Hayden, as well as 29 of his fellow members at the Boys and Girls Club of Durham, were on hand in Oshawa, Ontario, on Friday to witness the unveiling of a new gymnasium floor and upgraded building foundation, courtesy of a $72,000 Field of Dreams Grant from Jays Care Foundation. What many of the club's members did not know, however, is that they were also to be officially welcomed as the newest site for the Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League program in Canada.
"When the Blue Jays come out to our club, it makes our members feel special and important," said Lisa McNee Baker, the executive director of BGC Durham. "To be welcomed into the Rookie League program on top of the grants provided to us by Jays Care, it adds an incredible aspect to our programming."
With the funds from the Field of Dreams grant from Jays Care, the club underwent an extensive and urgent renovation project, removing high levels of asbestos from the gymnasium floor and repairing brickwork that was in disrepair and had begun to fall from the building.
"It's beautiful. … It's such a difference," Baker said of the new gymnasium floor. "We're an anchor in the community, and we knew we needed to maintain our facilities. We have a lot of children that come here. It's wonderful to give them a fresh, clean place to play. They were very patient [during the renovations], but before, they couldn't even play half of the games in the gym because there were so many tiles that were held down by tape. The bricks near the swimming pool had started to fall, and we had to keep the kids away from that part of the building -- it was just a mess."
"We did not want kids to be displaced due to the presence of asbestos in their gymnasium, which would have forced the gym to close," said Brendan Mohammed, the manager of programs and outreach for Jays Care Foundation. "It was important to repair the floor and keep the kids in a positive and healthy environment."
On hand to help with the ceremonies and lead a Blue Jays Baseball Academy Instructional Clinic were former Blue Jays players Devon White and Duane Ward. Both men are also honorary captains in the Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League program, which celebrated 26 years and reached over 8,000 children in 140 Canadian communities in 2014.
"Personally, days like this hit home for me," said Ward. "I was a Boys and Girls Club member in my hometown. It's a privilege for me to come out to places like this -- not only to help unveil their new club, but to give these kids the power to dream big. We do that through baseball … through Rookie League. It's one of the reasons why Jays Care Foundation is so amazing and why I do everything I can to help their cause."
"The old gym floor was so cracked. … Tiles were flying all over the place, and you could fall and hurt yourself. A lot of people fell and hurt themselves," said Hayden. "The new gym floor is so cool. It's got the Blue Jays logo on it, and I feel like we can do anything we want now."
Following the presentation, the clinic and even a baseball game, club members had a chance to receive autographs from Ward and White.
For club members new and old, it was an experience to remember.
"Today," said 11-year-old Nicholas, who is a first year club member, "... today was a really cool end to camp."
To learn more about the Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League program, visit www.bluejays.com/rookieleague.