Dunedin Blue Jays starting pitcher Josh DeGraaf had a memorable season on the field, establishing himself as Dunedin's ace in the second half and helping to pitch the team to a share of the Florida State League's Championship. While his impact was great between the white lines, DeGraaf made many more memories for members of our local Dunedin community off the field. For his continued efforts to support the local community, DeGraaf was recently honored as the Blue Jays 2017 Community Service Award winner.
The Blue Jays Community Service Award has been given annually since 2012 to the Blue Jays player who best exemplifies the team's commitment to enriching the Dunedin community through a variety of outreach programs that promote education, healthy lifestyles, and charity. Throughout the 2017 season, DeGraaf represented the Blue Jays in the community through numerous appearances away from the ballpark, supporting and encouraging local children, students, and families.
"We could always count on Josh. Hands down, no one was more eager to participate and help out throughout the season," Blue Jays Community Relations Manager Kathi Beckman said about DeGraaf. "He was a leader and an advocate for our programs in the clubhouse all year. He was so personable with fans and the community and was an absolute natural with children and students."
DeGraaf helped lead the 2017 Blue Jays Bookin' It To The Ballpark Reading Program, the largest community outreach progam in the franchise's history, reaching five hundred elementary school students in 14 Pinellas County schools. DeGraaf visited local elementary schools to support the program and promote literacy, reading to local students, answering their questions, and encouraging them in their studies. Over the course of the six-week program, local students read for 146,035 minutes, over 101 full days of reading.
DeGraaf was also active at the 2017 Blue Jays Bowling Tournament, an event that raised $12,820 for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay. Prior to the event, he volunteered to paint pottery to be raffled at the event and then helped raise nearly $1000 selling raffle tickets to fans at the event.
DeGraaf also took to the shopping mall to help out local families, participating in the Blue Jays Here We Grow and Toys For Tots Shopping Drives. During the Here We Grow Shopping Spree, he helped purchase school supplies and clothing for local students in need. During the Toys For Tots drive, he joined teammate Ryan Cook in selecting $1000 worth of toys and presents to be given to local children during the upcoming holiday season.
Reflecting on the myriad of events he participated in throughout the year, DeGraaf noted the time he spent with local students during the Reading Program as particularly memorable.
"I loved the kids' questions. They always had really funny questions and sometimes very surprisingly good questions about baseball, about reading, and about life. It was fun hearing those and laughing with them. They may have been early mornings, but I enjoy working with kids."
DeGraaf joins an impressive list of past Dunedin Blue Jays Community Service Award winners.
2012: Danny Barnes
2013: Matt Newman
2014: Taylor Cole
2015: L.B. Dantzler and Jorge Saez
2016: Tim Mayza
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.