“Show me what you got.”
That was the challenge Logan Halloran issued to Randy Crouse as he strode to the plate.
The at-bat started with a swing and a miss, but the Antigonish Challenger Baseball player made no mistake on the second pitch – smashing a hit that brought a roar from the crowd.
When one of his teammates brought him home, Logan wowed fans – once again – with some slick dance moves.
The only thing shining brighter than his smile was the sun on the sweltering summer afternoon.
That sequence – the pure joy on Logan’s face that he shared with everyone – was just one of countless moments that made this a day to remember.
Logan and his challenger baseball teammates played the first game on the newly unveiled Sandlot – a fully-accessible ball field located on the grounds of Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School.
The fun-filled match-up highlighted the July 20 official grand opening of the community facility.
“It is incredible,” Lynnette Rankin said on the day of the milestone, one more than four years in the making.
It was a special one for her family.
She is a member of the field fundraising committee, while her children Avery (7) and Isaac (10) participate in the challenger baseball program.
Avery is a player, while Isaac is a ‘buddy.’
“It highlights what they can do,” Rankin said, when asked about the benefits Avery and her teammates receive from the challenger program.
Rankin said both Avery and Isaac have gained “confidence” from their experience.
She explained Avery has learned so much about being an athlete, including physical literacy, while Isaac has grown while having an opportunity to help his sister and share the experience.
“It means so much to all of us,” Rankin said.
Before the players showed their skills, the official opening of the accessible field kicked-off with a performance by Grant School of Dance members.
Led by Oakley MacLean of the Clan Thompson Pipe Band, a colour guard of Antigonish RCMP members and local cadets brought dignitaries to the field, including Town of Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher.
“It is a special afternoon and a monumental day for our community,” she said.
Using a baseball term, Municipality of the County of Antigonish Warden Owen McCarron described the initiative as a “home run.”
“You made it happen, Antigonish,” he said.
The town and county contributed $70,000 and $50,000, respectively, to the $450,000 initiative, while $50,000 came from grants and $130,000 from community fundraising.
The key contribution that put the effort over the top – $150,000 – came from the Jays’ Care Foundation, the charitable arm of the Toronto Blue Jays.
“We believe that all kids deserve a chance to play,” Robert Witchel, executive director of the Jays’ Care Foundation, said.
He praised Crouse and everyone involved in making this community dream come true, offering that opportunity to everyone.
Witchel praised the “legendary East Coast hospitality” everyone from his organization received in Antigonish.
“It has been amazing,” he said.
Witchell also presented Antigonish Challenger Baseball – represented by Crouse and long-time volunteers Wade Chisholm and Kris Hunter – with a Blue Jays’ home jersey; one with #19 on the back and ‘Antigonish’ on the name plate.
When he took the podium, Crouse – the local, provincial and national co-ordinator for the challenger program – praised everyone who contributed to the initiative.
“Simply, thank you,” he said.
As he spoke of his beloved Antigonish challenger program, his eyes welled up. He reflected on the myriad benefits it and the other more than 100 programs provide to their more than 8,000 participants.
“You are amazing,” Crouse added of the program’s volunteers.
Crouse reminded that it is a “community ball field,” one that welcomes everyone.
He also thanked his family – wife Laura and son Gehrig – for their unwavering support during the process, one that included a lot of time away from them.
Although Crouse, as usual, deflected credit for his leadership in making things happen, opening organizers made sure he and his family were recognized.
Antigonish Challenger Baseball gifted them with a plaque, fittingly in the shape of home plate, while the Crouse Family Buddy Bench will be a permanent fixture at the field.
Members of the Antigonish CACL workshop wood shop built it, while L’Arche Hearts and Hands program participants created the artistry that adorns the bright yellow bench.
Before they took the field to play, several Antigonish Challenger Baseball players were integral to the official opening.
Ethan Connors, flanked by the assembled dignitaries, cut the traditional ribbon, while Liam Hodgson threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
And, of course, the lead-up to any big-time sport event includes the singing of O Canada, with Lauchlin Delorey providing a stirring rendition.