Jays Care refurbishes downtown Toronto park

Through Field of Dreams grants program, foundation funds projects for baseball diamonds

Jays Care refurbishes downtown Toronto park

TORONTO -- Jays Care Foundation, the charitable arm of the Blue Jays, continued its eventful summer Thursday evening, undertaking an exciting new initiative for youth at one of Toronto's most historic parks.

Members of Jays Care, representatives from Toronto Playgrounds House League Baseball, Toronto city councilor Mike Layton and over 100 youth baseball players gathered at Christie Pits Park in downtown Toronto to announce a $150,000 Field of Dreams investment, which will go toward the installation of lights on Diamond No. 3 at Christie Pits.

"We're so excited to be a part of such an initiative that will impact so many youth in Toronto," Jays Care Foundation executive director Robert Witchel said. "With the population of baseball growing over the last few years, the number of kids interested in Toronto Playgrounds House League Baseball has jumped from 400 to 1,000. They have a waiting list for membership in their leagues at every level of play.

"The lights will represent an additional two and a half hours of play every day, which is an extra 350 hours per season of baseball and 35 percent increase in diamond usage. The major criteria for us was how many kids will be able to play as a result of this."

Through its Field of Dreams grants program, Jays Care funds projects that create or refurbish baseball diamonds across Canada. To date, Jays Care has invested over to $8.15 million toward the creation of 78 safe youth spaces -- including 44 baseball diamonds.

"I think in terms of granting significant funds for infrastructure improvement, this program makes us pretty unique in terms of the country," Witchel said. "There just aren't many resources available, and I think it's our way of showing the country that supports the team that we want to support them, too. The way we do that is to create programs and safe spaces for kids to play."

Christie Pits' origins date back to the early 1900s. The 8.9 hectare park features three baseball diamonds, basketball and volleyball courts, pools, as well as a community garden and has been home to several youth leagues, including Toronto Playgrounds House League Baseball, the lone youth league in Toronto's downtown core.

Much like Jays Care, Toronto Playgrounds House League Baseball attempts to build avenues for youth to develop life skills through sport in a safe and welcoming environment, which made the partnership an ideal fit.

The announcement adds to what has already been a successful season for Jays Care. This season, the Field of Dreams program has invested over $1.4 million in safe space infrastructure across the country, while total Jays Care investments across Canada will surpass $5 million.

"With our programs, we're working with some of the most marginalized youth in the country, and that's what we want to make an impact on all year," Witchel said. "We're growing rapidly and we really appreciate the support of everyone."

Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.