Plenty of smiles and laughs were had by all in Okotoks, Alberta, on Thursday as baseballs were flying out of the yard.
Blue Jays alumni and Jays Care Foundation partnered on Thursday for the Roberto Alomar & Friends Charity Home Run Derby presented by Allstate, held at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks, a community of approximately 25,000 people located minutes south of Calgary. The only difference in this derby from what you would see in the MLB All-Star Week is this time the fans were hitting the long balls off of the Major Leaguers.
Both corporate teams and individual fundraisers earned themselves the opportunity to get in the cage and take their swings off of a star-studded group of Blue Jays alumni including the likes of Roberto Alomar, Cecil Fielder, Lloyd Moseby, Duane Ward, Denis Boucher and Otto Velez.
Funds raised from the derby are normally put towards youth causes like Rookie League, field refurbishments and camps for underprivileged children within the province by Jays Care Foundation, but the Okotoks event is a little bit different.
In late June, southern Alberta was hit by severe flooding which devastated many communities, notably the town of High River and the Siksika First Nation, both only a few minutes' drive from the ballpark in Okotoks. All funds raised at the Okotoks event will be directed towards the flood relief efforts for both the town of High River and the Siksika Nation.
Jays Care Foundation executive director Rob Drynan says it was an easy decision.
"We normally support youth projects within the province," Drynan said. "But coming here, we realize that the No. 1 priority right now is helping those affected by the floods recover. The essentials are most important right now."
Over $60,000 was raised between the teams and individual contestants who entered the event, but not lost on Drynan is another component of the fundraiser,
"We asked for $2 donation from spectators who came out to the ballpark," he said. "We've raised over $2,000 from donations, and there is not a thousand people here."
Duane Ward, one member of the Blue Jays alumni on hand, says that making time for events like the derby is never even a question for the alumni.
"Our time [as players] is done, now it's time for us to give back," said Ward. "Everybody who has ever cheered, screamed, or booed us, this is their time. We've had ours."
Jesse Barfield echoed that sentiment in adding, "If we all had more time, we would be doing more of this kind of thing."
Thursday's derby was held at the final of three venues for this year, the first two being held in Toronto and Vancouver.
Drynan says he would like to see a return to Okotoks.
"It all starts with this beautiful facility of Seaman Stadium," he said. "The Okotoks Dawgs have been tremendously helpful and friendly hosts, and the town is down to earth and relaxed. We would like to return next year."
The Blue Jays continue to find diamonds in the rough as they look to impact all corners of Canada to truly live up to the title of Canada's team.
"We get to spend time with former teammates and that is always a blast," said Ward, "But it's about the kids, giving back to them and this beautiful country of Canada."
Jonathan Hodgson is a contributor to MLB.com.