* Karri Oksanen (Guelph, Ont.) was fatally hit by a transport in the summer of 2012. Family and friends are keeping his memory alive with a golf tourney, the Karri Hour and a charity softball tournament. Oksanen hit .405 was All-Conference at Lon Morris in his first of two years at the Texas Jr.
By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Karri Oksanen would have been 25 this year.
Instead, the young and talented athlete who lit up every room he entered had his life tragically taken from him. It’s been almost three years, but there’s no way his friends and family could forget the way he could change a mood, spread his infectious smile, or become the life of any party.
Over his 22 years, Oksanen made a huge impact on many. He played hockey and baseball, he volunteered, and he made life better for those around him. When his parents Pete and Tracy Oksanen lost their son, and sister Lexi lost her brother, they started a movement in his memory.
Karri Hour is “doing good in memory of Karri Oksanen,” with the request from his family to, “please join us in dedicating one hour a week to something selfless to help make the world a better place.”
When Shaun Valeriote first heard about Karri Hour, his wheels immediately began turning. He wanted to figure out the best way to contribute and to really make an impact. Growing up playing baseball with Oksanen from the time they were about five years old, the two went from house league to the Guelph Royals to the Guelph Silvercreeks together.
“Our relationship went beyond baseball,” Valeriote said. “When we weren’t at the diamond, we spent a lot of our summers out on the golf course or at his parents’ place running around his yard playing Man Hunt. He and his grandpa even introduced me to fishing for the first time. He just seemed to be the guy that everyone was friends with …
“I wanted to get involved with his foundation because I wanted to help Karri’s family and friends to keep his legacy going. He was such a good person, always wanting to help people out and always had a big smile on his face.”
Valeriote, a former Toronto Blue Jays farmhand teamed up with Nathan Loder to brainstorm. Loder started playing baseball with Oksanen while the two were in middle school, and they kept in touch over the years even though the sport took them in different directions. When Valeriote and Loder learned of Oksanen’s death, they knew they wanted to do something.
“Karri was the life of the party on and off the field,” Loder said. “Being a very sociable guy myself, we got along very well and had many mutual friends outside of baseball…Even up to his return from college, we still kept in touch through mutual friends.
“Shaun and I were roommates at Brock [University] and we were both very shocked and upset to hear of Karri’s passing. Karri’s father Pete has gone out of his way to channel his emotion for the better since his passing and I feel we owe it to him to help grow his Karri Hour Foundation.”
Valeriote and Loder decided that the best way to channel their efforts would be with the Karri Oksanen Memorial Softball Tournament.
“We decided that a memorial softball tournament would be a good idea for our Karri Hour, an event that we could create that his family and friends would enjoy being a part of,” Valeriote said. “Softball ties in the baseball aspect of Karri’s life but it’s a little easier to play than baseball if you don’t have any experience playing the game. No matter how old or young you are or what your skill level is, everyone can come out and participate in a recreational softball game.”
The inaugural event was held last summer, and was a great success. Valeriote and Loder identified room for growth, and are continuing to try to step it up as they build what they hope is a lasting legacy in Oksanen’s name.
“Last year’s event went really well,” Valeriote said. “Our goal last year was just to get the event up and running, and get everyone out to have a good time while supporting Karri’s foundation. We took the attitude that we just wanted to break even and we ended up raising about five thousand dollars. We raised the majority of that money through our raffle table and a generous donation from Cambridge Hyundai.
“This year we are definitely taking a more aggressive approach from a sponsorship perspective. Shoeless Joe’s is coming on as a large sponsor for us this year and we already have a number of other sponsors in the pipeline. Sponsors will play a large role in our fundraising efforts this year and in the years to come.
“Another event that we are introducing this year is the Karri Hour Home Run Derby. We are going to make a donation on behalf of Karri’s foundation to a local charity based on the number of home runs hit during the derby.”
Added Loder: “It was clear that we could easily expand this well beyond what we created in the initial stages. With regards to fundraising efforts, we had many individuals donate prizes for our raffle as well as all food and alcohol sales. A lot of the food was donated as well, helping us cut costs tremendously.”
All of the proceeds raised from the softball tournament go to the Karri Oksanen Memorial Foundation, supporting local sports organizations and aiming to improve local sports facilities in Guelph. The Oksanen family has also set up a scholarship fund at John F. Ross High School, Karri’s former school, that is awarded annually to a student-athlete who is involved in the community and shows academic exemplary.
“Nathan and I approached Peter and Tracy last winter about starting the event,” Valeriote said. “They were thrilled. I don’t think I’ve ever received a bigger hug than the one I got from his parents when we told them. They aren’t really that involved in the planning of the softball tournament but they played last year and I suspect they’ll play every year. They’ve also given us some great ideas for the tournament going forward.
“Peter, Tracy and Karri’s sister Lexi put a lot of effort into starting Karri’s foundation and Karri Hour. They also organize and plan a memorial golf tournament for Karri every summer. So we wanted to make this as much of a hands-off event as possible for them. I think they appreciate being able to just show up at the ballpark and play.”
Added Loder: “When we first brought up the idea, Pete and Tracy [Oksanen] were ecstatic. Knowing Pete has been running a charity golf tournament for the foundation every August we felt this was a good event to kick off the summer and reconnect all of Karri’s friends from the area.
“Both of his parents were a huge help for the first annual tournament and are a main reason why it was so successful. They reached out to family, parents of players, and other individuals we did not have contact with, to help donate prizes for our auction and help volunteer with game-day operations.”
This year’s event will be held June 12-14 at Ponsonby Softball Complex, with a post-tournament dinner on the final night at Shoeless Joe’s. Those interested in competing can register for the tournament and to learn more about Karri Hour, visit the Karri Hour website.
For sponsorship inquiries or interest in donating to the raffle table, Valeriote or Loder can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com respectively.
“Eventually we’d like to see this event become a staple in the community of Guelph and surrounding areas,” Valeriote said. “Hopefully we can grow it to a 50 or 60-team event that takes place across numerous diamonds throughout the city. We are still enjoying it on a smaller scale right now, with 15 teams at one softball complex, and it gives us time to work out the kinks and build our strategy going forward.
“Eventually it would be nice if we raised enough money to build a baseball stadium or complex in Karri’s name, something that when we have our own kids and all of Karri’s friends have their own kids and grandkids, they can grow up playing ball at ‘Karri Hour Stadium,’ something that will leave a lasting legacy in the community. Then we can all sit around at the stadium and share stories about Karri.”