The National Slo-Pitch Athletics Canada Co-Ed World Series, the Labour Day long weekend event that will be held in Kamloops for a third straight year, will receive a boost from three celebrity participants.
NHL Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler, seven-time NHL all-star Theo Fleury and four-time MLB all-star Dante Bichette will bring star power to the Tournament Capital Ranch on Aug. 31.
The celebrity appearances are being organized by interventionist and sexual abuse survivor Andy Bhatti, who is aiming to use the Co-Ed World Series to help raise awareness for mental health and childhood trauma.
Fleury and Bichette will be special guest hitters in the Bomb Show, the celebrity home-run derby that will take place at 8 p.m. on Aug. 31, on Diamond 1 at the Tournament Capital Ranch.
Sittler will be a guest coach for the Coors Light and Louisville All-Star Game, which will follow the Bomb Show.
Bhatti said The Cabin Group, a treatment centre in Thailand, has offered to provide two treatment stints, worth about $40,000 each, to anyone willing to get help for trauma.
“They can send us their story by email,” said Bhatti, who runs Andy Bhatti Interventions and Addiction Services. “They don’t have to be an addict, just 100 per cent willing to accept help. Some survivors of sexual abuse are not full-on alcoholics or drug addicts.”
Applicants are asked to reach out to Bhatti prior to the event through his website, andybhatti.com, or by emailing email@example.com.
Sittler, Bichette and Fleury will be available to sign autographs for $20. All proceeds from the signings will go toward flights and other necessities for the two chosen clients’ trips to Thailand. The flight leaves Vancouver on Sept. 8.
Applicants must have required identification for flights abroad.
Bhatti, a former heroin addict and winner in the addiction category at the 2015 Courage to Come Back Awards, said he is donating memorabilia from his personal collection that will be auctioned off to help pay for the treatment trips.
He said memorabilia includes hockey jerseys signed by Sittler, Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Pavel Bure, Wendel Clark and Chris Pronger; NFL helmets signed by Rob Gronkowski, Sony Michel, Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen and Ricky Williams; baseball memorabilia signed by Ted Williams and Wade Boggs; baseball cards signed by Jose Canseco and photos signed by Al Pacino, Jimmy Hart, Jake the Snake Roberts and Kelly Gruber.
“It’s only stuff,” Bhatti said. “Peoples’ lives are more important.”
The auction will run on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
Bhatti will be speaking to families for free on Aug. 31, along with Cabin Group therapist Mike Miller, at the Andy Bhatti Interventions and Trauma booth, at which brochures will be available for those seeking help.
This year’s edition of the Co-Ed World Series will feature 127 teams playing on diamonds across the city, up from 84 teams last year and 72 squads in 2017.
Mike Colistro, NSA Canada director for Kamloops and area, began listing names of cities that will be represented. He went on and on and on, then kept going some more, his point being the tournament, which has perhaps slid under the radar, is a big deal.
“This is probably the biggest sporting event in town now,” Colistro said. “The economic impact is enormous.”
Diamonds at the Tournament Capital Ranch, Charles Anderson Park, Albert McGowan Park and Pacific Way Park will be bustling throughout the weekend.
“We actually ran out of fields,” Colistro said. “Registration just exploded two weeks ago. I don’t know what happened.”
The top-flight open division will feature high-quality ball and its final will be the main event of competitive play, with $10,000 up for grabs for the winner in the championship game on Sept. 1.
First pitch is slated that day for 7 p.m. on Diamond 1 at the Ranch.
“I would say it rivals the KIBIHT [Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament] final,” Colistro said. “That’s how many people were there last year.”
The majority of the teams signed up to play are from B.C., but Alberta will be well-represented, a few squads from Saskatchewan will make the trip and the NL Rage from St. John’s will make the cross-country trek.
Colistro said great facilities are a big reason why the tournament is growing.
“There were some young kids who came last year. You should have see their faces,” Colistro said. “It was about 9:30 p.m. I think they were from Alberta. They were looking like they were at a major league ballpark.
“The lights were all on. One kid, he just ran out there. He just wanted to see what it felt like.”