Recent numbers from Statistics Canada suggest baseball is a declining sport for Canadian youth. However, it may be time to knock those stats out of the park.
“Our baseball enrolment in Scarborough has been going up steadily the last few years,” said Greg Dennis, president of the Scarborough Stingers baseball organization. “They had record amounts of kids signing up for Rookie Ball and T-Ball house league the last couple of years in every association.”
Baseball has found a stable home not just in Scarborough, but possibly in Ontario as a whole.
Frank Gallo, who coaches the Minor Peewee AAA Stingers team, saw the phenomenon firsthand. This past season he was awarded the Ontario Baseball Association’s Youth Coach of the Year.
“I think it has peaked a little bit, everywhere,” Gallo said. “We go to Baseball Ontario meetings and I think everyone is saying they have growth. So, it’s not just Scarborough.”
Getting a rise in participation levels is one thing and sustaining it is another. Once these young players get involved in the game, they need to have fun in order for them to stick around.
“You have to teach them a little about the game, some fundamentals and things like that, so we can keep them there as they go along,” Dennis said. “It is one thing to have a spike and then have it drift off. Or, it’s one thing to have big enrolment when they are seven years old. You want them to keep playing ball.”
Our baseball enrolment in Scarborough has been going up steadily the last few years
— Greg Dennis
Not only is it extremally important to keep the kids who are playing on the field, it is also important to grow the game from the outside.
“Toronto is an incredibly ethnically diverse community itself,” Dennis said. “The more and more we can get people from all the different communities out to play baseball, the better for all of us.”
Four leagues based in Scarborough are centred in the south, Gallo said. It may be the right time to expand the game.
The Stingers play some home games at Neilson Park in northeastern Scarborough. During their games, both Dennis and Gallo said, kids and families who are not familiar with baseball come out to watch and ask questions.
“When we are playing, there are kids coming out all the time just watching and you just wish there was a league up that way,” Gallo said. “If we are going to do anything we should really develop that area.”
Another factor that can help grow the game is the success of the hometown Toronto Blue Jays.
Dennis is hoping the Jays play well this season to back up the excitement they have built throughout the city. He says a successful Jays team will have an even greater effect on baseball in the area.
“There is no question, the Jays being the competitive team they are, and the buzz that is in this city, is going to be great for all of our baseball associations.”