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Toronto to get first fully accessible baseball diamond

Project part of Jays Care Foundation's Challenger Baseball project for Canadian children with disabilities.

Toronto Mayor John Tory threw the ceremonial pitch Tuesday at the launch of the city's first fully accessible baseball diamond.

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Toronto Mayor John Tory threw the ceremonial pitch Tuesday at the launch of the city's first fully accessible baseball diamond.

Toronto's baseball players will soon be able to roll onto the diamond.

The Jays Care Foundation, the charity arm of the Toronto Blue Jays, unveiled a $1-million investment on Tuesday to build the city's first fully accessible baseball field. The plan will use hard rubber to transform Highview Park's diamond into a flat and soft surface. The material makes it possible for wheelchair users to play ball without the obstacles presented by regular turf.

"I think it's massively important for children who are differently abled," said the foundation's executive director Robert Witchel. "They love the game just like other kids but they lack the opportunity to play in a safer environment."

It's part of the charity's Challenger Baseball initiative, a national baseball program for children with physical and cognitive disabilities. Over 25,000 children from 76 communities are currently part of the program, but they mostly practise on regular baseball fields and thus require special assistance.

The foundation hopes to start the transformation later this year. Once the diamond is complete, Toronto will be the fourth city in Canada to have such a facility, following after Vancouver, Ottawa and Moncton.

Witchel said fully accessible diamonds are a response to the general lack of infrastructure for people living with disabilities. Over a third of Canadian children with disabilities don't participate in physical activities, mainly due to the absence of appropriate facilities, he said.

Giving these children a chance to play strengthens their levels of independence and confidence, added Witchel.

"We've heard stories of children who'd not go out by themselves, but by the end of just one game they tell their parent: 'Hey, I don't need you anymore,'" he said. "It's incredibly powerful."

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