Many team sports have been grounded and unable to practice indoors because of pandemic restrictions and lockdown; however, one Ottawa man with a passion for baseball found a solution which not only benefited little-league teams across the region, but provided much needed revenue for one Royal Canadian Legion struggling to cover its expenses.
COVID-19 has already thrown its first curveball at the upcoming baseball season. Leagues across the Ottawa region, like the St. Anthony Angels, have been faced with having to find a new indoor training space.
“We had a few places that had fallen through based on various COVID issues,” says Chris Chapman, vice president of public relations with the Angels. “But when you start to look elsewhere you would pay more and it would be a prohibitive cost and quite frankly we might not have played.”
Another team faced with the same situation, is the Ottawa Patriots. Their president, Paul Villeneuve, stepped up to the plate to find a solution.
“Just by coincidence, I had stopped by the Legion,” he said.
The Royal Canadian Legion in Greely was closed and had been for months due to the pandemic. After some research, Villeneuve discovered the Legion was struggling and a GoFundMe campaign had been started to help cover the expenses.
“I struck an idea and said hey maybe I can call the president,” says Villeneuve. “They were more receptive than I thought and it was beneficial to both them and to us, and I’m committed to get them $9,000 to $11,000 and I will honour that commitment.”
If you build it, they will come.
Villeneuve, who has been involved with junior baseball in the Ottawa area for more than 25 years, used his personal savings to buy the necessary equipment required for an indoor training facility.
There is 6,000 square feet of artificial turf, a large batting cage, two pitching mounds with plenty of room for groundwork and a net that circles the entire hall of the Legion.
Villeneuve, along with a group of volunteers, worked tirelessly to convert the empty hall into his field-of-dreams.
“We had at least something for the kids to get out of the house and go practice their sport,” says Villeneuve, who adds that seven organizations are now using the indoor space. “Pretty much everybody is there and asked for some space and we’re still getting some requests and you just feel sorry now that we filled it up.”
However, Villeneuve would miss ‘opening night’ at the Legion. Days before the door was unlocked, he was hospitalized and had to undergo emergency surgery for necrotising pancreatitis. He spent six weeks in hospital, four in the intensive care unit.
His son Dylan Villeneuve took charge to make sure baseball would still be played.
“His love and his vision is pretty wild,” says Dylan. “There was a moment where we weren’t exactly sure what was going to happen but in the end we new this is what he wanted.”
Now out of the hospital, Villeneuve is in the home stretch to recovery with his sight set on coaching again this summer. He has been to the Legion to see the finished project for himself and says he’s ecstatic that kids have a place to go for the next few months.
While the baseball community awaits his triumphant return to the sport which he loves, Chapman says the time and effort to create this space is a home run for baseball in the capital.
“The selfless acts is what defines him here and we’re all thankful as an organization.”