue Jays want to reward those memories and are holding a Father’s Day Contest in which twenty-five lucky Fathers will have the opportunity to win the chance to attend a pre-game BBQ at Rogers Centre hosted by Blue Jays Infielder, John McDonald, on Sunday, June 20th.

John MacDonald, who is often referred to as Toronto’s favourite Blue Jay and now father of a little girl, will judge the contest and pick winners based on the entries. During the 2010 Spring Training McDonald’s Father was diagnosed with cancer. Like many Father and Sons, he had a close relationship with his Father and the news was difficult to handle. In an effort to pay respect to his Father and share the importance of Fatherhood, McDonald wanted to host an event in Toronto for Blue Jays fans: a Father’s Day BBQ presented by the FAN590. According to McDonald, it will be tough to choose winners and the best entries, but what most excites him, are the stories and memories between a child and their father much like those he shares with his Dad.

“When I come to the ballpark I love seeing kids with their dads; People that are excited to be at the ball game and it’s something that they’re doing together. I think it’s important for parents to spend time with their kids; maybe it’s something that a father and son share and continue to share for years,” said McDonald of what he’ll be looking for. “Maybe it’s one game that they go to every year but they do it together and it’s something that they talk about, that can bring them closer together. I think that’s very important in relationships.”

To share with the Blue Jays what makes your Father most deserving of this experience, you can submit a written entry (no longer than 250 words) to http://www.bluejays.com/fathersday or via mail-in entry. Within the entry you must include and describe why your Father is important to you and the importance of Father’s Day. The Grand Prize for twenty-five lucky Father’s includes: two tickets to the John McDonald Father’s Day BBQ, two field level tickets to the game vs. the San Francisco Giants, two passes to attend Blue Jays Batting Practice, and two passes to attend a pre-game BBQ including a Meet & Greet with Toronto Blue Jays infielder John McDonald. Submissions will be accepted until Friday, June 11th, 2010.

Take a moment to think about all the ways your Father has had an impact on your life. Whether it was his motorcycle skills, perfectionist cooking, or the way he taught you how to throw a baseball. It’s those memories that shape the relationship you have with one another and the memories that will hold an everlasting place in your life. Thanks Dad! 

TP15: Jr. Jays

If you were at Rogers Centre for the games this weekend you would have been part of a crowd who witnessed some dynamite baseball from the Jays who are now 23-16, this season. After a great (7-3) road trip, the Jays swept the Texas Rangers in a three-game series which began Friday night to an excited crowd and pleasing weather. It is some of the young players on the team that have been a factor in the recent success the team has been seeing. As the team has gotten younger, so have the fans taking in the games. Parents, who bring their children out to the stadium, have the opportunity to give their children an experience that they’ll remember as they grow older. At My Best Jr. Jays Saturday are a good example of that, when you can observe well over six-hundred kids run the bases post-game. It is these experiences that will last a lifetime with those kids. 
I have memories of going to baseball games with my papa at a young age – glove in hand and eager to catch a glimpse of a baseball game with players who seemed eight-feet-tall. Now, I did that in the early-to-mid 90’s and with technology and various things tugging for a child’s attention from every direction it’s harder to grab their focus these days. If they love baseball, fostering their fandom of the Toronto Blue Jays and the sport will only encourage a fondness for a team that is changing. As the team is building and growing to become a key competitor in the AL East Division, the future looks bright. Any fan can attest to their love for a sports team from a young age, and these young fans will be supporters of the team as they grow and the Blue Jays flourish into something greater. 
This season, the Toronto Blue Jays re-launched their Kids Club as the Jr. Jays Club, which is pretty neat, if I do so say myself. Kids ages 4-14 can become Official Club Members by simply purchasing a Jr. Jays Club kit and activating their membership. Not only does the child receive the initial kit (with Blue Jays bits and pieces, like foam fingers and Webkinz) but they also get the chance to participate in unique opportunities like exclusive Autograph Sessions and visits to Blue Jays Batting Practice before games. In addition, there is a special event for Jr. Jays Club Members called ACE in ACTION where they will have an opportunity to go right down to the field and run around with select members of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays encourage children to stay healthy and fit and with this event, athletes who work hard to stay physically fit will lead by example for young fans. If you have a child or know of one, this Club allows young fans to get a one of a kind look at a team (up close at autograph sessions and batting practice) and to be part of a crowd while spending time with their families at the stadium. 

Buck Martinez signing autographs for Jr. Jays Club Members
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Jr. Jays are also encouraged to participate in At My Best Jr. Jays Saturday, which is open to all kids every Saturday home game at Rogers Centre. Kids are chosen to be part of the starting lineup and in game announcing and every child has the chance to run the bases post-game. As the season progresses, At My Best Jr. Jays Saturdays will take part outside of Rogers Centre and will be an interactive experience for young kids before the game. I’ll be blogging about the At My Best Jr. Jays Saturday outdoor program experience which begins May 29th, 2010 at 11:00am outside Gate 10 of Rogers Centre. In the meantime, check out the website to discover what else the Blue Jays do for young fans throughout the season. To purchase a Jr. Jays Club kit or for more information on the opportunities for young Jays fans, visit http://www.bluejays.com/kids

Kids arriving at home plate after running the bases on At My Best Jr. Jays Saturday
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TP14: Rookie League

Working for an organization that receives a lot of uninformed acknowledgments for a lack of community involvement really irks me, especially when the truth in these matters is very much the opposite. That being said, over the past month I’ve written about events and on-going affairs within various arms of the Toronto Blue Jays trying to enlighten anyone willing to read these posts. As someone who was born and raised in Toronto, I’ve seen the city change and become what it is today. Nothing from the time I was ten and playing baseball on local fields has been completely preserved and remains the same to this day, but there are some aspects of this city’s culture that will be enduring of change. What remains unvarying, are the youth within this city who eagerly take to local parks and green spaces to interact with one another throughout the summer months while engaging in fun, activities.

Growing up, my parents gave me every opportunity to try everything; every sport, club, and after-school or summer activity that I wanted, I could try. As the eldest of (what would be) three children, I watched as they did the same for my two siblings and still do, to this day. They encouraged every inclination I had to try new things and grow into who ever I wanted to be from a young age. Despite additions to the family over the years (siblings and a spoiled dog) their encouragement never changed and I continued to discover new opportunities as I got older.

For those of you who have followed from the beginning of this blog, you’re well aware of my fond memories of playing baseball at a young age. Those memories and moments, of which I speak fondly, are thanks to my parents who allowed me to be anything I wanted to be and try new things, regardless of the activity (dance was never truly my calling as I was a shy performer while wearing a leotard). I’ll never forget those mid-summer afternoons and the company I kept during championship games and early morning drives to practices on brisk spring mornings. The chance to be part of a team gave me the opportunity to learn how to be a supportive, reliable teammate to twelve other people and inadvertently taught me valuable life lessons. Sports in general act as a vehicle in teaching young athletes skills they will take with them, far beyond the field and apply them to their every day lives. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the experiences I gained thanks to the opportunities my parents gave me, doesn’t necessarily occur as naturally for others as it did for me and my siblings.

As part of their on-going initiatives within the community, Jays Care Foundation is once again partnering with Toronto Community Housing to execute Rookie League, a summer-long baseball day camp for kids who reside in Toronto Community Housing across the GTA. Rookie League presents kids ages seven to twelve, the opportunity to play baseball and be part of a team and learn life skills (like being a reliable teammate), an experience some may never have had otherwise. Let’s put this into perspective: Rookie League will impact over thirty communities across the GTA and over seven hundred kids will have the chance this summer to play baseball and receive instructional skills on the game and about life. As this city continues to expand and grow, the youth of this city should be recognized and given the opportunity to gain the skills and experiences that will make them an active part of this city as they grow.

In order for Rookie League to be successful, Jays Care holds an annual equipment drive which formally accepted only gently-used and new equipment and this year, Jays Care Foundation is making it easier for fans to donate equipment or personal donations. The equipment drive is held pre-game May 29th-30th, 2010 at Rogers Centre but donations can be made at any time online at www.bluejays.com/jayscare. The opportunity to gain experiences and like skills are invaluable to Toronto’s youth, so I urge you to consider helping Jays Care give kids the chance to learn and grow.  

TP13: Major League Dreams from a Grassroots Level

DSC02131.JPGEvery spring, when the snow on the ground melts and trees begin showing early signs of life, I fight every inclination I have to run outside with a glove and ball to play catch with any willing participants. Even when I’m stuck inside, there’s a baseball in my purse, which I toss around to temporarily entertain my urges. There’s a reason why spring provokes thoughts of baseball in my mind; I vividly recall summers of playing on a local diamond as I did every spring and summer from a very young age. The first home run, the first stolen base, or the first big win in little league baseball are memories that remain ingrained in the minds of many kids as they grow and continue their lives on and off the field.

