A group of young B.C. baseball players got a big-league experience on Saturday, after a former pro bought them a ‘day at the Nat.’
Youth from West Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast were invited to face off in their first competitive game in the COVID-19-truncated season at Vancouver’s iconic Nat Bailey Stadium — thanks to a generous donation from former MLB player and All-Star Ryan Dempster.
“To have this come along, and to be able to send these kids out to play on the field at Nat Bailey Stadium, it’s just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Andrew Appleton, president of the Sunshine Coast Baseball Association.
After the spring season was cancelled, kids were invited to sign up for summer — with the expectation that it would be a season of drills and scrimmages, but no real competition, he said.
“To me, that doesn’t really sound like very much fun. So we tried to get some games going,” said Appleton.
“Ryan Dempster heard what we were doing, and he decided to pay the whole bill to come to Nat Bailey Stadium for a real big-league experience.”
Dempster originally hails from Gibsons, B.C., and Appleton said the former pro has retained his connection to the Sunshine Coast community.
“He’s exactly how you would want a local baseball hero to be; he gives back to the community, he does clinics back in Gibsons whenever he can,” he said.
“Last year, he came and played with our men’s hardball league in Gibsons and the whole town came out.”
Coach Fred Beitler with West Vancouver’s minor baseball program said the sport has been a lifeline to his young players during the pandemic.
The West Vancouver kids have been practicing between four and five times a week since June.
“The kids have missed structure in their lives, when the middle of March came around and everything shut down. It wasn’t just sports, you’re looking at churches …. school itself,” he said.
“Some of these kids have not been in a routine.”
Hitting the field has been an important opportunity to get their physical and mental health back on track, he said.
But with few other teams operating on the North Shore during the pandemic, Beitler said his players were also expecting a summer of non-competitive play.
“To come out today and play and see a different opponent … is exciting for our kids because we’re not just playing ourselves,” he said.
Twelve-year-old Sam lives in Gibsons and has played baseball since he was four.
The young player said trying to get the season going this year has been “just crazy.”
“We started up and we’ve been taking precautions,” he said.
As for the chance to play at the Nat?
“I’m really excited.”View link »