Gilroy already eyeing Pan Am Games experience

* C Jennifer Gilroy is focused on the upcoming World Cup in Japan, but she's also thinking ahead to the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, where she's hoping to experience the event with some of the homeless individuals she's met as a volunteer with Ve'ahavta. (Photo: Alexis Brudnicki). .... 2014 Canadians in the Minors … Canadians drafted … Canadians in College 2015 Canadian draft list Letters of Intent

By Alexis Brudnicki

KAZO CITY, Japan - As Jennifer Gilroy prepares with the rest of the Canadian Women's National Team for the upcoming Women's Baseball World Cup in Miyazaki, Japan from September 1 to 7, she is already looking forward to her next opportunity with the squad at the Pan American Games.

Hosted in the catcher's home city in the Greater Toronto Area next summer, Gilroy is looking forward to more than just playing in the Games. As a volunteer over the last four years with Ve'ahavta, the Canadian-Jewish Humanitarian and Relief Committee, she wants to do more with her potential berth in the event than just be a participant.

"I've been volunteering since 2010 with the Outreach Van, which goes out and feeds the homeless, clothes the homeless, but mostly just goes and counsels and listens to their stories and gets to know them," the 24-year-old said. "In 2011 I did the Living on the Street [program], 48 hours without identification or [spare] clothing or anything. I had to panhandle and really experience the life of the less fortunate in Toronto."

During that experience, Gilroy believes her outlook on life changed more than it ever had before. She had her shoes stolen right out from under her barely-rested head as she attempted to get what little sleep she could on the street, and even got help from a young homeless boy who offered her cardboard and a marker. She gave the money she made panhandling over the two days to him.

"The coolest part is getting to know people," Gilroy said. "One social worker, Lauren Gostick, seeing the dedication she has - she puts in ridiculous hours, she's always on call. And coming into the Pan Am Games, I want to share the experience with them. It's cool knowing that two of the houses are going to be donated to low-income [families and people].

"I would love for them to experience what Pan Am can do for them, and know that it's a whole city, a whole nation, and they're a part of that, so they know it's in their backyard but they don't feel like they're left out from it. So I want to buy some tickets and give some to them."

Gilroy has shared her plans with some of the people she's worked with regularly and has received mixed reviews, but she is hoping she can open their minds a little bit. Chris, a 60-year-old homeless man who has been living on the streets since he was 18 years old, is likely to be there but only in support of his friend.

"He doesn't really like that that much money goes into these types of events and other things," Gilroy said. "But he's really supportive of me and what it means for me, and he wants to share the experience with me.

"I want them to see my point of view of things, but also to experience their point of view and really bring the two together to share common ground and see the humanity side of it. It's not what country you're from or what sport you're playing, it's everyone coming together for a collective experience.

"Everyone is equal and everyone is experiencing it, be it from a volunteer point of view or a player's, or a fan's point of view. I want to be able to share the Pan Ams with everyone; I don't want anyone to feel like they're left out. I really want to advocate that - you may not be a player but I want to bring you on board with it and have the unique experience I have. I feel privileged, so I want to share that."

Bringing those she volunteers with out to see her play at some of the games throughout the tournament in Ajax was something Gilroy began to plan as soon as she heard that the Pan Am event would be held in Toronto.

"I was stoked," she said. "Because I have a very different outlook than some of the people I talk to but that's the best part. I can shed my ignorance, my naïve lifestyle - I've led a sheltered life - and [everyone at home] has really opened me up to it.

"I want them to see it as a positive thing. They may see it as a negative because they're not involved, but I want to change that. It's not about a sports event for me, it's about sharing the experience. You're really sharing happiness and you're sharing passion. I want to share my passion through this. I want to give some happiness to them because they've helped my life so much."

Not only will Gilroy be able to share the Pan Am Games with some of the people she's met through her efforts with Ve'ahavta, but because many of her family and friends are so close by in Mississauga, she will truly be at home throughout.

"It's so comforting," Gilroy said. "It's the most comforting feeling because you're really out of your element at times, even though you're playing the same sport with the same people. Different venues you go to can really mentally drain you. Having that comfort level with you and having someone stand behind you, even though they're not saying or doing anything, the fact that you know they're there can really help your psyche."

Before Gilroy gets to the Pan Am Games with the rest of Team Canada and the many other athletes from north of the border, there is a matter of competing for gold at the impending World Cup. Heading into the tournament, the backstop is excited for what the immediate future holds.

"This is the most comfortable I've felt with the team and as a player," she said. "It's taken a few years for us to all gel but we have a nucleus now, we have a friendship, and we have a bond. It's awesome to play for your country but when you're passionate playing for the player next to you, it makes it so much easier.

"I don't think about myself now when I go out there. I can think about the players next to me and doing it for them. We've really stressed the 'we' factor. We've always talked about it but I really now feel like everyone is on board. It's an amazing feeling and it is somewhat like having a family."

-- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis