Jean-Gilles Larocque knows what his own personal Field of Dreams would be — more kids from northern Ontario going on to play baseball at the university level in Canada or the United States.
To help them achieve that goal, the owner of The Baseball Academy is raising funds for university scholarships for these youth.
Larocque held a gala fundraiser — called Field of Dreams after the 1989 Kevin Costner movie of the same name — at Cambrian College Dec. 15 to support the scholarship fund.
He said he was hoping to raise at least a few thousand dollars for the scholarships through the event.
“It's getting harder and harder for Canadian kids to get scholarships,” Larocque said.
“That's just the way it is ... If a kid wants to go to school, and the tuition is $10,000 and we can give them $1,000 to help the parents out, now it's a little more affordable.”
Larocque started The Baseball Academy in 2009 to help local youth develop baseball skills.
When asked about the popularity of baseball among youth in Greater Sudbury, he said it's not where it should be, but it's definitely been growing in recent years.
“But we're second potatoes to soccer and hockey and everything else,” Larocque said. “With events like this, parents can see that there's places for their sons and daughters to go.”
The Field of Dreams event featured Toronto Sun baseball writer Bob Elliott, Blue Jays broadcaster and former major league player Gregg Zaun and long-time provincial and national level coach Marc Picard as guest speakers.
These three men also conducted a skills clinic for young baseball players from the Sudbury area before the gala.
Elliott said he fully supports the idea of setting up a scholarship fund for young baseball players. “(Larocque) has a passion matched for anything like I've seen in the country.”
He said there's many talented young Canadian baseball players moving up the ranks and signing with major league teams.
While soccer may have put a dent in the numbers of kids playing baseball in Canada, Elliot said he was encouraged by the youth participating in the clinic before the gala event.
What most parents don't realize is there's a lot more baseball scholarships available in the United States as compared to hockey scholarships, so pursuing them is a worthwhile venture, he said.
Zaun said it's important to increase baseball participation in Canada because it not only produces more top-level Canadian players, but also more baseball fans.
“It makes the game a lot more popular, it makes my job a lot more fun, because the more fans we get in the Rogers Centre cheering on the Blue Jays, the better the experience it is for everyone.”
At the same time, he said he feels for kids in Sudbury who are serious about pursuing baseball.
“When you look at the fact that there's snow outside and it's below freezing, it's a really tough sport to play when you're dealing with those kinds of conditions,” Zaun said.
“If you want to do anything bad enough, it can be done. You see these kids today, and they're an inspiration to me. They're in a gym, they're doing whatever they can to get better as players, because they love the game. I want to see more of that.”
Fourteen-year-old Ethan Jodouin was one of several young baseball players who attended the Field of Dreams gala.
The Grade 9 St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School student said he's been playing baseball pretty much all of his life, and has even been a part of the Northern Ontario youth team.
Jodouin said his dream is to play baseball at the university level. “I'm trying for it,” he said. “We'll see how it pans out.”
Those interested in donating to the scholarship fund are asked to phone Larocque at 705-561-9588.