Fans step to plate for Alomar's Home Run Challenge
Charity series gives participants opportunity to hit dingers, help Jays Care Foundation
Avi Wachsman is focused on the task at hand. He climbs the steps out of the dugout, looks into a sea of blue while adjusting his cap in the batter's box and perfectly connects with a pitch down the middle, pausing to watch as it sails over the fence.
"That's how it's done," screams a familiar voice from behind him -- a voice that belongs to none other than Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar. "Let's get another."
It's the kind of moment that most Blue Jays fans would do anything to experience -- and exactly the kind of moment that 28 Roberto Alomar & Friends Charity Home Run Challenge participants did, in fact, experience at Rogers Centre on Thursday.
"Every baseball fan has a dream to play on a big league field," said Wachsman. "Being able to do that and spend the day with baseball legends like Robbie Alomar and Lloyd Moseby, to understand what they're all about is amazing. It's a very unique experience to try to take their pointers and put them into action in front of them."
Now in its fifth season, the 2014 Roberto Alomar & Friends Charity Home Run Challenge series began on Thursday in Toronto, as Alomar was joined by Blue Jays alumni Duane Ward, Lloyd Moseby, George Bell and Devon White for a "day of dingers" on the field in support of Jays Care Foundation. Funds raised through the challenge will go towards growing the game of baseball through the Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League program, which will celebrate its 26th anniversary in Toronto this year, and now reaches over 7,900 children and youth across Canada.
"[Stepping onto the field at Rogers Centre] always brings back a lot of memories," said Alomar. "More importantly, the Home Run Challenge series is held to raise funds for Jays Care, because they do a great job for the community."
"The Roberto Alomar & Friends Charity Home Run Challenge has been overwhelmingly successful in raising funds for our Rookie League program, and we are thrilled to partner with Robbie Alomar -- a true Blue Jays champion on and off the baseball diamond," said Danielle Bedasse, executive director of Jays Care Foundation. "All of the participants have done a fantastic job raising funds for the Blue Jays Baseball Academy Rookie League program, and Robbie and our other alumni instructors have put together an awesome experience for them in return."
Participants, who raised over $110,000 in support of Jays Care, were outfitted in their own personalized Blue Jays uniforms and equipment, and they were given an hour of batting practice in the Blue Jays' batting tunnel prior to taking the field.
"[The participants] are getting an opportunity to come out here on a baseball field that has a lot of tradition," said Blue Jays alumni Duane Ward. "You can look up and you see the [World Series and division title] banners -- '85, '89, '91, '92, '93 -- these guys are getting the opportunity to do something that us as players dreamed about from the time we were little kids until we actually made it. We're here to give up home runs, and I don't like those memories -- I like the memories of getting people out -- but I'm happy to do anything I can to support Jays Care."
In appreciation for their fundraising efforts, all participants were invited to join Alomar, Ward, Moseby, Bell and White in a Rogers Centre luxury suite and watch the Blue Jays take on the Philadelphia Phillies.
"It's an incredible experience," says Home Run Challenge participant Steven Junger. "The guys I came with, we play poker together, and we've been doing that for about 25 years. We're all baseball fans, so to meet the players we all used to watch and idolize is something we always cherish. Being in the suite is great -- you get to hang out with the players in a very unique setting."
Asked what he hopes participants will take away from this experience, Alomar was quick to respond.
"There was one guy that I saw last year," said Alomar. "Since then, he has become a much better hitter. That's a really great feeling for us, to know that we can help these guys get better at baseball."
The series will take to the road throughout the 2014 Blue Jays season, hosting events in Moncton, New Brunswick; Okotoks, Alberta; and Vancouver in support of Jays Care Foundation. For more information, or to register for a Home Run Challenge, visit bluejays.com/homerunchallenge.
Matt Warner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.