Toronto kids thrilled with Game Takeover event

Jays Care Foundation surprises local youth players with Major League experience

June 26th, 2019

TORONTO -- The players just thought they were heading out for an ordinary game.

Before the baseball teams from Lord Dufferin Public School and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School departed to head to the diamond at Riverdale Park East on Wednesday morning, they were told there was a surprise in store for them -- and they thought it was the gift of the brand new Blue Jays uniforms they were presented.

So when the rookie and mosquito-aged players finally arrived, they were astonished to see they had fans -- dozens of their schoolmates filling the sidelines with an immense amount of energy and cheering enthusiastically -- plus former Major Leaguers in Ricky Romero and J.P. Arencibia as their coaches, the J Force, Blue Jays public address announcer Tim Langton, a team deejay and Toronto’s mascot, Ace, welcoming them to a true big league experience in a Little League park.

“I had no idea this is what we were going to be doing today,” said Tristan Knight, a Grade 3 student at Lord Dufferin. “My mom told me this morning that my teachers were going to bring me to play baseball and I said, ‘We’ve got to run to school.’ Then we got here, practiced for a bit, we were all sharing some good thoughts, we wished the other team good luck and we get to have a really good day.

“This means a lot. I know how to play baseball because I’ve played before, but I like seeing the other people who are just starting to learn how to play. And this feels like the Major Leagues. It feels great.”

The teams at Riverdale Park East represented two of the 55 schools across Canada in which Jays Care Foundation is running the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program in partnership with MLB. The initiative creates opportunities for students to represent their institutions, build relationships with their peers, learn valuable life skills and develop a passion for sport.

“This is huge, because we were all these kids at one point before we got to play in the Major Leagues and live the dream,” Arencibia said. “But I never had the opportunity to play like this as a kid, to have walkup music, to have fans, to have that feel.

“What I like about it is that it not only gives them an opportunity to have a great feeling today, but it gives them an opportunity to have that drive, to do and strive for greater things. They see what they see on TV and never really get to be a part of it, and all of a sudden you’re a part of it and you get that feeling. Hopefully it pushes them to want to do great things with whatever they do in life.”

Added Romero: “This is special. It can make a ton of difference in their lives. I grew up an inner-city kid, and I wish we had stuff like this, where you’re able to come out and be part of a whole event, have your classmates out here cheering for you. Whatever positive impact we can make in their lives, that they can believe in their dreams and go out and chase them, it’s very important.”

Wednesday’s event was the season’s first Blue Jays Game Takeover presented by TD and hosted by the Jays Care Foundation. The foundation brought the production touches of a Major League experience to the local community to surprise the two deserving teams and schools.

“There are a lot of schools in the Toronto area that don’t have access to as many sport programs as they once did,” Jays Care Foundation director of programs Jules Porter said. “So our hope is to introduce kids who don’t get to play on a team to the experience of what it’s like to feel like you’ve got a whole crew of people who support you, to feel like you’re capable of something you never thought you could do before and to feel proud to try something new.

“Most of the kids who start this program with us have little to no experience playing baseball, so when they start with us, they’re out of their comfort zone. Now they’re here and playing and they know what to do. The confidence builds, and to have this many people cheering for them, our hope is they take that into the classroom and into the next opportunity that comes up for them, and they do things they didn’t think they’d ever do.”