Players and volunteers at National Little League celebrate the Doug Hudlin Challenger Baseball program, which received a $15,000 grant from the Jays Care Foundation for dugout improvements at the park relating to accessibility, security and weatherproofing. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

WATCH: Jays Care brings good news to National Little League

Toronto MLB club’s foundation grants $15,000 to help Challenger Baseball program at Victoria park

National Little League took a step towards greater accessibility for players in its Challenger Baseball program this week.

Representatives of Jays Care Foundation, a charitable arm of the Toronto Blue Jays Major League Baseball club, were on hand at Jerry Hale Field at Cook Street and Hillside Avenue on Tuesday to announce a $15,000 Field of Dreams infrastructure grant. The money will help make the park’s first-base dugout accessible for players using wheelchairs or other mobility devices – the third-base side already accommodates that – as well as undertake some other dugout improvements.

Barbara Hudlin, president and co-ordinator of the Doug Hudlin Challenger Baseball adaptive program at National, which has completed its first season, called the grant “a blessing.”

“If you’re going to open a park for challenge baseball, you need to open it for all different challenges, whether it’s a disability or whether it’s that they have speech problem, it doesn’t matter,” she said.

Robert Witchel, executive director of Jays Care Foundation, was on hand for the presentation. He said this project, one of two to receive grants in Victoria – Gordon Head Minor Baseball was given the other for a similar project at Lambrick Park – dovetails nicely into the foundaton’s mandate.

“Jays Care is all about levelling the playing field for kids,” he said, noting that they do their best to remove barriers for children who want to get involved in the sport. “We work with kids living in First Nations, kids living with disabilities, kids living at or below the poverty line; we work with girls who want to get into the game but find that challenging. Everything we do is about giving kids a leg up.”

Witchel said National’s grant application was solid enough to avoid the second stage of the two-step adjudication process. And being able to help at the oldest Little League Baseball park in Greater Victoria – play began here in 1953 – was a fact not lost on him.

“It’s pretty inspiring to be here and to hear all the stories and knowing that this is the first diamond on the Island, it’s exciting for us to be a little part of it,” he said.

The Jays Care crew timed their visit to Victoria to host grant-related events with the Major League Baseball team’s visit to Seattle for a series this week against the Mariners.

Witchel said it’s no secret that Jays fans come out in huge numbers to Safeco Field to support “Canada’s team” and he expected the scene would be no different this time around.

Since Jays Care partnered with Baseball Canada and Little League Canada on the Challenger program two years ago, the program has grown from about 600 participants to more than 4,000.

Jays Care will invest close to $7 million across the country this year in programs and infrastructure for kids, and has Challenger Baseball running in every province.

editor@vicnews.com

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