Friday's four-hour National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) session was an added bonus for the 565 amateur baseball coaches from across Canada who have descended upon the Rogers Centre to participate in the second annual Blue Jays Baseball Academy National Coaching Clinic. The clinic started Friday and runs through Sunday, and consists of two days of professional development for baseball coaches from coast to coast.
Participants have congregated in Toronto to hone their coaching skills, and the Blue Jays -- fully committed to giving back to the community and supporting amateur baseball in Canada -- were more than happy to play host for the weekend.
"As Blue Jays, we have a responsibility, not just to a city, but to an entire country," explained former Blue Jay and coaching clinic instructor, Duane Ward. "These are the men and women who are going to oversee the development of the next Joey Votto, Larry Walker, or Brett Lawrie, and it's special that the Blue Jays can be so involved in the process of growing amateur baseball in Canada."
While the clinic is officially set to start Saturday morning, participants were invited by the Blue Jays -- at no extra charge -- to take part in coaching sessions on Friday afternoon that could be put towards their professional development requirements. And after a full afternoon of coaching clinics, a Coaches Social was exactly how many participants wanted to end their day.
An hour after the completion of the day's clinics, participants gathered in the TD Comfort Clubhouse at Rogers Centre for the Coaches Social, a chance to unwind, mingle and relax while looking down upon the field they will take early Saturday morning. All 565 participants joined each other in the clubhouse, snacking and enjoying a drink or two in the company of former Blue Jays, as well as their instructors and counterparts from across Canada.
David Laing, Executive Director of Baseball BC, suggested that the Coaches Social provided a special element to the weekend's festivities.
"The coaching fraternity is best served when we're doing all sorts of talking and comparing notes and talking about the game," said Laing. "It really allows you to celebrate the game and your reasons for being involved ... to do it in a facility like this, with the people that are putting this on, it's going to be a lifetime memory for a lot of the people here."
Rob Granatstein, head coach of the Minor Rookie Team at East York Baseball echoed Laing's sentiments.
"It's fun to talk to some of the other coaches and hear about their experiences," explained Granatstein, "... and to hang out at the [Rogers Centre] is always fun."
Growing the game of baseball across Canada has always been important to the Blue Jays -- that is, after all, the point of hosting such a large-scale, nation-wide event; an integral part of growing the game of baseball is supporting and training the coaches who ensure the continuation of amateur baseball from coast-to-coast.
These coaches will leave their hotel rooms in Toronto at the end of the clinic and return to cities and towns across Canada, ensuring the next generation of Canadian athletes are properly taught the fundamentals of baseball, as well as the core values of the Blue Jays Baseball Academy: respect, knowledge, preparation, confidence, hard work and fun. It is events such as the coaches' social that remind these men and women just how much the Blue Jays, and Canadian baseball fans, appreciate all that they do.
"It's really about the kids," said Granatstein, "and about teaching them baseball. I want them to have a love for baseball like I do."
Matt Warner is a contributor to MLB.com.