Blue Jays 2015 run has reignited youth baseball in Canada

Aug 27, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Rogers Stadium and the CN Tower before the Toronto Blue Jays play the Boston Red Sox. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 27, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Rogers Stadium and the CN Tower before the Toronto Blue Jays play the Boston Red Sox. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports /

Like the Blue Jays World Series runs in the early-90s, the 2015 playoffs have sparked participation in youth baseball across the country

Youth sports in Canada have a way of following the success of their professional teams.

The past five years have shown this to be true for basketball, with an influx of Canadian talent into the NBA and NCAA levels. This past season’s playoff run by the Toronto Blue Jays has shown the same to be true for baseball.

According to Jonathan Rumley of CBC, youth baseball organizers in Toronto and across Canada are experiencing their biggest surge in registration since the back-to-back World Series championships in the early-90s.

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“Our house league registration used to take months to fill up,” said Andrew Pace, a camps and clinic director with the East York Baseball Association. “Now it’s one or two days and we have a wait list of 50 in each of our divisions. So there’s definitely a demand there,” he said.

Jim Baba, executive director of Baseball Canada, tells Rumley that the youth game already saw significant growth last year and he expects that number to climb even higher this spring.

“I think we’ll hopefully see a 10 per cent increase,” Baba said. “I could easily see that happening — it could be even greater than that just based on the exposure.”

But back to the Raptors for a moment.

After their debut in 1995, the Raptors really hit their stride for the first time in the prime Vince Carter years. Toronto made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons from 1999-2001 with Carter, and in the process, made basketball “cool” in Canada.

This sounds like an oversimplification, but in drawing a larger (and younger) audience to the game, it made basketball a sport of choice among younger children, flooding local leagues with excess players. And talent.

It’s no coincidence that, 10-to-15 years later, we’re seeing a steady stream of 19 and 20-year-old basketball stars come out of Canada. The current revival of the Raptors under Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will keep this cycle going well into the future, too.

For the Blue Jays, those early-to-mid-90s seasons did the same. They made baseball the popular sport again, and took a small piece of the pie away from hockey among young athletes. Again, it’s not a coincidence that we’re now seeing more and more young Canadians who are legitimate MLB Draft prospects.

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It doesn’t apply just to players, either. The younger fan base now filling the Rogers Centre are just on the line of remembering those World Series years and being a little to young to. Now that the Blue Jays are cycling through another period of success, just like those Raptors, that generation of fans is ready to step in and support the team.

This long, slow circle is fascinating to watch in any sport. Another example would be the NFL’s current influx of mobile quarterbacks some 10-to-15 years after Michael Vick was at the height of his fame.

Toronto’s current MLB success will come and go, as is the case in any sport, but the profile of this team has already re-started a process that will have an impact on the game of baseball in Canada for many years.