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Blue Jays' The Curve Ball event a big hit

Fundraiser raises money to remove barriers for underprivileged youth

Special to

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays welcomed an estimated 1,000 VIP guests to Rogers Centre on Monday night for an annual charitable event, The Curve Ball, which helps raise money to remove barriers in sport and education for children and youth in under-resourced communities across Canada.

Front-office executives, players, coaches and alumni were among those in attendance for the event, which was presented by Rogers, Cisco, Samsung and Ericsson, and in support of the Jays Care Foundation. Season-ticket holders and corporate sponsors mingled with Blue Jays personnel on a darkened Rogers Centre field that was lit up with shades of blue and purple.

Lined up across the infield were auction display stands that consisted of prizes, including a trip to New York City, unique custom baseball bats that were designed through the input of players, a pitching lesson with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and much more. Live and silent auctions were held throughout the night to award prize winners in an event emceed by Sportsnet's Jamie Campbell and Evanka Osmak.

"It's a tremendous fundraiser, one of our biggest events," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "The Jays Care Foundation does a lot of great events, but as far as a night out, the players really enjoy it as well. They get to relax and interact with the fans at more of a laid-back pace and it's done really, really well."

As enjoyable as it was to be treated to a gourmet dinner and live music, the cause of the event -- and the dividends it pays for others -- was the consensus highlight of the night for the Blue Jays brass.

"The Jays Care Foundation keeps growing and doing a better job," Anthopoulos said. "Under the leadership of Paul Beeston, we have done so much more at the grassroots levels -- the camps across Canada, everything."

The Curve Ball is one of many charitable events the Blue Jays and Jays Care Foundation hold each year to pump money and resources back into communities across the country. Provincial-wide, underprivileged youth have been able to participate in baseball programs in properly equipped facilities and get instruction from their favorite Blue Jays players. The dedicated efforts of the Jays Care Foundation led to the Blue Jays being named the 2012 recipient of the MLB Commissioner's Award for Philanthropic Excellence.

It's not something that Beeston, the president and CEO of the Blue Jays, takes lightly.

"I think it's very important," Beeston said. "The Jays Care Foundation is a terrific organization and they do a great job of giving back to the community."

Anthopoulos said it's a warranted achievement for the people that put in tireless work behind the scenes.

"To be honored by the Commissioner's Office when there are 30 clubs is amazing because the other 29 clubs are doing amazing things as well," Anthopoulos said.

Rob Drynan, the executive director of the Jays Care Foundation, is one of the many people who helps the charitable arm of the Blue Jays tick. But for all the work Drynan does, he felt compelled to tip his cap to the players for committing one of their rare off-days to make the event possible.

"The players are a big inspiration to the fans," Drynan said. "This is a day off for them, and it's great for us and great for this city that they would come to this and get to meet their fans.

"It's on the field, it's on their home. There is no other chance where you get to experience the field like this. To have the players and the field, it's pretty spectacular."

The Jays Care Foundation has invested more than $7.5 million in Canada's children and communities.

Chris Toman is a contributor to

Toronto Blue Jays