The result of a $74,500 Field of Dreams Grant from the Jays Care Foundation, Neilson Park, home to the Scarborough Baseball Association's youth team, the Scarborough Stingers, underwent a complete makeover. The newly refurbished diamond includes a new batting cage, pitching machine, infield clay and grass, a new pitcher's mound, batters and catchers boxes, two new bullpens and a backstop safety screen.
"I'll tell you a little secret," Jays Care Foundation executive director Danielle Bedasse told the 80-plus youth baseball players -- who couldn't help but smile as they explored their new home field. "It's very exciting to come down to watch the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, but I get really excited when I get to come out here, to your beautiful new ballpark, and see you play on this new diamond the Toronto Blue Jays helped to create."
Bedasse was joined by Scarborough Stingers president Greg Dennis, Ward 42 Councillor Raymond Cho, and Blue Jays Baseball Academy instructors Roberto Alomar, Sandy Alomar Sr. and Lloyd "Shaker" Moseby. The evening's emcee was Sportnet's Hugh Burrill.
"To be standing on this field right now, with the brand new grass and the red clay -- it's an awesome feeling," Dennis said. "This is a corner of Scarborough that doesn't have [a] very good baseball representation. This field helps us go way beyond the sod and the grass -- it's really about our community and about providing an opportunity for the kids in our community."
The sod and the grass, however, not to be overlooked were completed on Tuesday, when members of the Jays Care Community Crew, including the Blue Jays' grounds crew, made their way to Neilson Park to finalize the baseball diamond makeover.
"The [Blue Jays] grounds crew is happy to participate in programs like this, especially with Jays Care Foundation," said Blue Jays head groundskeeper Thomas Farrell. "The [grounds] crew is always looking for opportunities to help portray the Blue Jays in a positive light in the community -- it's a great day for all of us."
The grounds crew's expertise -- honed on the field at Rogers Centre -- did not go unnoticed by those in attendance on Thursday. While many parents remarked that the new field was much safer for their children to play on, the children themselves were far more vocal.
"I've seen fields get redone before, but this is the best one I've seen," said Nicholas Duguid, 12, a Scarborough Stinger player for four years. "The old field was rough on the infield, when you slid, it kind of hurt. Now that we have grass, this is much better. Hanging out with Blue Jays legends too, this was a really awesome day."
"Jays Cares' involvement means a lot," Cho said. "First of all, it improves the image of our community, but it also gives almost unlimited opportunity to the young players. We often talk about crimes and other issues, but when communities provide opportunities for young people, they become great leaders. This is a leadership program -- we can definitely say that."
"Since 2000, Jays Care has granted over $4 million dollars to help build 40 safe youth spaces across Canada, including the refurbishment of 20 baseball diamonds," Bedasse said. "It never gets old to see it all come together on an evening such as this."
While members of the Scarborough Stingers family -- and the Scarborough community at large -- were impressed with their new home field, it seemed to render one of the evening's guests of honour, who played at Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, momentarily speechless.
"This field is like the big leagues compared to what I grew up playing on," said Alomar, a Hall of Famer who, along with his father Sandy, and former teammate Moseby, led the youth baseball players in an instructional clinic on the new field. "It's projects like this that make what Jays Care does so special, and why I'm proud to help them provide baseball opportunities for kids across Canada."