JUDIQUE/ANTIGONISH: It was a big weekend for baseball as two fields in the local area were officially opened.

On Saturday in Antigonish, the town’s fully accessible field (The Sandlot) was christened. The following day in Judique, a similar event was held for the field serving players in that community, as well as neighbouring communities.

There were smiles all around to celebrate the openings, and no smile was wider than that off Robert Witchel, the executive director of the Blue Jays Care Foundation.

“Being here on the field today is heartwarming,” he said. “It looks fantastic, and I hope the kids will let me play with them this afternoon.”

He said the Jays, being Canada’s only Major League Baseball team, feel a need to give back to the communities that support them.

In Judique, the Jays came across with $70,000 for field repairs and innovations.

A new backstop was installed, the infield was widened to accommodate Pee Wee and Bantam games, fence caps were installed, site drainage work was done, and an exterior walkway was put in as well as a BBQ pad. Two sets of stands were purchased, and both are five rows tall.

Representatives from the Blue Jays Care Foundation and other honoured guests were given a traditional Celtic entrance onto the Sandlot last Saturday.

Training materials like practice screens and protective screens were also purchased, as well as a fibreglass pitching mound, field dragging equipment, and general maintenance equipment.

The Antigonish field was also a place where Jays Care put down some funding, but also opening the pocket book were Antigonish town and county, the province, and multiple people and groups.

Accepting a Blue Jays jersey from the Blue Jays Care Foundation were (from left) Kris Hunter, president of the Antigonish Baseball Association; Wade Chisholm, co-coordinator for Challenger Baseball; and Randy Crouse, co-coordinator for Challenger Baseball.

The total cost of the accessible field was $475,000. Some of the highlights include an artificial turf infield, fencing, wheelchair accessible dugouts, benches that accommodate wheelchairs, an accessible pathway, and a canopy over the stands.

“We’re very grateful for all the support we get, not just here but across the country. As Canada’s team, we want to invest in fields all across the country,” Witchel said.

“We always say there’s no better game than baseball to teach you resiliency. If you’re the very best throughout your career in Major League Baseball, you only hit 30 per cent of the time. That will probably put you in the Hall of Fame. It’s a game that teaches you to dust yourself off and live through adversities.

“We’re so happy to be supportive of baseball in your community.”

Witchel, speaking to The Reporter on Sunday, mentioned that his visit to Antigonish the day before was a great one.

During the Judique event, MLA Allan MacMaster took his hat off to Sheldon MacDonald, who served as the main man behind the scenes working for the field renovations. MacDonald was unable to attend the event, but speaking on his behalf was Cindy MacDonald.

Robert Witchel, the executive director of Blue Jays Care Foundation, visited the Judique Ball Field last Sunday to officially open the local field, which his group helped fund. He’s seen here presenting a Jays jersey to Cindy MacDonald, who helped spearhead the revamp of the field, and Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster (left).

“Sheldon certainly hit a grand slam for the young ball players of Judique, Little Judique, Long Point, and beyond,” the MLA said. “There was a grand slam hit yesterday by the Blue Jays, by Guerrero, that turned the tide in that game. And I think we turned the tide here in Judique.

“Baseball and softball allow young people to send their energy in a positive direction. They learn about sportsmanship, what it takes to win and how to take a loss, and those are all important life lessons.”

Chatting to The Reporter on Monday was Randy Crouse, who spearheaded efforts to have the accessible field made a reality in Antigonish.

“It was so many years in the making,” he said. “Saturday was really pretty special and, in a way, a sense of relief.

“Everyone was excited to get on there and play, and the kids have been on there a couple of times already. They had a blast, and that’s what it’s there for. It’s ready for minor ball, softball, Challenger ball, and anyone looking to play on it.”

The new field will be available to all young athletes, but it’s a real boon for kids playing with Antigonish Challenger Baseball, a program allowing kids with cognitive or physical disabilities to enjoy the game.

Crouse serves as a coordinator for the Challenger program in the Antigonish area. He’s also a coordinator on the provincial and national level.

“Next year, the 2020 Nova Scotia Challenger Jamboree will be here,” he said. “We’ll invite teams from across the province, P.E.I and New Brunswick to come play with us.”