This season, the Toronto Blue Jays are continuing their support of grassroots baseball through an initiative to cultivate Amateur Baseball in Canada by partnering with Baseball Ontario. This partnership will provide support to five divisions (Rookie, Mosquito, Pee Wee, Bantam, and Midget) which encourages the youth of Ontario to pursue their dreams beginning at an amateur level.

As someone who played baseball from the age of four, my baseball memories of being part of a team year after year, taught me so many valuable life lessons. In a country that thrives in the winter, baseball gives youth an opportunity to get outside in warmer months to be part of a team and learn new skills while developing or improving on skills previously acquired. The Toronto Blue Jays are focused on growing the game of baseball in Canada and giving an opportunity for everyone to play to game. That being said, the participation and introduction of baseball at an early age gives kids the chance to learn the game and instinctive part of their childhoods.

The Blue Jays host over thirty amateur baseball instructional clinics across Ontario each season. These clinics, which began last weekend, allow for player development with the assistance of qualified instructors and reaches out to kids ages seven to fourteen in local and provincial baseball organizations. The clinics spotlight skills such as hitting, throwing, in fielding, pitching and base running and other basic skills of the game. These skills further the initiative to foster baseball driven goals of young players, allowing them to better their skills as part of their leagues. These clinics have a direct impact on baseball at a grassroots level because they directly involve the youth of smaller communities in Ontario and plant a seed within those communities which they won’t soon forget about, furthering the growth of Canadian baseball.

Sunday, the Blue Jays highlighted their support of Baseball Ontario by hosting Amateur Baseball Day at Rogers Centre. Teams from Ontario came down to the stadium and young players representing nine teams – from the ages of eight to thirteen – were invited to be part of the starting lineup and a representative from a tenth team had the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Brendan Morrow was also in attendance pre-game as a cheque was presented to the President of Baseball Ontario for $25,000 as part of the sponsorship from the Blue Jays organization. Young players throughout the stands at Rogers Centre wore their team uniforms from various associations in the community as well as Jays caps, every player had been given.

Seeing the excitement on the face of nine-year-old part of the starting lineup dressed in his team uniform, Sunday, sparked my own memories of baseball at a young age. At the age of eleven, I hit a two-run home run in the Championship game as a member of the Wildcats. I have vibrant recollections of the white jerseys and gray pants covered in dirt and the smiles on our faces. I will forever remember the moment that I rounded third base, looking over to see twelve girls cheering and going on to win a second consecutive championship. Those memories will stay with me and return every spring at the sight of freshly painted lines on a diamond or the smell of the grass at the local park. It is those memories that stay with Major League Players as they accomplish their childhood dreams of playing in the big leagues.

Amateur Baseball Day at Rogers Centre and Amateur Baseball Clinics are only two of the ongoing initiatives the Blue Jays execute throughout the season to aid the growth of the game, locally and nationally. Youth in Ontario are fortunate to have the opportunity to play summer baseball and develop and grow as they’re part of a team and a community in cities across the country. I’ll be following this partnership between the Blue Jays and Baseball Ontario as well as the various Blue Jays Amateur Baseball weekend clinics, all season long. Baseball at a grassroots level impacts the lives of so many youth in this country every year and this season, the Blue Jays continue to encourage amateur players to pursue their Major League dreams.

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TP12: Jays Care Hits Grand Slam

Since
1992, Jays Care
Foundation has been empowering children and youth in need, inspiring
them to
make positive choices and helping them realize their dreams by providing
access
to programs that support physical activity, education, and life-skill
development.

                                                                                                 -bluejays.com/jayscare


Teamwork, involvement, contribution, commitment, passion, and
dedication; six simple
words most would not associate with both a professional baseball team
and a
charitable foundation but all of which explain the underpinning
principals
behind each entity.

On
the
field, the Toronto Blue Jays believe in the heart and hustle within the
team;
the passion and dedication it takes to work towards one goal in unity,
as each
player contributes to the best of their own abilities. The charitable
arm of
the Toronto Blue Jays, Jays Care Foundation, extends their efforts off
the
field, working to engage and inspire youth within the community through
funding
programming and various youth-based programs and organizations.

