Kingston Thunder receives grant from Jays Care Foundation

A $68,000 grant from the Jays Care Foundation will help Kingston Thunder build a new baseball diamond for its Challenger and Timbits programs. Pictured above are 2022 Challenger program athletes. Photo via Kingston Thunder.

Kingston Thunder Baseball Association is set to receive more than $60,000 from the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jays Care Foundation, which will help the organization construct a new grass baseball diamond for its Challenger and Timbits programs. According to Carol Steele, the organization’s treasurer, the application for a site-specific grant came after the City of Kingston announced its plans to increase user fees for municipal facilities, such as the baseball diamonds at Woodbine Park. 

Steele explained, “We pay [the] user fees. It’s cheaper from the [6 p.m. to 8 p.m.] time slot during the week than it is from 8 [p.m.] until 10, because there are lights [required for the later games]. So, I found out that they were raising their fees.”

Considering the added fees and the organization’s increased demand for access to baseball diamonds throughout the summer, Steele decided to submit an application to support the construction of a new diamond tailored to the needs of the two programs.

“We’re turning kids away because we can only take 80… So I was looking for a place… that we could [put] a diamond that the Challengers could play on, which then frees up the other diamonds with lights, and the Timbits could play [on it as well],” said Steele, who resides in the city’s west end near Woodbine Park. Then she saw an unused plot of land at the Woodbine facility, which used to house a starter track for Kingston BMX (bicycle racing), and she thought of it as an ideal location for the new diamond. 

The new baseball diamond at Woodbine Park will be located on a plot of land once occupied by Kingston BMX. The spot is located in the park’s north end. Screen captured image via Kingston Thunder/YGK Photo.

“I was trying to find a spot somewhere, and this is a piece of land that used to be a BMX track, that [Kingston] BMX doesn’t use anymore, which is overgrown. And I thought, maybe it will fit,” Steele said.

With a location for the new diamond in mind, the treasurer began to reach out to consultants and approached City of Kingston staff about the potential project. “I hired a guy with a drone who took pictures [of the land]. I went to contractors with the City. I went to people who put down sod, people who do fencing, [all] people who have to be approved by the City, because it’s on municipal land. And then I went and applied [for the grant].”

After identifying and evaluating a space for the new diamond, Steele then spent months preparing the grant for the Jays Care Foundation.

“We had to have it in with quotes for what it was going to cost. So we did it: we got [the] site-specific grant,” said Steele.

After submitting the application in April of 2022, it was finally announced this past Sunday, Apr. 30, 2023, that Kingston Thunder is one of 15 organizations set to receive a share of the foundation’s $1.5 million investment in community baseball diamonds across the country. 

“Jays Care is honoured to partner with 15 exceptional organizations throughout Canada that are dedicated to creating safe, inclusive, and accessible spaces for young people in their communities,” said Robert Witchel, the foundation’s executive director, in a press release that coincided with Sunday’s announcement. 

“Through the building of these baseball diamonds, youth will have the opportunity to form lasting relationships and a sense of belonging, learn valuable life-skills from positive role models, and grow through the power of sport and play,” Witchel stated. 

The grant money, $68,000 in total, will be used to construct a new diamond, which will house Kingston Thunder’s Challenger and Timbits programs. Launched in partnership with the Jays Care Foundation in 2022, the Challenger program provides opportunities for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities to take part in the sport of baseball. The Challenger Program is free to join and offers athletes two hours of baseball each week for six to eight weeks throughout the spring and summer months. Meanwhile, the Timbits Program is geared toward children between four and six years of age and provides athletes with their first introduction to the sport.

For both programs, Steele noted that a smaller baseball diamond is preferred over the regulation-sized spaces already in place at the park. “It is a very small diamond. A normal diamond for seven to 10-year-olds is 200 feet from home plate to the outfield. This diamond, because of the location, will be 150 [feet] with 50-foot base paths, which works for four to six-year-olds and challenged individuals. It actually lets them get on first base because it’s 10 feet shorter than your [average] 10-year-old would normally run,” she said. 

While the funding from the Jays Care Foundation will cover a significant portion of the project, Steele noted that the organization will be on the hook for the rest of the expenses, with contractors and other providers contributing their services at “a reduced price.” 

With the grant now secured, the Jays Care Foundation will make the payment directly to the City of Kingston, which will then be used to pay the contractors. According to Steele, construction should begin sometime in May or early June.

“I expect the diamond to be finished before Labour Day. So we’re not planning on booking it this year, unless it is ready,” she explained.

Once the diamond is complete, Steele said, she imagines the organization will be able to expand many of its baseball programs in future years. “With this diamond being finished… we can take 200 Timbits [players] instead of 140. [Right now] they’re on diamonds that they don’t need to be on. [So] I think we can take another 50 kids in every division at the levels on the other diamonds.” 

In terms of what the financial support from the Jays Care Foundation means for local organizations like Kingston Thunder, Steele said, “It let our organization grow [through] the Challenger program. It was the perfect win-win for us.”

With the 2023 baseball season set to get underway later this month, registrations are still open for a number of the organization’s house league divisions, including the Challenger program. Timbits registration, however, is now closed. As is the case for many local sports organizations, Kingston Thunder continues to search for coaches and other volunteers. Those interested in volunteering with the club can visit Kingston Thunder’s website. 

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