Blue Jays land at Laurier

On Monday night the purple and gold of Laurier got a temporary injection of blue as four members of the Toronto Blue Jays visited the WLU Athletic Complex.

Outfielders Vernon Wells and Travis Snider, along with catcher J.P. Arrencibia and pitcher Jesse Litsch, teamed up with Jays’ coaches and members of Laurier’s men’s baseball team to give local kids instruction in baserunning, throwing mechanics, outfielding and infielding.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids,” said Arrencibia. “We were in this position at some point, we grew up wanting to meet players, and I remember what it was like for me when I got to hang out with someone I looked up to…. [The kids] get to see that we’re just like them. At heart we’re just big kids playing the game we love.”

The event was the first road stop of the Jays’ 2011 Winter Tour, which will be travelling across the country offering skills camps to young baseball players throughout Canada. The tour was brought to Laurier’s campus thanks to Hawks’ baseball head coach Scott Ballantyne.

“I got a phone call from a contact I have with the Jays, telling me about the tour and that they wanted to make Kitchener-Waterloo a stop, they just needed a facility,” said Ballantyne. “And I really have to say thanks to a few of the varsity teams who gave up their practice times so we could be out here but we’re just thrilled to host it…. I think it’s huge for Laurier baseball, anytime you can get 100 kids out here with their parents, their families and introduce them to Laurier it’s great.”

The Jays are travelling across the country this winter in an attempt to re-establish the national support they received in their World Series years by branding themselves as “Canada’s Team.” Despite Canada’s taste for hockey, the players see great potential for acquiring new fans from coast to coast.

“Canada’s pastime is hockey and I don’t think that’ll ever change,” said Snider. “We probably have the biggest fanbase to draw from of any team in the league and if Canadians buy into the fact that we are Canada’s team I think we’ll start to see more and more fans giving us support.”

While the people of Canada are crucial to the Jays’ success, the team has just as an important role to play in helping to increase popularity of baseball in this hockey-dominated nation.

“I think it’s all about getting back the support that was here in the early ‘90s,” said Wells.

“You hear everyone talking about it and then the strike in 1994 really hurt things and the momentum of baseball Canada kind of slowed. But we’re being proactive and getting to work and letting people see that the Blue Jays are doing everything we can to make a connection with our fans.”

While events such as the winter tour will help to generate a stronger fanbase, Wells knows there is one thing that will do more for the Jays’ popularity than anything else.

“Winning,” he said. “Winning solves everything. That’s what we’re trying to do is build a winner here and once we start to win and play the kind of baseball that we’re capable of playing we’ll get this country back into the game.”