Centrefield sports arms pitch in for Baseball Canada
* Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.) and Jim Henderson (Calgary, Alta.) dropped by Adam Stern Centrefiled Sports to meet Jeff Francis to stage a clinic in order to raise money for Baseball Canada ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
Once a national team member, always a national team member.
Players who find themselves involved with Baseball Canada never really complete their tenure with the program. What else could explain the efforts of several former national team graduates to raise money and awareness for the cause?
With the annual Toronto-held Baseball Canada banquet approaching, Adam Stern (London, Ont.) decided to call a few friends who would be attending the event to see if they wanted to spend some extra time in the area.
As they spoke about getting together, the owner of Centrefield Sports came up with the idea to try and utilize some of their time together to give back to the program that once gave to all of them. Stern offered the use of his space for his friends to put on a professional pitching clinic for several young London hurlers, with all proceeds heading right back to Baseball Canada.
The pitchers jumped on board, volunteering their time and expertise on Thursday to the program that they support.
“Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.) and Jim Henderson (Calgary, Alta.) were coming in,” Stern said. “They were coming to Toronto and then here [to London] to hang out for a couple days. Jeff Francis (Vancouver, BC) works out here all off-season and we kind of thought, we want to raise some money for Baseball Canada.
“We all believe in it and it’s a good way for the local pitchers and people around to get to work with the big leaguers. The guys had the time and they were all excited. It wasn’t even an ask. Jeff Francis said, ‘I would have been offended if you didn’t ask me,’ so I said, ‘Let’s do it.’
“We got it out there about three weeks before and the support was awesome. It comes down to the people coming in here; getting their kids in here. You get to work with three big league guys and we all believe in the Baseball Canada program. It was awesome. I like to say it was kind of the brain child of all of the guys here.”
While Stern won’t take all of the credit for the idea of the pitching clinic, Reitsma was very willing to give it to him. The former Team Canada Olympic and World Baseball Classic participant was happy to be a part of the event.
“It had to do more with people flying in for the banquet,” Reitsma said. “Then Adam actually called me and said, ‘Hey what do you think about putting us three together and raising some money for Baseball Canada?’ I thought that was kind of a no-brainer. If I’m flying across the country I might as well go a day early and do this. I have to say it was probably Adam’s idea and then we were the ones he asked.”
The three big-league pitchers conducted two pitching clinics on Thursday night at Centrefield, one for 10-to-13-year-olds and one for 14-to-19-year-old pitching prospects. Advertised as 45-minute sessions, the aspiring players got much more than that from Reitsma, Henderson and Francis. After working out, the hurlers answered many questions and signed numerous autographs for their attentive audience.
“The kids get to meet big leaguers who are Canadian guys and they get to ask them questions – Who’s the toughest guy to face? How hard do you throw? Who’s better?” Stern said. “Those are the questions that when I grew up, I wish I had a big leaguer who came around my town so I could talk to. They’re all aspiring players who one day want to grow up to be where these guys are and it’s a cool thing to be a part of.”
With only about three weeks’ notice in advance of the clinic, Stern sold out what he hopes to be the inaugural event of something that will eventually be much bigger.
“We’re going to write a cheque for over 2,200 bucks for the night,” Stern said. “It’s for the junior trip and the travelling it costs for those kids plus the senior team; it’s expensive running a program. Then they’ve got to do a good job of raising some extra money because only so much is covered.
“And for us, it’s raising awareness of the program. Maybe it is the supporting factor that people want to do it. It’s charitable. For people, it’s just to understand what it goes to and the kids’ lives it affects.”
Reitsma, current pitching coach of the junior national team, also got a first glimpse of some up-and-coming talent that he might see again in the future.
“You see a couple kids that you’re interested in and then you see some kids that are progressing,” Reitsma said. “And anything you can do to help out with the program is a positive. We’re not going to change the entire program by doing something like this, but every little bit helps.”
Francis was quick to point out that holding the clinic was not solely about raising funds for Baseball Canada, it was about giving the young hopefuls something to aspire to as well.
“It’s not just to raise money either,” the Colorado Rockies left-hander said. “It’s to help get the kids out here and get people excited about baseball. It’s always cool to have three big leaguers around and for the kids to meet us and then at least learn something from us. It’s probably pretty cool for them.”
With the seed firmly planted now at Centrefield, Stern is looking forward to what they might be able to accomplish before next year’s Baseball Canada banquet.
“Hopefully it will be bigger next year and maybe we’ll try to get some position players in here and see if we can re-route some guys down here,” the former big leaguer said. “We’ll pick them up in Toronto if we have to, to where we can get more people from surrounding areas too.”
What is Stern envisioning for the second annual clinic at Centrefield Sports?
“I’d like to get some position players obviously,” Stern said. “Get some hitters in here, some big league guys, and use these guys and some more pitchers and bring them in and maybe do two days – a Wednesday/Thursday leading up and allowing kids to work with big leaguers. You can’t really just walk out your back door and get that kind of stuff.
“So to us, we hope we can grow it but make it so it’s not too much, where they still get 1-on-1 time. It’s something that we’ll talk about after and see what these guys think. I know they love it. They’re great guys; it’s great that they actually volunteer their time.”
Next year, Stern is hoping that he can get even more Baseball Canada graduates to volunteer their time for the cause. He will look to host the clinic around the same time of year, working around the banquet to get as many Canadian players as possible to attend.
“That’s what we’ll try and do,” he said. “We’re trying to do it to where we couple with the banquet. [National teams’ director Greg Hamilton] always gets the guys in. So basically we make Baseball Canada pay for the flight .. I’ll pick them up for a tank of gas.”