It was one of those nights at the ballpark that the fans in attendance will remember for the rest of their lives. Corporate "heavy hitters" from across Canada, fans and friends alike, gathered at Rogers Centre on Monday to join the Blue Jays' players, front-office staff and management for a night of food, festivities and fundraising on the field.
The annual Curve Ball, hosted in support of Jays Care Foundation, is one of two Jays Care signature events -- providing attendees with unparalleled access to their Toronto Blue Jays -- all while raising money for children and youth in need.
The 2014 Curve Ball -- presented by Samsung, Cisco, Ericsson and Rogers -- saw more than 1,000 VIP guests make their way onto the field during the spectacular evening hosted by Sportsnet's Jamie Campbell and Evanka Osmak.
Melinda Rogers -- senior vice president, strategy and development for Rogers Communications Inc., and chair of the board of directors for Jays Care Foundation -- has co-chaired the Curve Ball for the past seven years. She knows firsthand both how unique the Curve Ball is and how important the funds raised are for Jays Care Foundation.
"It's definitely different from your traditional galas," Rogers said. "The entire field here at Rogers Centre has been transformed into an amazing party, you can enjoy yourself and meet the players in a very relaxed environment. The inspiration [for the Curve Ball] comes from the players themselves, who have come from all different areas and walks of life, and have achieved their dreams."
"The Curve Ball is about telling our story," said Jamie Haggarty, Curve Ball Gala co-chair, director, COO of Shop.ca and Jays Care Foundation Board member. "What better venue for telling your story than on the field of Rogers Centre? What better way to tell your story than with the players and coaches and front office in attendance?"
While mingling with Blue Jays management and players, guests enjoyed hors d'oeuvres while bidding on items in both silent and live auctions. Prizes included a private jet trip to Boston, courtesy of AirSprint Private Aviation, and a hitting lesson for two kids with Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista.
Seated at tables with Blue Jays players, management and front-office staff, guests were served a gourmet dinner, courtesy of Aramark, while enjoying a live musical performance by Soular.
After dinner, four lucky guests went home happy winners of the Acura Home Run Draw. Robert Glenny, regional VP, CTEP at Cisco, got to take home the grand prize, a 2014 Acura ILX courtesy of Acura Canada.
"This can't be real -- I've never won something like this before," Glenny said. "It's unbelievable. It's a great charity and we're very happy to continue supporting Jays Care."
"Any event Jays Care related, I'll be there," said Blue Jays senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos. "Commissioner Selig talks about this all the time -- baseball is a social institution, and every club has to carry out components of that. It's an unbelievable event -- I think the players, and especially the players' wives, love coming out to this."
Anthopoulos' sentiments were echoed by the players.
"Baseball is a great thing," said Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus. "To be able to give something back to the people who aren't as fortunate -- for the Blue Jays to be able to do that -- I think it's pretty awesome."
"[The people in attendance tonight] are our fans," said Blue Jays pitcher Dustin McGowan. "They come to our games and support us, so it's good for us to come out and support them. We enjoy it just as much as they do."
The 2014 Curve Ball Gala raised over $1 million to help Jays Care Foundation break barriers and provide access to sport and education, and build safe, dedicated spaces for recreational and educational youth programming in communities across Canada. The Curve Ball was made possible by the support of the event's generous sponsors: Samsung, Cisco, Ericsson, Rogers Communications Inc., Acura, Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, Hitron Technologies, IBM, SAS, TD Canada, Alpha Technologies, Aramark, FlexITy, LG, MADE Clothing Co., Microsoft, Oliver Wyman, New Era, Qualcomm, Sony, Sportsnet, Sun Life Financial, Turnkey Events, Urbacon, WestJet, Yahoo!, and ZTE and all of the table hosts and guests.
As the charitable arm of Canada's only MLB team, Jays Care has made a Major League commitment to invest in Canadian children and communities from coast to coast. Since 1992, Jays Care Foundation has created opportunities for children and youth through programs that focus on helping kids get active, engage in the sport of baseball, excel academically and lead healthy lives.
For more information on Jays Care Foundation programs and outreach initiatives, visit Bluejays.com/JaysCare.
Matt Warner is a contributor to MLB.com.