Blue Jays’ foundation grant helps light up Nanaimo baseball

NANAIMO – The Toronto Blue Jays’ Jays Care Foundation announced $150,000 for lights at a Nanaimo baseball field.

Baseball in Nanaimo is going to be seen in a different light.

Nighttime ball games are now a question of when, not if, after the Nanaimo Minor Baseball Association received significant grant money for field lighting.

The Toronto Blue Jays’ Jays Care Foundation announced $150,000 for lights in Nanaimo.

Upon hearing the news, Jereme MacKinnon, vice-president of Nanaimo minor baseball, said he “almost teared up.” He said the project will benefit players in minor ball, premier leagues, college and senior levels, as well as fans.

“It’s just a huge opportunity for the entire community, really, because now the community can come out and watch an actual baseball game under the lights,” MacKinnon said.

The lighting could open up new tournament and related sports-tourism opportunities, said Mike Holyk, president of Nanaimo minor baseball, and will also provide more options with game times in the spring and fall.

“As lovely as the weather is on the West Coast, there are times where it’s tough to get baseball in when it’s raining, so this just gives us a larger window,” he said.

He also looks forward to the atmosphere of night games.

“Like a Field of Dreams kind of thing…” Holyk said. “There’s a practical application, but I think it adds something special to the game, as well.”

MacKinnon applied on behalf of the NMBA last year, too, and made it to the second round of consideration.

Now that Jays Care has committed funding, there’s more work to do.

The City of Nanaimo is the primary partner in the project, as it will cover approximately half of the $539,000 cost. Part of the total project value includes in-kind contributions.

The lights are to be installed at the Serauxmen Sports Fields, though minor baseball directors think there is still a possibility that the lights could be put in at Serauxmen Stadium, instead.

“I’ve talked to a whole bunch of people in the community, a whole bunch of baseball people and they’ve all said, yeah, if that’s an option, that’s the best option,” MacKinnon said.

The sports fields are owned by the city, whereas the stadium is owned by the school district. The city’s plan is to install the lights at the sports fields. Steve Rae, school board chairman, said there have been no discussions about putting the lights at the stadium.

“There seems to be some consideration that if something changed at Serauxmen, they might be able to pivot that way,” said Holyk. “I guess from my standpoint, I just want to ensure that we get lights up and nothing gets complicated.”

MacKinnon said baseball is growing, with 650 minor ball players, 100 more in the Nanaimo Pirates and Vancouver Island Baseball Institute programs and nearly 100 in the senior league.

“I think the sport of baseball and the Nanaimo baseball community is just starting to get legs and we’re going to definitely grow over the years to come,” he said.

Doug Rogers, Pirates manager, isn’t involved in the lighting project talks but said it’s fun to think about the possibilities of baseball under the lights.

“You could have twilight and then night doubleheaders, which would be really nice for people to come out and watch in mid-summer,” he said. “That type of atmosphere would be something that obviously we’ve never seen before.”

Musco Sports Lighting based out of Richmond will install the lights, either LED or metal halide.

Jays Care announced $1.45 million in ball field infrastructure improvements for 14 projects across the country and indicated in a press release that it’s committed to providing high-quality, safe spaces for children and youths to play.

“Baseball diamonds are classrooms; the life lessons children learn through playing baseball – teamwork, determination, leadership and resiliency – will serve them well,” said Robert Witchel, the foundation’s executive director.