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Jays Care Foundation aims to lift up youth

Rookie League Celebration featured skills competition, tournament
MLB.com

TORONTO -- The Jays Care Foundation held its inaugural Rookie League Celebration Tournament in Scarborough on Wednesday afternoon in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, bringing together clubs from across the Greater Toronto Area.

Five clubs made up of children 5 to 13 years old participated in the tournament and skills competition, including the East Scarborough club, Toronto Kiwanis, Albion, Peel and Eastview.

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TORONTO -- The Jays Care Foundation held its inaugural Rookie League Celebration Tournament in Scarborough on Wednesday afternoon in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, bringing together clubs from across the Greater Toronto Area.

Five clubs made up of children 5 to 13 years old participated in the tournament and skills competition, including the East Scarborough club, Toronto Kiwanis, Albion, Peel and Eastview.

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"We have 45 clubs that run Rookie League programs across the country," said Jan Vesna, manager of National Programs for Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, "so it's not just Toronto-based."

The young players started the day by competing in throwing accuracy, longest throw, hardest throw, a 60-yard dash and an agility challenge. They also had a home run station to see who could hit a ball the farthest, with the winner taking home a game-used bat from Blue Jays home run leader and 2017 All-Star Justin Smoak.

When the tournament began after lunch, the five clubs were split into eight teams named after a current Blue Jays player. Along with Team Steve Pearce, the winning team from East Scarborough, there were teams named after Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Kevin Pillar, Troy Tulowitzki, Aaron Sanchez, Ryan Goins and Marcus Stroman.

The Rookie League program, Jays Care's core baseball-for-development program, is designed to use baseball as a social tool that provides children with the skills, experiences and role models to overcome the opportunity gaps that might be facing them in their communities. It also works to build a sense of community within the program itself, which showed Wednesday as about 150 young players were excited to encourage their teammates.

"It's a matter of getting kids to try something that is outside of their comfort zone," Vesna said. "And baseball is a great way to do it because you're kind of singled out so you can't hide. It's also, for a lot of these kids, a sport they've never played."

Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada works nationally to address social issues, empower children and youth, and helps set them on a path for success through a variety of programs, including the Rookie League partnership.

The Jays Care Foundation will invest more than $6.2 million in 2017 to directly impact the lives of 65,000 young Canadians in all 10 provinces and the Yukon Territory. Since being founded in 1992, Jays Care has continued to expand its programs beyond the Rookie League to include a growing number of demographics and communities.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto.

Toronto Blue Jays