Former Blue Jays enjoy giving back at Super Camp
More than 100 young players receive three days of instruction at Ontario complex
LONDON, Ontario -- Despite some late winter snow on Saturday in London, it was all baseball indoors in the Honda Blue Jays Super Camp at the Centrefield Sports Complex.
Former Blue Jays Devon White, Duane Ward and Jesse Barfield joined Sandy Alomar Sr. in providing three days of instruction to more than 100 young ballplayers ages 9-16. It was the second installment of the 2013 edition of the Super Camps, which opened in Prince George, British Columbia, last month.
For the London campers, it was an opportunity to improve their skills with instruction from former big leaguers. For the former players, it was a chance to share their extensive knowledge and continue to give back to the game.
"Letting these kids learn from some of the best baseball players to ever put on a Blue Jays uniform -- to me, you can't go wrong there," said Ward, who has been instrumental in leading the successful Super Camp series. "It's something I didn't have when I was growing up, so it's very important for me to give back."
The young ballplayers were put through their paces by the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Academy, as the instructors focused on all the fundamentals. At different stations, campers worked on pitching mechanics with Ward, fielded grounders from Alomar, caught pop flies from Barfield, and took batting practice off White.
"Anything that can help out the community and baseball, I'm going to be there," said White, who won seven Gold Gloves (including five with Toronto) during his career. "And to see the kids progress is rewarding to us. There are a lot of good ballplayers coming up in Canada."
One of the young campers, 11-year-old Nathan Whyte, said this weekend's Blue Jays Super Camp lived up to its billing as "the ultimate baseball experience for kids."
"It was really fun, and I learned a bit of everything," said Whyte, whose favourite current Blue Jays player is Colby Rasmus. "It was cool because the [instructors] are like the masters of MLB, and they know a lot."
Instruction aside, Whyte said the highlight of his weekend was getting autographs and having his photo taken with the former Blue Jays players. Kabir Sohi, a 10-year-old fellow camper, also went home with an autograph, but his was a signed Brett Lawrie bat that he won in a draw.
Sohi's father, Harinder, said he was impressed by the whole Super Camp experience.
"It's great for the kids because they get to meet actual Jays players and learn from people who played the game at that level," the elder Sohi said. "I think it's great that the Blue Jays are developing talent here in Canada."
That's the goal, says T.J. Burton, the coordinator of amateur baseball for the Blue Jays. He says he's thrilled with the success the program has enjoyed as the organization continues to grow the game across the country.
"I think it's important for the Blue Jays to get into these markets and work with these kids, because otherwise we wouldn't have the opportunity to work with them," Burton said. "We've grown every year, and the feedback has been tremendous."
Ward says he's honoured to have had a leading role with the Super Camps, which have already featured more than 30 former Blue Jays players as instructors in its three-year history. Run in conjunction with Baseball Canada and Little League Canada, the camps will hit 17 cities across all 10 Canadian provinces this summer.
"The camps are near and dear to my heart," the former closer said. "I'm waiting for the day when a kid who attended a Super Camp gets drafted, and he says, 'I want to say thanks to the guys who taught me when I was a kid,' And I hope it's in a Blue Jay uniform. That would be the greatest thing in the world."
Todd Devlin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.