At first glance, Variety Challenger Baseball Field, located in Vancouver's Hillcrest Park adjacent to Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium, might strike you as just another baseball diamond, no different than most others found in parks and playgrounds across the city. But if you were to take a closer look you'd soon notice it's anything but.
The first of its kind in Western Canada, this ballpark was conceived with a special purpose in mind: to accommodate the needs of cognitively and physically disadvantaged children from throughout Vancouver's Lower Mainland who otherwise might not be able to play baseball. Design features like wider entryways, an absence of stairs, roomier dugouts, and additional space between home plate and the backstop fence would make for a fully accessible and secure playing environment, particularly for children who use mobility aids. And the synthetic infield would eliminate the incidence of ruts caused by wheelchair tires, ensuring that these players, with the help of their able-bodied volunteer 'buddies', could travel smoothly and safely around the bases. In short, the concept of Variety Challenger Baseball Field gave a whole new meaning to the term 'home field advantage'.
News of plans for what was to become a cornerstone of The Vancouver Canadians Baseball Foundation first broke in mid-2014. Headed up by the efforts of the Foundation and its four collaborators, title partner Variety - The Children's Charity, Jays Care Foundation (a charitable initiative of the Toronto Blue Jays), the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation and the BC Challenger Baseball Program, shovels hit the dirt in July of 2015 and work to reconfigure and renovate the baseball diamond which already occupied the site was underway. And less than a year after that, on September of 2016, Variety Challenger Baseball Field officially opened its gates, set to welcome hundreds of eager young players who for the first time could get excited about spending a memorable summer playing baseball at their very own brand new ballpark.
An added-value benefit, one which may not have been anticipated during Variety Challenger Baseball Field's planning stages, is that its very existence has gone a long way towards raising awareness that more such facilities are needed, so that all children, regardless of physical or cognitive obstacles that may stand in their way, can get the chance to successfully participate in team sports. That awareness is spreading; in the several months since the ribbon was cut at Variety Challenger Baseball Field, several cities across Canada have been inspired to take up the cause, designing and building their own fully accessible playing fields and facilities.
Meanwhile, with the dead of winter approaching, Variety Challenger Baseball Field lies quiet, nestled under a layer of snow... but don't worry. Before you know it, that snow will melt away, the grass will turn from brown to green, and this 'field of dreams' will be ready to host another summer of Challenger Baseball. It'll be ready to ring with children's laughter. And it'll be ready to inspire us all over again.
We can hardly wait.