Rookie League celebrates 26 seasons in Toronto

Program introduces children to baseball, teaches values of teamwork, cooperation

Rookie League celebrates 26 seasons in Toronto

On Thursday, July 3, for the 26th year in a row, Rookie League participants from Toronto Community Housing neighborhoods came together for the opening day of Rookie League in Toronto. Now in its 26th season, the Toronto program will serve 1,400 children and youth from 60 communities and provide employment for 180 youth, most of whom are Toronto Community Housing residents.

Through a partnership with Toronto Community Housing, the Y, Pathways to Education and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada, Rookie League will introduce 8,000 children and youth living in 140 under-resourced communities throughout all 10 provinces and the Yukon Territory to the sport of baseball as a foundation to provide opportunities for physical activity and to teach children the importance of teamwork, cooperation and self-esteem. This safe, fun, active and engaging baseball program for children ages 5-13 focuses on those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in recreational or organized sport. Toronto Blue Jays alumni Lloyd Moseby, Duane Ward, Jesse Barfield and Roberto Alomar serve as honorary managers, and 2014 Blue Jays Jose Reyes, Colby Rasmus, Casey Janssen, Dioner Navarro, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista serve as honorary captains.

As 93 percent of Canadian children ages 5-11 fail to meet physical activity guidelines, according to Active Healthy Kids Canada, 2014, programs such as Rookie League take on more and more importance, especially throughout periods with extended breaks from school supervision.

To start the Rookie League in Toronto season -- a program offered for children with limited access to summer programming, and at no cost to participants' families -- Rookie Leaguers received Blue Jays Baseball Academy T-shirts, hats and water bottles, as well as LUG backpacks, Alomar Silver Series baseball gloves and Rawlings baseball equipment. Rookie League staff -- the vast majority of whom are from Toronto Community Housing neighborhoods -- are provided with training from the Blue Jays, including a coaching clinic and an online resource.

"I hope you have an awesome time this summer," Jays Care Foundation executive director Danielle Bedasse told 2014 Rookie League in Toronto participants, who enjoyed a day of baseball drills, a barbecue lunch and an opportunity to enjoy the Blue Jays inflatables.

"You're going to learn how to play baseball, but more importantly, you're going to make some lifelong friends, and you're going to be a team when you finish this experience."

"On behalf of Toronto Community Housing, I want to thank everyone who came out today," said Greg Spearn, interim president and CEO/chief development officer of Toronto Community Housing.

"I want to thank Jays Care Foundation and the Toronto Blue Jays for taking such a leadership role in this program, and we, as Toronto Community Housing, are delighted to be part of it, as well."

On Aug. 9, Rookie League teams from across Toronto will gather at Rogers Centre, where they will enjoy dinner at the ballpark and tickets to the Blue Jays game. Later in the month, they will meet again, this time at the University of Toronto Scarborough, where Rookie League Wrap-Up day will see participants receive awards and backpacks containing school supplies for the upcoming school year.  

"This program started 26 years ago, with a few dozen kids, and lasted for one afternoon," said Bedasse. "This program has grown into itself within the past 26 years, and we are so thrilled to continue this important legacy project throughout our home. Rookie League is about more than baseball -- it is about providing Canadian children with safe and meaningful programming at critical periods, and ensuring their continued success upon completion of the season."

For more information on the Rookie League program, or to donate, visit: http://toronto.bluejays.mlb.com/tor/community/rookie_league.jsp

Matt Warner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.