More than two months have passed since the Toronto Blue Jays, accompanied by Jays Care Foundation, visited the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston & Area as part of the 2014 Winter Tour, presented by TD. As the newest host of a Rookie League program, the impact of the visit from Jays Care Foundation, along with Blue Jays players Josh Thole, Anthony Gose, Adam Lind, Steve Delabar and manager John Gibbons, is still palpable at the club's main facility.
"The visit was amazing for both the club and for the kids," said Jeff Helsby, Programs Manager at the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston & Area. "They thought it was the coolest thing ever. They still talk about it -- they still wear the [clothes] that they got.
"As a community it was very helpful for the club. The Boys and Girls Club is kind of a hidden secret in Kingston, but the [Winter Tour] visit, and resulting press coverage, really seemed to put us on the map."
While at the Boys and Girls Club, Jays Care Foundation officially launched the first new Rookie League program of 2014, which will reach 160 children and youth in the Kingston area. Jays Care also left behind baseball equipment, which will be available to all 2,100 children and youth club members in order to increase their daily physical activity levels -- furthering the Blue Jays commitment to provide all children access to sport.
"We are incredibly excited to be partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston & Area," said Danielle Bedasse, Jays Care Foundation's Executive Director. "Rookie League is one of our flagship programs, and expanding into communities such as Kingston will ensure that over 7,900 children and youth across Canada are given the opportunity to participate in organized baseball programming in 2014."
Offered at no cost to participants, Rookie League breaks barriers between communities in need and organized sport. In preparation for the inaugural summer of Rookie League baseball in Kingston, the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston & Area has been introducing the equipment donated by Jays Care into their athletic programming.
"We haven't been able to get outside yet," Helsby said, "but we've been ... incorporating baseball activities at our sites -- learning how to catch, throw and hit -- the basics. We're trying to introduce getting the equipment used, the rules of baseball, and exactly what is going to happen when it gets nice outside."
When club members are (eventually) able to get outside and play baseball, the club will begin its Rookie League program for children and youth from the Kingston area, which will continue to run throughout the summer months.
"Our biggest goal is to provide opportunities for our kids," Helsby said. "Access to equipment has always been a barrier. Now that we have it -- thanks to Jays Care -- we're able to teach these kids a new sport. We're going to be able to reach a lot of kids who wouldn't be able to play baseball before; who maybe wouldn't have a glove, or if they did have one, wouldn't have a friend who does."
Matt Warner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.