Youth baseball organizers in the Toronto area — and across the country — say they haven’t experienced such an increase in interest among kids since the Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series championships in the early 1990s.
Howard Birnie, president of the Leaside Baseball Association, told CBC News registration in his league is up 25 to 30 per cent this year compared to 2015.
He said registration is full for leagues in Leaside, East York, North York and north Toronto with most of the newcomers being young children between the ages of four and seven.
Birnie acknowledged he is not surprised by the increased interest.
“We were expecting it after last fall,” he said, referring to the post-season push by the Jays. “We went through it before back in the ’90s with the Jays after they won in ’92 and ’93.”
Andrew Pace works as a camp and clinics director with the East York Baseball Association and also credits the recent success of Canada’s only Major League Baseball team for getting youngsters into the game.
“Our house league registration used to take months to fill up. Now it’s one or two days and we have a wait list of 50 in each of our divisions. So there’s definitely a demand there,” he said.
Jim Baba, executive director of Baseball Canada, said he has heard many parts of the country that have been without baseball for years have started to bring back their programs to meet demand.
“You see the stories all across Canada of people wanting to try the sport,” he said.
Last year, there was an eight per cent boost in registrations across the country, according to Baba, who added that this year’s bump should be even higher.
“I think we’ll hopefully see a 10 per cent increase,” Baba said. “I could easily see that happening — it could be even greater than that just based on the exposure.”
Blue Jays fever
Organizers say the Jays deserve credit for the increased interest after they acquired some elite names at the trade deadline and brought excitement to the city.
“Sitting at our events in the fall, you really saw the talk all about Blue Jays and all about the sport and we couldn’t ask for a better marketing tool than the Toronto Blue Jays,” Baba said.
“Just how they were winning and that exposure to our sport in August, September and October was tremendous and it hopefully will help us with numbers in the spring.”
Jake Gallo, assistant baseball coach at Toronto’s Northern Secondary School, said the captivation with the Jays is getting children involved in a sport they have never played before.
“You could feel the buzz, and even today, kids are checking their phones, checking the score,” he said. “Everyone seems more excited.”
Jonathan Gold is a Grade 12 student who says people his age are becoming big fans.
“It’s huge,” he said. “More people are watching, more people are playing.”
Lack of diamonds
But the increased participation is leaving some baseball players without a place to play.
“There are only so many good diamonds that we can use,” said Gallo. “There really isn’t that many great diamonds in the city.”
Baba also noted how diamonds were lost in the 2000s as other sports became more popular.
One of the issues with existing diamonds is that they usually aren’t maintained, according to Pace.
This has left some baseball organizations in a helpless situation.
“We’re limited with the facilities we have. Most of the time we do maintenance ourselves at city parks,” said Birnie.
“It’s a shame because some kids won’t get to play and they could be the next best ballplayer.”
But as long as the Jays keep winning, youngsters such as eight-year-old Spencer Carthy will keep swinging a bat.
“It makes me kind of want to play more because they’re getting better and I want to get better and I want to do what they do,” he said.
By Jonathan Rumley, CBC News