Baseball players on the Sunshine Coast were thrown a curveball when their league games were cancelled because of COVID-19, but now they have the chance to play where the pros do, thanks to a hometown major leaguer.
Retired professional baseball player and Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame recipient Ryan Dempster paid for the entire Sunshine Coast Baseball Association league to have a “big league day” at Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the Vancouver Canadians.
Dempster grew up and played baseball in Gibsons. He retired from Major League Baseball in 2014 after winning the World Series a year before. At the time he was pitching for the Boston Red Sox.
“I’m very happy for our young athletes who will be able to have a big league experience in one of the most famous stadiums in Canada – Nat Bailey. Real, meaningful baseball in 2020!” said association president Andrew Appleton in an email to Coast Reporter, describing Dempster’s gift as “amazing.”
Association coaches Keith Shannon and Sean Gray and Dempster’s long-time friend Adam Gibson assisted with “extensive wrangling and organizing” to make the trip happen, said Appleton.
The Aug. 29 event will be the first time players will compete this season. Appleton expects 25 people from the league to take the trip, including players ages seven to 16 years old, two umpires, three coaches and volunteer parent drivers.
The bantam and peewee divisions will compete in an exhibition game against a West Vancouver Minor Baseball team.
“Our season would have consisted of mere practice and drills, before this once in a lifetime opportunity came to us,” Appleton said.
Strict adherence to public health protocols will also be in play. All attendees must be pre-screened and temperatures taken before entering the stadium as well as tracking information provided, in addition to other protocols for travel.
The Canadians, a Blue Jays farm team, play in the Northwest League. Their season was also cancelled due to the coronavirus.