Thursday
evening
the grant recipients of 2009 were recognized during the pre-game
ceremonies at Rogers Centre prior to taking in the game and having a
chance to
chat with one another, as part of the Annual Jays Care Foundation Grand
Slam
Grants Recognition Night. Most importantly, it marked a notable occasion
in
which Jays Care Foundation awarded the selected organizations and
programs with
the funding from the Grand Slam Grants initiative.

When asked how rewarding it is to
see students succeed and benefit from teaching basic life skills, Jeff
Good,
President and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Ontario, one of the
2009
recipients, had only one word: “unbelievable.” While he spoke and
explained the specifics of how Junior Achievement influences and impacts
the
life skills of over 80,000 students a year, the smile on his face grew.
He has
witnessed the success first hand of the charity which speaks to youth
about
financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and workplace readiness in the
classroom.
Underpinning those messages are life lessons about leadership, the
importance
of staying in school, and living your dreams. Good was once told that he
had
changed the outlook of a young student and opened her eyes to a whole
new
world. “That’s what Junior Achievement will do this year 80,000 times
and most
importantly, through the support of the Jays Care Grant, we will be able
to
reach that many more students.”

It
is
through these partnerships that youth are given a chance to become who
they desire
to be and are encouraged to pursue their dreams and aspirations, no
matter
their background or upbringing. It is with that chance that these youth
will
have the opportunity to become an active part of a community, in this
city,
because of the organization behind the Blue Jays.

Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre is situated in a high-risk area of Mississauga amid a townhouse complex
which
according to staff member Lindel Merraro “allows them to be right there
for the
children.” The programs, offered for children ages
six
to twelve
, are free of charge and encourage
community participation and work towards creating positive community
involvement and interaction. The grant funding directly impacts one
aspect of
the program which is called the Kids Fun Club, an afternoon program
offering
homework help, healthy snacks and most importantly a positive place to go once
school
is done for the day. “The kids love it,” commented Merraro, while taking
in the
third inning of the Blue Jays victory Thursday at Rogers Centre. “It
directly impacts
a community that is in real need of these programs.”

Jays
Care
Foundation has put over two-million dollars back into priority
neighbourhoods across
the province through Grand Slam Grants, since its inception. Again this
year,
the Foundation has dispersed additional capital funding to local
charities. By partnering
with these organizations, youth of Toronto and Ontario are directly effected,
which gives
them a chance to recognize their goals and aspirations and allows them
to
develop life skills as they grow.

Over the span of almost one hundred
years, Moorelands Community Services has helped thousands of Toronto children living in
poverty with a
recent concentrated interest in
Flemingdon Park (a neighbourhood north of
downtown
Toronto) and engages children who
can use
the experience to improve their outlook on life. The Jays Care grants
will be
specifically directed to the City Summer Day Camp which Moorelands
offers to
children allowing them to participate with children their age through
the
summer months. The excitement that radiated from the Moorelands Director
of
Development, Robert Tomas, personified the optimistic character that
reinforces
the Moorelands programs. “Oh my gosh, it affects them tremendously,”
said Tomas
when asked if the children would directly benefit from the Jays Care
grant.
“What really gets us going and brings a smile to our faces is helping
kids
overcome their own challenges and helping them develop the ability to
think
beyond their own needs. We think of that as being the most important
gift we
can give our students.”

Speaking
with
grant recipients, I was taken aback by how few of the organizations I
was
familiar with. As someone who was born and raised in the city of Toronto, I was reminded of how
much is
often taken for granted in some areas of the city, particularly among
youth who
have naturally grown up with various opportunities. One thing that I
walked
away knowing after speaking to three recipients in particular was that
Jays
Care is spending it’s efforts to learn, partner with and support
programs which
encourage physical activity, education, and life skill development to
youth who
may not otherwise have had an opportunity. That principal would seem
simple to
a great deal of people, but I realized then, that if it wasn’t for youth
programming around the city, a lot of youth would never break out of
their
personal environments. Thursday, my outlook on youth programming
changed, and I
quickly grew passionate about spreading the awareness of all of the
influential
programs available to youth in
Toronto. Trying to convey all
that I
learned in such a brief space is difficult and though I spoke to only
three
representatives from the organizations recognized, I cannot articulate
enough
how important it is to become familiar with these programs and
organizations.