The Blue Jays organization teamed up with the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) to host a day-long, special needs baseball minicamp, for some very lucky children. More than 125 special needs students were invited to attend, along with their peer mentors and student leaders from some of the local high schools.
The event was the brainchild of St. Christopher principal Patrick Mayne. Last year while visiting Detroit, Mayne saw a similar baseball camp, and decided to try and recreate the experience north of the border. Halton Catholic District School Board special education superintendent Gary Mahoney says once Mayne came up forward with the idea, the Jays were more than willing to lend a helping hand.
"He got in touch with the Jays and they had never done anything like this," Mohoney said. "But they said yes to everything. It's just so amazing."
The organizers did everything they could to give the children a Major League experience. The students participated in an adapted baseball game with everybody getting a chance to hit, run the bases, and score a run at home plate. The day even kicked off with students lining up on the foul lines for the singing of the Canadian national anthem.
"We want them to experience the kind of companionship and excitement that goes with participating in a sporting event," Mahoney said. "We also want to shine the light on the importance of physical activity. It's important for everybody, but especially for kids with special needs."
All of the special needs students and their peer mentors divided themselves into groups. Five stations were set up at various locations on the Rogers Centre field, and the children got an opportunity to practice their skills with Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells, catcher Sal Fasano and relief pitcher Jason Frasor.
Frasor showed up with a backwards cap and his Jays jersey on, immediately fitting in with all of the children. His task on the day was throwing underhand batting practice to the participants. Whenever he stopped to take a break, Frasor was immediately surrounded by a swarm of students waiting eagerly for an autograph or a picture. He says it was a chance for him to escape the everyday pressure that comes with being a Major League Baseball player and help out a great cause.
"How can you worry about what I'm doing when you've got kids like that out there?" Frasor said. "I'm glad I did it, and I just hope it brought something to their day."
Ron Nevavo is the proud father of Kaelen, one of the young special needs students who took part in the event. He says he was amazed at how patient the Jays players were with the kids, and knows it's something the students will never forget.
"It's really amazing that these guys always seem to want to give back to the community," Nevavo said. "Supporting events like this means so much to all these kids."
Mahoney agrees. After all the planning that went into the event, he says having active members of the Jays on the field, and taking part in the drills, was icing on the cake.
"It's already a jaw-dropping event that these kids will remember forever," Mahoney said. "Then you have these guys, who the kids grow up idolizing. Seeing them out there and the way they interact with the children says a lot."
Gregor Chisholm is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.