BY BRANDON MURPHY
It’s a rise that hasn’t been seen in years. Baseball is booming across the nation, and it isn’t a coincidence.
When most people think of Canada, they associate it with hockey. The climate is cold and pond hockey is out in full force every year. The number of young kids playing hockey is significant in the country. Baseball is not a very popular sport when compared to hockey north of the border, but ever since the Blue Jays started to win the numbers are rising.
Despite their losses in the American League Championship Series in 2015 and 2016, the baseball movement in Canada didn’t stop. Participation across youth leagues has increased significantly over the past two seasons. According to Baseball Canada, more than 120,000 Canadians played baseball this past summer, representing a 14 per cent increase from the previous year. For some, this may seem like a low number, but it is a significant increase for a nation that spends most of its free time on the ice. Most minor leagues are full and players must be put on wait lists. The younger divisions (ranging from tee-ball to 12-year-olds) are loading up fairly quickly.
Ian Wilkie, owner and general manager of the Ontario Royals Baseball Club, an elite baseball program in the Premier Baseball League of Ontario, says that they recently added a third team, which represents a 50 per cent increase.
“It may not seem like much, but the rise is pretty significant,” says Wilkie. “Our program is attracting the best players in southern Ontario.”
Mr. Wilkie says that Dalton Pompey, who is currently in the Toronto Blue Jays system, is an alumni of the Royals, and usually has a night where he answers questions from fellow Royals players. But are kids actually inspired to start playing the sport?
“My guess is that the younger level guys are now playing baseball in the summer, and hockey in the winter. One sport for the summer and one for the winter. Now, maybe they play baseball in the summer instead of soccer or volleyball. There has also been an increase in kids wanting private lessons.”
Aaron Farnham, who is a baseball equipment salesman at Corbett’s Sporting Goods Store in Oakville, says that the Blue Jays success has played a role in the rise.
“It’s definitely impacted our sales. Whether its bats, gloves, shoes, the Blue Jays have definitely inspired kids of all ages to play. There has been a 15 to 20 per cent increase across the leagues here in Oakville.”
This isn’t the first time that Aaron has seen this though.
“This isn’t the first time it’s happened. It happened back in the ‘90s when the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series titles and we are starting to see it again.”
This could be only the beginning of the movement. The Blue Jays are still going to be a good team next season and people are going to keep getting inspired to pick up a bat and play the sport after watching a Bautista bat flip or an Edwin Encarnacion walk-off bomb, even though we may not see their faces next year.