Throwing the first pitch at a major league baseball game is any fan’s dream come true.
That dream became a reality for Taron Kaiswatum, 10, from the Standing Buffalo Dakota Nation, when he was chosen to be the “Unstoppable Kid” in the Saskatchewan region Rookie League, a summer baseball camp sponsored by Jays Care Foundation (JCF),
After he was chosen, Kaiswatum travelled to Toronto to throw the first pitch at a Blue Jays game.
“It felt good. I was just thinking about throwing it down the middle, like my pitch and [I was] thinking of everyone back home too,” he said.
On Sunday, at a home game between the Blue Jays and the New York Yankees, the Grade 5 student stood in front of more than 34,000 people and threw a strike.
“It felt awesome … [the crowd] started yelling and cheering loud … really loud cheering.”
The opportunity was part of the Rookie League’s partnership between Fort Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQ) — which represents 11 First Nations in the Fort Qu’ Appelle and File Hills area — and the Jays Care Rookie League Baseball program, a charitable arm of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The program was launched last year in Saskatchewan with 10 of the 11 First Nations participating.
Each First Nation has a team of 20-plus players, but this isn’t your average baseball league; it’s not about wins or losses, it’s based on points earned for community engagement.
He tries his very best in every game and the fact that he is a great team player always cheering on his teammates.-Robert Witchel, Executive Director of the Jays Care Foundation
“So if you have chief and council come out to the game or play in the game, if you have lots of fans, if you have an elder opening the game,” said Tara Griffith, FHQ Rookie League Coordinator.
“The team with the most points at the end of the summer gets to fly out to Toronto. They get to go to the Jays game in the Jays Care Foundation clubhouse suite. They are recognized by Sportsnet. It’s really exciting for our youth.”
The Jays Care Foundation was founded in 1992 to help teach kids baseball — and thereby teach teamwork, confidence and life skills. To date, the organization has invested $7 million nationally in programs like the Rookie League that not only instill the fundamentals of the game, but also give kids a chance to get their communities involved.
This year JCF asked their partners across the country, including FHQ, if they would recommend any players that stood out.
Kaiswatum is among 200 other First Nation youth involved in the league within Saskatchewan, not to mention the thousands others across Canada.
Applications were received from several of the 140 communities from coast to coast and Kaiswatum was chosen to be the 2019 “Unstoppable Kid” based on recommendations from his coaches and peers as one of the most enthusiastic players in the league.
“We heard that Taron was and is always very anxious to play, his enthusiasm is infectious. He tries his very best in every game and the fact that he is a great team player always cheering on his teammates.” said Robert Witchel, executive director of the Jays Care Foundation.
“That is what we are looking for in this program — someone who is a very hard worker, always supporting his other teammates, but still an example to the other kids.”
Love of the game
For Kaiswatum, his love of sports goes beyond baseball; he is also an avid hockey and lacrosse player.
As an only child, Taron was often on the ball field around his father Randall’s fastball team, eventually becoming the team’s batboy.
“He even dresses up. I got him his own jersey that says batboy on it. He is always with the boys, playing catch with them and doing warm-ups with everybody on the team,” his dad said.
Randall Kaiswatum says his son’s outgoing personality and enthusiasm are on display every time he asks to practice or play catch at home.
Even on the flight to Toronto, Taron Kaiswatum made friends with other passengers, as he did with people in the seats near him at the game, his dad said.
“It’s just the way he is and I am so proud of him.”