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Annual hospital visit meaningful for Blue Jays

@baseballexis
June 19, 2019

TORONTO -- As Charlie Montoyo and the Blue Jays walked through the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital on Wednesday, Toronto’s manager got chills. As the father of two sons, one -- his youngest, Alex, now 11 -- who was born with a congenital heart defect known as Ebstein’s anomaly, Montoyo

TORONTO -- As Charlie Montoyo and the Blue Jays walked through the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital on Wednesday, Toronto’s manager got chills.

As the father of two sons, one -- his youngest, Alex, now 11 -- who was born with a congenital heart defect known as Ebstein’s anomaly, Montoyo has seen the inside of a number of hospitals.

“I’ve been here before,” the Blue Jays’ skipper said. “I’ve gone through it before. I get chills. I was happy to come. I didn’t want to miss this.”

Montoyo also knows and understands the impact that a visit from a professional athlete or coach can make on a young patient, and he knew that Wednesday’s event was one he could not pass up.

“That’s what’s amazing,” Montoyo said. “I remember a NASCAR driver came when we were in the hospital, and I have no idea about NASCAR. But I was so happy to say hello, because you’re by yourself and every day is the same, so I know what it means.”

And it meant a lot for Montoyo to see so many of his players respond to the optional outing. Among the players who attended the event were pitchers Joe Biagini, Nick Kingham, Derek Law, Clayton Richard and his wife Ashley, Jordan Romano, Justin Shafer and Trent Thornton. Position players Danny Jansen, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. also attended, along with third-base coach Luis Rivera and his wife Carmen.

“From experience, being in the hospital before with the kid, I know how much it means to see players come and say hello, so that’s why I wanted our guys to come,” Montoyo said. “And to their credit, we’ve been playing every day and they were happy to come, and that’s awesome.

“They wanted to come, that’s the beautiful thing about it. I’m happy we are here. Sometimes we take stuff for granted, because we’re in the big leagues and we play every day, but it’s great they came to see this. It’s awesome. We’ve got a great group of kids.”

A regular trip for Toronto’s baseball team each year, the patients and staff at the hospital couldn’t have been happier with the turnout from the squad.

“There are no greater Blue Jays fans in the city of Toronto than the kids at Holland Bloorview,” said Sandra Hawken, president and CEO of the Holland Bloorview Foundation. “And for many of these kids who have been inpatients in the hospital for weeks or months and in some cases even years, the ability to meet so many of their superheroes, it does such an incredible amount of impact for their spirits.”

Injured Toronto reliever Ken Giles and outfielder Grichuk led the charge around the clubhouse, recruiting players for the event.

“Any time we can get the opportunity to come, we try to make it out,” Grichuk said. “Obviously we know that we’re able to play baseball for a living and that’s awesome, but being able to give back to the community and put smiles on kids’ faces and be able to enjoy hanging out with them a little bit is exciting and a good start to the day.”

The players participated in a Blue Jays-themed carnival with the patients at the hospital, with stations to color, a number of different games, an opportunity for young players to take aim and throw at baseball targets in an inflatable structure and more.

“We’re like superheroes for them, and we understand that, and that’s what we’re here for -- to try and make them very happy,” Guerrero said through team interpreter Hector Lebron. “We are obviously ballplayers, and we go through ups and downs. Coming here, seeing the kids, we realize that they are going through that every day, ups and downs, so we really appreciate what we have.”

Added Grichuk: “It definitely [offers perspective]. Obviously the season’s not going the way that we want it to be, but it just shows us that it’s not all about baseball and there are more important things in life and we can still be making a difference. Hopefully you can form relationships and friendships with these kids that last a lifetime, and it makes their day, so it’s awesome.”

Hawken shared Grichuk’s sentiment in the hope that the impact of the Blue Jays on Wednesday will last much longer.

“Year after year, we see this impact last for weeks, but sometimes for a lifetime,” Hawken said. “To know that the Blue Jays see these kids with disabilities and are befriending them and making them feel special, that kind of self-esteem is something they will always remember. The impact is pretty profound.

“The anticipation of having something so positive to look forward to, where for some of these kids it might be the darkest, hardest days that they and their families have ever experienced, it’s pretty impactful.”

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.