Toronto Rookie League celebrates 26th season

Toronto Rookie League celebrates 26th season

It was a cool, overcast morning when Rookie League participants from over 60 Toronto Community Housing neighborhoods gathered at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus to celebrate the end of the 26th season of Rookie League. Aug. 14 marked the conclusion of the 26th consecutive season of the Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League program in Toronto -- a day for both reflection and celebration.

Through a partnership with Toronto Community Housing, the Y, Pathways to Education and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada, Rookie League introduces 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, discipline 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 served as honorary managers, and 2014 Blue Jays Jose Reyes, Colby Rasmus, Casey Janssen, Dioner Navarro, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista served as honorary captains.

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

"One of the goals of the Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League is to remove the financial barriers between Canadian children and the physical activity they need to grow into healthy, well-rounded members of society," said Brendan Mohammed, the manager of programs and outreach at Jays Care Foundation. "Our participants are learning leadership, sportsmanship and discipline and doing it by having fun on the field."

Rookie Leaguers from across Toronto were treated to a morning of baseball activities, including hitting, throwing and base running stations -- where they could showcase the skills they learned throughout the summer -- as well as an opportunity to enjoy themselves on the Toronto Blue Jays inflatables. Following the Rookie League All-Star game, which showcases the program graduates, awards were distributed, including the coveted Victor Cameron MVP Awards. Following a lunch of traditional ball park fare -- hot dogs -- staff members were recognized for their contributions before groups made their way back to their respective neighborhoods.  

This was not, however, the first time the Rookie League community in Toronto had come together. To mark the beginning of the 2014 Rookie League season, participants gathered at Stan Wadlow Park in East York, where they received their Rookie League T-shirts, hats and Alomar Baseball baseball gloves -- all free of charge. On Aug. 9, Rookie League communities were treated to a game at Rogers Centre, where they ate pizza and cheered on their Blue Jays.  

"I really liked this camp … I liked that we learned a lot," said Cayden Faith, 11, a first-year Rookie Leaguer. "All the drills help us and teach us about baseball. Meeting new friends and learning about Rookie League was really fun."

And while participants such as Cayden may focus on the baseball aspect of the program, staff members such as Jelani Matthew understand that the program can teach participants so much more. 

"To me, the program is an investment," said Matthew. "I have witnessed Rookie League bridge gaps between communities from east to west. Participants have made new friends and relationships in many different communities. [Rookie League] has shown [participants] that every [Toronto Community Housing] tenant comes with a vast amount of experience, skills, success and hardship…that living in our communities is a great and unique experience - something to be proud of."

Special thanks are extended to our incredibly generous partners, who are vital in ensuring the continued success of the Rookie League program: LUG, Alomar Baseball, Rawlings, Maple Leaf Foods, CIBC Children's Foundation, Dr. Brian Kumer, and Dr. Janet Tamo.

For more information on the Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League, visit: www.bluejays.com/rookieleague.  

Rookie League will return in 2015 for its 27th season in Toronto!

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