By RON FANFAIR
The Toronto Blue Jays has turned off many young fans in the past 17 years that the baseball club has missed the playoffs.
An exception is Birchmount Collegiate Grade 12 student Bligh Williams, who was born a year after the Jays won its second straight World Series title in 1993.
Inspired to switch from soccer to baseball after his uncle took him to a Jays game eight years ago, Williams has become one of the city’s top high school players.
The speedy lead-off hitter and centre-fielder was among a select group of prospects invited to showcase their talent at a two-day camp in Guelph recently.
Scouts from all 30 Major League Baseball clubs attended the event organized by Perfect Game USA, the world’s largest baseball scouting service.
“This was a big opportunity for me,” said Williams. “This is the first time that such an event is taking place in Canada and to be part of it is really quite an honour. I am ready to make the most of the opportunity to show the scouts what I have.”
Nearly 200 young players, including about 100 final-year students, participated in the event at Pearson Fields.
“This was a great chance for Canadian kids to get exposure at an event like this,” said Ontario Blue Jays head coach Dan Bleiwas.
Williams said he was prepared for the camp despite his full-time summer employment with the Toronto Police Service Youth in Policing Initiative.
“If I was not working this summer, I would be in the batting cage and fielding ground balls most of the day sharpening my skills,” he said. “I am however not worried about not getting in the extra work because I have done a fair bit in the afternoons. I was good to go.”
Several top major league players attended the camp in the past, including Canadian-born Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is a 2001 graduate.
For Williams, being invited to the camp is a stepping stone in his quest to make it to the major leagues.
“I know it is not going to be easy because I am still raw,” he said. “I will work hard to polish my game and continue to learn from the best who play my position.”
Williams’ baseball idol is Tampa Bay Rays outfielder B.J. Upton, who was drafted second overall in 2002.
“He’s slim like me, he plays the same position that I do and we both lead off,” added Williams, the son of a Trinidadian father and English mother. “Our game is also based on speed and that’s why I enjoy watching him.”