With the grudging end to the hockey season, April brings with it a new sport for Canadians to anticipate. For many Torontonians, baseball is just as exciting as the nation’s favourite sport.
But the growth and support of baseball in Toronto has been lethargic. Sports like soccer, basketball and even cricket seem to gain more support every year while baseball’s popularity declines.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Eight years ago, the Scarborough Stingers were formed and have grown ever since.
“There are now more than 100 kids playing baseball for the Stingers and our coaches report that more kids are showing up at try-outs every year,” said Greg Dennis, chairman of the Scarborough Stingers Association.
The Stingers have fielded AAA teams at every level. They’ve added three AA teams this season and further additions are likely in the near future.
“The Number 1 thing we want to do is improve the Stingers program itself, with increased coaching clinics and instruction for the players,” Dennis said. “We stress fun and fundamental development, and our program will be measured by our success in developing players as well as our competitiveness on the field.”
The Stingers emphasize developing the skills of kids who live in Scarborough. Clinics put on by Frank Gallo, director of baseball operations, are provided to help nurture young talent.
Like those in the Stingers organization, Colin Cummins also dedicates his time to developing local talent. He’s run summer camps under the Red Eye Pro Baseball banner since 1998 and last month opened his own baseball training facility in Scarborough.
“The [Major League Baseball] strike in 1994 damaged baseball in Canada,” Cummins said. “However, [players like] Justin Morneau, Jesse Crain and Russell Martin have given Canadian baseball a boost over the last couple of years.
“Joey Votto’s MVP season last year has really given Canadian baseball a huge kick.”
Votto, born in Etobicoke, is the second Canadian to win MLB’s MVP in the last five years.
“[Athletes] bring us their desire and raw talent, and we give them the tools to developing good skills,” Dennis said. “And then the most gifted will take those things to a higher level beyond the ball fields of Scarborough.”
It’s been a successful formula so far, pumping out high school prospects like Caleb King and Mitch Triolo on a yearly basis. Former Stinger Brian Piper currently plays U.S. collegiate baseball.
“The day will come soon enough that a Major League Baseball player will be able to credit his early development to the Scarborough Stingers,” Dennis said. “And I look forward to the day when a former Stinger toes the rubber or digs in to hit for the very first time at the major league level.”