National Little League up to the Challenger after boost from Jays' Field of Dreams fund

When the late Doug Hudlin was enshrined in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame last summer, with a Class of 2017 that included Roy Halladay and Vladimir Guerrero, niece Barb Hudlin spoke on her uncle’s behalf.

It was at the induction ceremony in St. Mary’s Ont., that she was introduced to Challenger Baseball. Barb Hudlin was so inspired by the concept that she decided it would be a wonderful tribute to her uncle’s memory. So Doug Hudlin Challenger Baseball was born at National Little League, and has begun operation this spring, at the tidy park wedged between Hillside Avenue and Cook Street.

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The Challenger program provides an opportunity to play baseball for children with cognitive or physical disabilities.

The National Little League program got a $6,596 boost from the Toronto Blue Jays Care Foundation Field of Dreams Fund that will go toward refurbishing the dugouts and improving accessibility at Jerry Hale Field.

“I thought this was a great way to honour my uncle’s legacy,” said Barb Hudlin.

“It’s a fitting way to remember him and his contributions to baseball.”

Doug Hudlin, the first Canadian to umpire at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, umpired all over the Island but was especially associated with National, which was established in 1953, and is the oldest Little League on the Island.

Hudlin, who umpired inter-generational numbers of Island ball players over four decades, died in 2014 at 91. He umpired twice at the Little League World Series, in 1967 as the first Canadian to do so, and in 1974 when Esquimalt-Vic West represented Canada. Hudlin, known for his warmth and empathy behind the plate, also twice umpired at the Senior Little League World Series in Gary, Indiana.

The City of Victoria proclaimed June 11 Doug Hudlin Day last year during ceremonies held at National Little League.

“It [Blue Jays grant] is a modest amount but it will make a big difference,” said Mike Ross, a member of the National Little League board of directors.

The improvements to the park will be made after this season in October.

The Gordon Head Baseball Association, meanwhile, received $15,173 from the Blue Jays’ Field of Dreams program. The money will be applied to the planned improvements to Wilf Sadler Field at Lambrick Park, for which $20,000 has already been raised privately through fundraising and sponsors. Particular emphasis will be on improved dugouts and also enhanced wheelchair accessibility for the Challenger program,

The National and Gordon Head associations are among 16 from across the country — and the only two from B.C. — chosen for Blue Jays Field of Dreams grants this year. The 16 baseball-related community organizations will receive a combined $1.4 million from the Blue Jays’ charity arm. The amounts of the grants vary based on needs.

“It says a lot about youth baseball in Victoria that two of the 16 organizations selected nationally by the Blue Jays Foundation this year are from here,” said Ross.

“It also speaks to the rise of the Challenger program and the move to make baseball more inclusive.”

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