Blue Jays kick off 24th year of Rookie League

Blue Jays kick off 24th year of Rookie League

Blue Jays kick off 24th year of Rookie League
TORONTO -- Stan Wadlow Park in East York, Ontario, was home to some special guests on Wednesday.

J.P. Arencibia, Ricky Romero, and Rajai Davis were on hand to kick off the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Academy's 24th season of Rookie League programs.

The Rookie League, through partnerships with the Jays Care Foundation, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada and Toronto Community Housing, has established programs in 10 provinces and, in Toronto, serves 900 children from 44 different neighborhoods across the city.

Wednesday marked Opening Day festivities, which included speeches from the players and skills and drill stations, while all of the attendees were given hats, shirts and baseball gloves. Each of the 44 communities were also given a bag of baseball equipment that will be taken back to their neighborhoods.

"The things that touch our hearts is that it brings communities together," said Danielle Bedasse, executive director of the Jays Care Foundation. "It brings kids to meet and play with other kids that they necesarily would not have met. It brings neighborhoods together, they get to travel and it shows them other parts of their city.

"This is about providing opportunities, creating neat experiences, getting kids active and healthy, and teamwork."

The kids will form teams based on region on Thursdays in three different ballparks around the city for the next eight weeks, before finishing at the Rogers Centre. During the week, they will play in their own communities and there have been coaches hired to lead the events.

The group of 900 will get together twice more this summer.

"When you come out to things like this, the biggest thing is just to have fun and enjoy yourself," Romero said. "It's their summer, they are out of school, you just try to have fun with them.

"This is a time you get to come out and you get to be a kid, and that is something no one can take away from you."

Major League Baseball will host the fourth annual junior RBI Classic during the All-Star festivities in Kansas City, and of the eight teams from North America that will be present, one will come from Toronto -- a group that was on hand at Stan Wadlow on Wednesday.

The RBI program is in its third year of affiliation and operation by the Blue Jays, and represents kids aged 5-12.

All the kids got to have their photo taken with the Blue Jays, and although it was announced that Arencibia, Davis, and Romero wouldn't be signing autographs, they ended up doing just that.

"This is something that I really didn't have the opportunity to have -- someone at the Major League level come and talk to me as a kid," Davis said. "It's a good opportunity for them. It's nice to be able to say I did something for this community.

"My goal is to bring a little bit of hope, even if it's to just one person, to do something bigger than they thought they could."

Arencibia remembers his first meeting a Major League player, and what that moment was like for him. It's why he never gets tired of coming to these events, and returning the back the favor.

"I just remember being a huge fan since I was kid, and being able to meet big leaguers was like the coolest thing in the world for me," Arencibia said. "I remember the ones that went out and gave the time and gave the opportunity to say hi or just talk to, I remember how cool I thought it was.

"Any opportunity I get and can be a part of something like this, it's a no-brainer for me."

Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.