For almost 20 years, the annual Communitas Baseball Games have been bringing people together for an afternoon of fun, food and friendship.
This year’s event takes place Friday, Aug. 16 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Mill Lake Park.
It began with staff from Communitas Supportive Care Society’s mental health programs creating an opportunity that would be both active and accessible.
Jeff Hirch, now chief human resources officer for the organization, was a staff person with the Supported Independent Living (SIL) program at the time.
“We envisioned something that would get people outdoors, that was all-ages so that our families could also participate, and was really social,” he says,.
They landed on baseball and chose to hold the event at Mill Lake Park, which is easily accessible by bus. Equipment came from thrift stores and donations: gloves, bats, balls, helmets and even a catcher’s pad and mask.
Over the years, the event has expanded to include participants from any of Communitas’ services, staff, and families. Participants come from as far as Chilliwack and Mission to take part.
Micah Reimer, a staff member with SIL, said he loves that the event takes place in a public place.
“It’s such a great way to create awareness in the community,” he says. “When people stop to watch, we invite them to join us. Sometimes they do.”
Ken and Amanda are two baseball fans who are part of Choices and Connections, one of Communitas’ longest running services. Ken said he loves baseball.
“I like to play with others and I like to be up at bat,” he says. “I aim for the sky!”
Amanda enjoys being on base and being the catcher. She uses the latter role to be a cheerleader for her friends who step up to the plate.
“I encouraged Ken by telling him to keep his eye on the ball,” she says.
The competition is not exactly fierce; Reimer describes it as supportive.
“If someone strikes out after three pitches, the crowd often encourages the pitcher to give them a few more chances,” he says. “It’s not really about how well you play, it’s just about showing up.”
A Most Valuable Player trophy is awarded to an individual who displays great sportsmanship and shows an effort that goes above and beyond.
Hot dogs and other refreshments are also part of the experience. Local businesses, such as Costco, donate supplies for this, and both Hirch and Reimer see that as another positive example of community buy-in.
They agree that the social aspect of the tournament is what makes it special.
“You get out there and you don’t see stigma or disability; you just see people,” Hirch says. “That’s really what it’s all about.”