Calgary baseball diamonds see 'Blue Jays bump' as kids flock to little leagues

Calgary youth baseball teams say they are feeling a 'Blue Jays bump' — as 25 to 30 per cent more kids have signed up to play ball this year, inspired by the success of Canada's only major league baseball team.

25-30% more kids signed up to play ball this year

Tony Zhao, 12, decided to pick up baseball this year. He's a Blue Jays fan. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

Originally published May 17.

Lucas Shellborn leaps sideways, baseball glove extended, and falls flat to the ground. "It's the Pillar catch. Like Superman," he says dusting himself off.

It's the nine-year-old's imitation of the Blue Jays' outfielder Kevin Pillar,  known for diving through the air to make unbelievable catches.

Lucas Shellborn, 9, demonstrates his 'Pillar superman catch' inspired by Blue Jays' Kevin Pillar. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

You'll be seeing a lot of these fancy moves on Calgary baseball diamonds this year as record numbers of kids are signing up to play ball, inspired by Canada's only professional team's success.

The Blue Jays made it to the playoffs in October 2015 — for the first time in 22 years.

They call it the "Blue Jays bump", says Calgary West Little League president Kevin Gerla. 

"We have seen a 30 per cent increase in registration over last year. That equates to about 200 more kids."

Other leagues report increases of 20 to 25 per cent.

'All Jays all the time'

Herman Figueroa has the 'Bautista bat flip' down. 

Herman Figueroa, 11, demonstrates the 'Bautista bat flip', immortalized by Blue Jays hitter Jose Bautista. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

"Once you connect with the ball, then you take five steps before throwing the bat. It's all with the wrist," Figueroa says.

The move was immortalised by the Blue Jays right fielder, Jose Bautista after he hit a series-winning home run in October 2015.

Figueroa, who plays for the Blue Jays team in the Calgary N.W. Little League, says he watched the move on YouTube a dozen times before trying it himself.

He knows not to try it during a game, as the move is frowned upon by baseball purists, not to mention second basemen with the Texas Rangers. (Bautista was punched at second base during a game in Texas on the weekend. It was seen as retaliation for the now infamous bat flip).

Members of Calgary West Little League team, the 'Mets' (left to right): Kai Rempel, Eilis Clipperton, Calder Chin, Cameron Gerla, Kellen Gerla, Robbie Johannesen, Braydon Grenier, Jon Vinge (Judy Aldous/CBC)

Nice Problem to Have

Calgary West Little League President Kevin Gerla says they had been warned that the surge would happen.

Kevin Gerla, president of Calgary West Little League and team coach, encourages his pitcher from the sidelines. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

"Those people in our league that were involved in baseball in the 90s after the Blue Jays won the World Series then they saw a similar bump, so it wasn't an unexpected event," Gerla said.

Just because they were expecting it, doesn't mean they were prepared.

"It's a nice problem to have. But it does pose some challenges. We may have got 30 per cent more kids. But we didn't get 30 per cent more diamonds. And we didn't get 30 per cent more coaches."

Members of Calgary's N.W. Little League team, the Blue Jays (left to right): Tony Zhao, Lucas Shellborn, Sam Shellborn, Matthew Roveto, Herman Figueroa (Judy Aldous/CBC)

Gerla says many of the newcomers don't come from baseball families, so it took a bit of encouragement to get the parents to sign up for coaching duties.

Back to ball

Tom Polmear has spent eight years standing on the side of baseball diamonds as president of Calgary North West Little League.

Tom Polmear, Calgary N.W. Little League president, says many kids left baseball to play spring hockey and outdoor soccer, but are now flocking back to baseball teams. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

Polmear says five years ago, baseball numbers were down.

"Kids were encouraged to specialise at a young age and we saw an explosion in spring hockey," he said.

That lasted a few years and then kids starting to come back to the diamonds.

"The sports that go year round like hockey and soccer, the kids have tried it, they are great sports, but it just wasn't their cup of tea, so they've come back to playing little league," Polmear said.

Sam Shellborn, 11, gets ready for his game. Shellborn plays with the Blue Jays - a little league team in the N.W. division. 'It's all Blue Jays all the time' at their house, his mom says. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

Basketball bump next?

Things aren't going so well for the Jays this year.

The Toronto Raptors, on the other hand ... in a year, maybe we'll be talking about a 'basketball bump'.

'Safe at home' - an exciting moment at a Calgary Little League game. Calgary teams are feeling a 'Blue Jays bump' as the success of Canada's only major league team inspires young players here. (Judy Aldous/CBC)


Judy Aldous

CBC Radio

Judy Aldous is an award-winning reporter and producer who has worked across the country for CBC Radio. She's been working with CBC Calgary since 2002 and is currently the host of alberta@noon.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?