Blue Jays shed light on local youth league
Jays Care Foundation's investment revealed in Wednesday event
It's the difference that two hours makes.
Toronto Blue Jays ace Ricky Romero knows just how much it would have meant for him and his friends when they grew up if they'd had those two extra hours to be out on the field each day.
"It would mean a lot," Romero said. "Especially for me. I never wanted to leave the baseball diamond. I could be there 24/7, and to this day it's something that I don't take for granted. I enjoy it. I love being at the stadium and always being around my teammates. Two extra hours means a lot more work."
When work on the diamond ended on Wednesday afternoon at Rogers Centre, the left-hander, along with Drew Hutchison and Blue Jays alumni and staff, headed across town to unveil new lighting and signage in East York.
Through Jays Care Foundation, the organization invested $150,000 in the City of Toronto for lighting installation at Stan Wadlow Park. The new lights allow for two more hours of playing time each night, giving 60 more children the opportunity to play East York baseball this summer.
"It's awesome," Hutchison said. "You don't have to go home early. You just stay and keep playing. I never wanted to go home. I always wanted to keep playing, keep playing. So it's real special for them."
Over the last four years, Stan Wadlow Park has been one of the primary locations for the Blue Jays Academy Rookie League program, a summer baseball camp that operates in 40 neighbourhoods and allows more than 900 children the opportunity to engage in physical activity and develop baseball skills.
When Romero was announced as one of the division captains of the program, the entire crowd began chanting, "Ricky! Ricky! Ricky!" He was greeted to the same cheer when he walked on stage, each time his name was mentioned, and before he began his turn of speaking to his captive audience.
"I actually have my heart pumping right now, just hearing my name being called out by you guys," he said to the crowd. "I want to thank all you guys for coming out and being part of this great event. For us it means a lot to be here, to represent the Blue Jays and to see the smiles on [your] faces.
"I remember where I grew up we used to have these exact kind of events, exactly like this. I grew up in L.A., so it was the Dodgers, and they used to always send like two baseball players. I remember just being really, really happy and being in awe about just watching the guys that I was watching on TV. For me to be able to come out and do it in front of you guys, it means the world to me. Like I said, I feel like I'm pitching in a game tonight right now. That's how hard my heart's pumping."
For the ace southpaw, the event in East York was reminiscent of when he was younger. The biggest name he could remember seeing out at the ballpark was Pedro Martinez, but his appearance in front of the younger Romero was, "before he was big-time."
All of the children, parents, coaches and friends at Stan Wadlow got to meet the Blue Jays' big-timer up close and personal. After speeches were made, Romero, Hutchison and Toronto mascot Ace joined a group of children to participate in an on-field clinic run by Blue Jays instructors, including broadcasters Pat Tabler and Jose Cruz Jr.
Cathy Bradley, executive director of the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, was impressed by the excitement the audience projected.
"I go to a lot of these events all over the U.S. and throughout the world, and I'll say this is one of the most enthusiastic crowds," Bradley said to the crowd. "We're so happy that you all came to support youth baseball in your community."
The support for the ballpark extends well beyond Wednesday's event. East Yorkers donate time to baseball in the community on a regular basis, and generous Blue Jays staff and volunteers spent many man hours preparing for the project before it was unveiled.
"East York has generously provided volunteers, skilled baseball coaches and players to support the skill development of kids that would not otherwise have the opportunity to play this great game of baseball," executive director of Jays Care Foundation, Danielle Bedasse, said.
"Just a few weeks ago, our official grounds crew and volunteers from our front office, who we affectionately call our Jays Care Community Crew, spent the day here fixing up the infield, the mound, the bullpens, and sanding and painting all of the bleachers. We stand here tonight under the new lights with current players, alumni and coaches."
Stan Wadlow Park is impressive after its touch of Major League magic. The moment of the big reveal was not lost on members of the audience, or on the players that took part.
"It would have definitely been really cool to see big league players out [when I was a kid]," Hutchison said. "It would have been really special. I've loved baseball ever since I was really little. We had pretty decent facilities. I was pretty lucky growing up, but to come out here and to see them helping out the community, helping out with the facilities, this is pretty neat."
Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.