Young Ben throws 1st pitch at opener

 Ben Sheppard, eight, talks ball with Lloyd Moseby at the one-day Super Camp last July at Whitby, Ont. Commissioner Rob Manfred gave the ceremonial first-pitch duties to young Ben Monday night at the Rogers Centre. 

Five months …

It doesn’t seem like much, but a lot can be accomplished over that short span of time.

In baseball, players can find themselves traded to rival organizations, non-contenders can be turned into divisional favorites… Fortunes can be changed.

Like baseball, life can yield similar results.

Last July, the Blue Jays Baseball Academy, in partnership with Honda Canada, held a special one-day Super Camp under overcast skies in Whitby, Ont.

The event, which provided youth from across the GTA with a unique opportunity to learn from an impressive cast of Blue Jays alumni, was aimed not only at helping grow the game at the grass roots level, but also at raising money for a local eight year-old buy named Ben Sheppard.

At a young age, Sheppard had been diagnosed with a rare form cerebral palsy that effected the way he moved on a day-to-day basis, rendering the young Jays’ fanatic incapable of playing the one game he held so dearly in his heart.

“He’s just a boy who loves baseball,” explained Ben’s mother Robyn prior to last July’s event. “You can’t stop him. In our house, he runs up and down the hallways with his little foam bat that he carries around and oftentimes, he lays in bed kicking his feet as if he’s running the bases as fast as his favorite Blue Jay, Anthony Gose.”

Unfortunately, by the summer of 2014, young Ben’s condition had advanced to the point in which he was unable to join any organized leagues meaning that for the time being, his diamond dreams had been regulated to those household hallways.

In order to have a legitimate shot at helping their son realize his childhood dream of not only taking the field one day, but more specifically running the bases at Rogers Centr on Jr Jays Saturdays, Ben’s parents sought out to find the best treatment available and they found exactly that at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

The treatment, a Selective Dorzal Rizotomy (SDR) procedure performed by ground-breaking Pediatric Surgeon, Dr. T.S. Park, came at a hefty price and after crunching the numbers, the Sheppard’s set a goal of procuring $100,000 to help offset the fees needed in order to make it all happen.

After calculating a total, the Sheppard’s turned to the community in order to help raise money for Ben’s cause.

One of the organizations they reached out to was Blue Jays Baseball Academy.

“We sent them some letters simply because Ben is such a big fan,” Robyn said. “We were just hoping that they would give us a plug. We didn’t really know what was going to happen. But shortly after, representatives got back to us, and over time this clinic somehow came to be and the whole experience has been amazing. We can’t thank (Blue Jays Baseball Academy) enough for everything they’ve done.”

Naturally, Blue Jays Baseball Academy stepped up to the plate and following a brief period of correspondence between foundation organizers, the Sheppard family and the Whitby community, groundwork for last July’s super camp began to take shape.

On that cloudy afternoon at Iroquois Park, with some 400 children in attendance and their parents eagerly watching from the stands, representatives from Blue Jays Baseball Academy announced that the clinic, in addition to a substantial donation from Honda Canada, had helped the Sheppard’s secure their goal.

Flash forward to Oct. 26th and Ben, along with his family, found themselves boarding a plane set for St. Louis. By mid November, they were on their way home following a successful procedure and the beginning of a lengthy rehabilitation process that has already provided its share of promising results.

Yes, a lot can be accomplished in five months….

Gose, Ben’s one-time favorite Jay, now patrols the outfield in the Motor City, and if the Tigers intend on returning to the postseason in 2015, they will have to battle it out against a vastly improved Chicago White Sox squad down the stretch in the American League Central.

A White Sox club that recorded only a fourth place finish in 2014 … 17 games behind Detroit.

Five months ago, a dream of circling the bases at One Blue Jays Way helped provide the motivation for a young man to undergo life changing surgery.

Now, thanks to undergoing an extensive medical procedure made possible, in part, by the countless efforts from individuals in and around the local baseball community, that dream is closer than ever to becoming a reality.

Evidenced by the video, Ben’s progress speaks for itself.

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Andrew Hendriks

Born in southern Ontario during the late 1980's, Hendriks had a front row seat to watch the Blue Jays reach the pinnacle in '92/'93 as a child, an experience that only bolstered this Canadian's love for the "American Game." Having played since before his memory allows access too, his passion for Baseball grew over years of emulating his heroes on the local sandlots, memorizing the backs of chewing gum scented cards and travelling across North America to experience as many aspects of the game as possible. In 2009, Hendriks began volunteering at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a Weekend Tour Guide. By 2010, he was hired on to help curate for the museum & Instruct the fundamentals of the game along side such legends as Tony Fernandez, Roberto Alomar and Jim Fanning during the Hall's annual Kids On Deck program. Following the 2011 season, Hendriks began blogging and co-hosting a weekly podcast for www.BackInBlue.ca, a Blue Jays themed website ran by fans, for fans. Looking to continue connecting with baseball fans across the country, Hendriks is excited to join such a strong team at the Canadian Baseball Network and looks forward to chipping in.