The Real Blue Jays All Stars

On Sunday, Major League Baseball announced the rosters for the 89th Annual Midsummer Classic in Washington, DC. Players from around the league were chosen and recognized based on their performance on the field and star power. Toronto will be sending one representative on Tuesday July 17th,  left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ.

As the first half comes to an official end, Happ’s performance has been one of the few bright spots for the Blue Jays. With numerous injuries, players underperformin,g and a well documented suspension, the 2018 season has been a major disappointment. But if we look beyond the negative aspects of the season, there are some pretty remarkable things happening with the Blue Jays.

This past weekend the 34th annual Lady Jays Food Drive, in support of Food Banks Canada, took place at the Rogers Centre. This event organized by the spouses and partners of Blue Jays players collected non-perishable food items and monetary donations throughout the ballpark.

The community outreach doesn’t end there though. Throughout the season, players interact with local youth through school and hospital visits and various programs in conjunction with the Jays Care foundation. And while third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Russell Martin have under performed on the field relative to their habitual standards, it has not impacted their contributions off of it.

Donaldson recently hosted his 3rd annual BaseBOWL Tournament to raise money for the Jays Care Foundation and Big Brothers Big Sisters – Canada’s leading child and youth mentoring charity, while Martin hosted a poker tournament with fans and players to raise money for the charitable foundation of the Blue Jays.

“Just being a baseball player, you are given the spotlight to impact people,” said 13-year veteran, Martin. “I always believe that giving back and being positive and trying to create positive ripples through the community is important.”

Jays Care Foundation was established in 1992 and continues to focus on using baseball as a tool to engage youth and develop life and leadership skills. The charity helps over 65,000 children annually through various programs hosted and supported by Blue Jay players and alumni with the goal to inspire positive social change.

“Jays Care does a tremendous amount of things all throughout Canada. They really do a good job getting involved in communities,” said Martin. “People that don’t have the means to send their kids to organized baseball, Jays Care is able to help with that.”

It’s just long-serving Blue Jays getting into the act, however. One of the notable offseason acquisitions has done more than provide a veteran presence in the clubhouse, he has helped to bring his charitable work to the Blue Jays. Left-fielder Curtis Granderson has introduced to the city of Toronto his own foundation, Grand Kids.

The foundation was created in 2007 while Granderson was a member of the Detroit Tigers. The focus was based on elements about which Granderson is most passionate: baseball, education and being active.

In the early years it was used to help out local schools. At that time the graduation rate in Detroit was only at 50 percent and some local areas, like Flint, had high crime rates. So the focus of Grand Kids was on these troubled areas by getting kids active. He wanted them to feel engaged and empowered through the game of baseball.

“Now 10 years later we added different elements that still focus on youth being active and staying fit which affect them in the classroom,” said Granderson. “[We] provide food and security which also affects them in the classroom. Also playing baseball and softball, a combination of all those things wrapped up into one.”

Schooling is very important to Granderson, having grown up in Chicago with both parents working in the education system. He promotes education and emphasizes that learning can go beyond the traditional courses.

“I wanted to show the importance that it may not necessarily be that you need to be the best math student. But if you enjoy music, computers or cars and being around people, there is something to be learned and that is still a component of education. This makes learning fun,” said Granderson.

Last Thursday, the 37-year-old outfielder hosted the New Balance Fitness Challenge with 1200 children from the Toronto area. With the help of some Blue Jay teammates, the kids participated in activities as an opener to the Rookie League Challenge, a seven-week program sponsored by Jays Care and Toronto Community Housing.

That help from fellow Blue Jays didn’t go unnoticed. Granderson has always been impressed by the interest his teammates show in participating in his foundations initiatives. “It is really cool.  You have players ask, ‘I really want to do things like this but I don’t know how,’” said Granderson. “So when the opportunity presents itself, they can come see what we do. It is great. I can talk to them and give them a little bit of tips and pointers that have helped me along the way.”

After a fun filled day of events on a hot summer day, Granderson thought he would be more thankful to his teammates for coming in on their off day, but it was the other way around. “They continued to come to me and say thank you for having me, thank you for letting me be there.”These initiatives are a reminder that some of the best moments with players don’t come when they are on the field.

“There is so much going on that is negative in this world. Somebody’s got to try and counter that with positive energy. I feel like giving back is one of the ways to do that.” – Russell Martin

Jays Care and Grand Kids Foundation are long-standing programs that are well-developed and garner media attention. But, as Granderson reminds us, not all positive impacts are noticed.

“Some things are more public and some are going to be private, but it doesn’t take away the impact. People go home to their home town, where they grew up or living now, they are doing things.  You might only be helping one person but that one person could go on to do some amazing things.”

So while baseball celebrates the All Stars in Washington and Blue Jay fans reflect on a second half that will not see a pennant race, take a moment to think of the true All-Star players; the ones that give their time, money, and effort to support their communities. It is easy to focus on the negative, but these players remind us that wellness in society is bigger than the game of baseball.


Lead Photo © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports





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