God does love a trier, as they say, and it was as if his weather peers were smiling down on a small section of King George Park last Sunday.
The inclement spring abated, and the sun peeked out, just in time last weekend to allow the birth of a new sporting name in Richmond.
Stepping proudly out into the diamond for the first time, against the SVLL Pirates, was a very special team of young kids from east Cambie — the Richmond Blue Jays.
The majority of them, for various reasons, rarely played sport, let alone take part in a bona fide, league, baseball game.
“They cheered very loudly for their first hit,” said Serj Sangara, who, along with several other community members, helped make the kids’ dream come true.
“In fact, they cheered for their first base. They cheered loud for their first run. They cheered for their first out. Everything was a first.
“It was amazing. It was a special day.”
Eleven of the 17-strong roster — comprised of nine to 12-year-olds — were products of the non-profit Dugout Club’s Just Play Ball program, a grass-roots, non-competitive, baseball initiative run, partly by Sangara, for 18 weeks last year in at King George Park in east Cambie for kids not playing sports due to economic and social barriers.
“Even the players who didn’t come from Just Play Ball hadn’t played baseball before. There’s never been a (youth) diamond in this area, so baseball has never been on their radar,” added Sangara, still beaming about Sunday’s home opener, played on a converted softball diamond.
“A lot of people were, and still are, skeptical. It was a longshot, it was a grind, but we got there.
“And on Sunday, they had a great introduction to the sport. You may have heard of such a thing as winning ugly? Well, this was losing sweetly. They were so excited about Sunday.”
The Richmond Blue Jays plan came to fruition, said Sangara, “much sooner than we thought it would.”
“But the South Van Little League (SVLL), which has been around for 61 years, have really taken us under their umbrella.
“They invited us to their opening ceremony last week and I really can’t say enough about them; they’ve been incredible.
“They’ve also made sure that all our games are at King George on the weekends. For many of these kids and their families, playing in a team sport, or in any sport, is a totally new thing and the league didn’t want them having to travel to Tsawwassen on a Wednesday night and wanted to keep the costs down, which is a factor for many of these families.”
Thanks to the SVLL, the Jays will play their entire 12-week season at King George, where Sangara said the City of Richmond has allotted them enough field time for two teams.
“Our goal was to get one team out there; but because we’ve got 17 players; if we were to get another five or six, we could put two teams out,” explained Sangara, while appealing for more youngsters to come forward.
“We have some nine and 10-year-olds and some 11 and 12-year-olds; we’re playing in the major division, which is for 11s and 12s.
“But if we were to get more players, we could put a team in each division.”
Sangara also hailed the support from the local business community for helping the Jays realize their dream.
“Pacific Coastal Airlines donated a golf cart, so we could drag the in-field; with just rakes, it was going to be tough,” he said.
“Home Depot gave us dolly’s to move the portable pitching mound; the BallYard at Sport Central has donated indoor space time for when it’s raining, like today, and Richmond Girls Softball Association gave us their container for storage.
“The community really has come together for this. It’s incredible.”
As for the highly successful, free Just Play Ball program, which attracted more than 100 children last year from the neighbourhood, Sangara said the Dugout team is starting it up early, due to the number of requests received.
“This coming Wednesday we’re starting it. So many people have been asking about it and we could also get those extra players we need to make two teams instead of one,” he added.
And given that so many parents are willing to pitch in (no pun intended), but many have a limited knowledge of the sport, the club is putting together a Monday night program, just for the adults, to give them a little instruction on taking up some coaching roles.
“This is primarily for the parents. They all have advice for their children when it comes to the sport, so we want to ensure that they’re giving their kids the right advice,” Sangara said.
“So, on Mondays, we’re going to have some kind of instruction for them; we’re still working out what that looks like.”
If you’re interested in joining the Richmond Blue Jays, go online to RichmondBaseball.ca (be sure not to confuse it with Richmond City Baseball’s site).
Registration is $150 (for which there is KidsSport funding); they will get some of that back in credits and will get a Blue Jays hoodie and undershirt as part of that, which is courtesy of community support and The Dugout Club.
There is a $60 deposit for the uniform, which will be refunded if the player completes 60 per cent of the season program.
If interested in the Just Play Ball program, go online to TheDugOutClub.ca/JustPlayLittleLeague.