Blue Jays' Play Ball Gala continues to impact community

April 28th, 2023

TORONTO -- Rogers Centre was illuminated with glowing lights Thursday as the Blue Jays hosted their annual Play Ball Gala. The fundraiser, spearheaded by the Jays Care Foundation, offered over 1,300 guests the opportunity to play games, mingle with their favorite players and support a good cause during an evening of fun.

The field itself was a spectacle. Tables cloaked the outfield turf as attendees whizzed between entertainment spaces, raffle draws and elegant cocktail bar stations all while a DJ blasted trendy tunes from just beyond the pitcher’s mound. So far, this year’s event has raised $1.2 million, and that number could keep growing as the organization strives to match the $1.5 million raised in 2022.

“The fans come out and give us love all the time,” said Blue Jays reliever Adam Cimber. “So anytime we get to come give them love, it's an opportunity to give back. We've been blessed with so much, so the least we can do is try to raise some money for some good causes and interact with people.”

Founded in 1992, the Jays Care Foundation serves as the Blue Jays’ charitable arm, geared toward helping children and youth reach their potential through a variety of programs. Last year, the charity positively impacted over 4,000 kids, including Indigenous youth, children living with disabilities and those growing up in impoverished communities.

As the world distances itself from the COVID-19 pandemic, Jays Care is now emphasizing its baseball programs to boost kids’ mental and physical well-being.

“Getting off your device and being on a team really helps advance social skills, which have really taken a hit in the pandemic, and also self-regulation skills,” said Robert Witchel, executive director of the Jays Care Foundation. “So, with over 700 schools now running our programs, we're giving kids the opportunity to get back into these types of settings.”

As Witchel pointed out, it’s not just the physical activity that makes baseball unique. There are intangible life lessons the sport provides. Cimber hopes that, through events like Thursday’s gala, he can offer the same experience to the next generation.

“[Baseball] never stops teaching you the importance of discipline and how to take your lumps, how to handle success,” Cimber said. “I mean, it's something different every day, and getting to go out there with your teammates and learn together, it's a pretty cool experience. The game’s a great teacher; you’ve just got to be willing to learn.”

Now into his third season with the Blue Jays, Cimber’s relationship with the city of Toronto -- and Canada as a whole -- has blossomed into something special. Earlier this year, the 32-year-old participated in the organization’s Winter Tour, where he and several teammates traveled to Vancouver. During that trip, Cimber witnessed how vibrant the Blue Jays’ fan base can be, even thousands of kilometers away from Toronto.

“I think that's what really touches my heart and reminds me of why I'm doing it,” Cimber said. “The game can be a hard game, and it can be a business at times. But when you interact with the fans, you really remember why you're playing the game.”

When Chris Bassitt signed a three-year deal with the Blue Jays this offseason, he knew the club had passionate supporters. After experiencing the love first-hand, he’s been blown away.

“It's special,” Bassitt said. “I think the pride that obviously Toronto has for the team [is important], but [the support from] Canada itself, it's potentially unmatched … It'd be like if the U.S. had just one baseball team -- it'd be way different -- so the fact that we have just one team, it's powerful.”

As Bassitt notes, there’s also a degree of responsibility that comes with being Canada’s lone Major League Baseball team. Each Blue Jays player has the chance to be a role model for an entire nation, and that impact begins with outreach events like Thursday’s banquet.

“It’s something I don’t think we should take for granted, ever,” Bassitt said.