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Blue Jays, Baseball Canada strengthen relationship

Special to
The Canadian baseball community is incredibly close-knit and seemingly small at times.

Players from coast to coast know what their countrymen are up to on the diamond, every Canuck watches with vested interest when a national team is competing, and all eyes are also on the Toronto Blue Jays during the Major League Baseball season.

It should come as no surprise that Canada's lone big league team would have a close relationship with its national baseball entity. The Blue Jays have a longstanding partnership with Baseball Canada that has grown even stronger in recent years.

"They help us with our high-performance teams, our national programs," Baseball Canada director and general manager Greg Hamilton said. "They help us with development programs, with camps across the country and the partnership between the two. I think it's a natural marriage of interest to grow the game in Canada.

"When the game is healthy and growing in Canada, we both benefit. There's more interest in the game, there are more athletes playing the game, and when that happens, it's mutually beneficial."

In an attempt to continue to grow America's favorite pastime north of the border, the Toronto organization has been giving more attention and focus to the cause, developing both the Blue Jays Baseball Academy and the amateur baseball program of late.

"We have always been involved in some capacity with amateur baseball in Canada, but in the last two years, we have gone above and beyond to become major supporters of amateur baseball across Canada," said T.J. Burton, coordinator of amateur baseball for the Blue Jays. "Our goal is to have as many kids across Canada as possible playing baseball."

There has been an extended series of Honda Super Camps across the nation, winter caravan tour visits all over Canada, continued support of the national teams and a newly formed partnership with Little League Canada, all in an attempt to strengthen the game within the country.

"Blue Jays president and CEO] Paul [Beeston] has always been a big proponent of our relationships in that regard," senior vice president of business operations Stephen Brooks said. "Internally, we've had a lot of good relationships with people across the country, given the nature of some of the people that work for the ballclub and their history and past involvement with the game.

"What we wanted to do was formalize that and put some resources behind it, both time and money, and the Blue Jays brand, and really try to promote the game of baseball and get kids playing across the country."

Hamilton believes that the support from the Blue Jays for Baseball Canada has a direct effect on young athletes within the country, providing additional motivation for baseball players with big league aspirations.

"It's an opportunity for our players and players in Canada to aspire to be Blue Jays, to dream about being baseball players, and to connect with the game at the highest level in the country," Hamilton said. "They're very giving to us. They allow us access to Rogers Centre and we have training camps there with our national program, our junior team in particular. They're just an invaluable partner to us."

As part of the partnership between the Blue Jays and Baseball Canada, the franchise is a major sponsor of all nine of Baseball Canada's national championships. In addition, this year the club supported all four of the national Little League championships.

This year's national winners include Ontario as champion of the Canada Cup, host Prince George, British Columbia, as the senior men's winner, Ontario the senior women's victor, Quebec the junior champion, the Okotoks Dawgs Black team as the winner of the Midget final, the Brampton Royals the winner of the Bantam boys final, Quebec the victor of Bantam girls, the Fredericton Royals the champs of Pee Wee Atlantic, and the Cloverdale Nationals as champs of the Pee Wee Western final.

The Little League champs from Hastings, British Columbia, headed to the Little League World Series earlier this summer in Williamsport, Pa. Centennial Little League won the junior league championships in Calgary, NDG Little League won the senior league championships in Montreal, and Ontario District 5 won the big league title in Windsor, Ontario.

The Blue Jays also make a contribution to the national team programs with an emphasis at the junior level.

Team Canada's junior squad is fresh off of a silver-medal win at the IBAF 18U World Championships in Seoul, South Korea, its highest finish in more than two decades. The senior squad beat Team USA to take gold at the Pan Am Games in November, the only gold in Baseball Canada senior men's history.

"We are extremely proud to be supporters of that," Brooks said. "Baseball Canada, with [director general] Jim Baba and Greg Hamilton, has done a tremendous job with the amateur game and the competitiveness of Canadian baseball on a world stage ... and we're proud to play whatever role we can to help support the continued success of that program. It's a real tremendous testimony to the strength of the game and the talent that exists in this country right now."

Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to

Toronto Blue Jays