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Arencibia surprises autistic fan with tickets

Blue Jays catcher tweets supporter with Opening Day tix in anti-bullying stance

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- J.P. Arencibia has ensured that Matt Harvey's start to the Blue Jays' 2013 season will get off on the right foot.

Harvey is a self-proclaimed diehard fan who has been closely following the team since the early '90s. He's also autistic and had to suffer through years of bullying before reaching his adult life.

The 31-year-old's story was recently featured in an article on the Canadian Baseball Network, and when Arencibia got wind of everything Harvey went through, he reacted quickly by sending him a pair of tickets to Toronto's season opener on April 2 against the Indians.

"He always tweets at us and he has always been one of the guys that has been inspirational," Arencibia said. "He's always writing positive stuff and I didn't realize to the extent until I got to read his story. It kind of hit me and I think there's zero tolerance for bullying.

"When you look into a lot of problems that come about with kids that have issues or insecurities, it comes from bullies. I have the ability to take care of him, make him be there on Opening Day and I figured it was something I could do."

Harvey was completely caught off guard when Arencibia tweeted earlier this week: "I have two tickets for you! The bullies can watch it from home, you won't have to!"

In some ways, it was like a dream come true for Harvey, a native of St. Catharines, Ontario. Arencibia has been Harvey's favorite player for the past three years in particular because of the way he treats his fans.

Arencibia is notorious for spending a lot of time posing for pictures and signing autographs. During the Grapefruit League season he can often be found down the right-field line where a group of Blue Jays supporters congregate near the team's clubhouse.

That never went unnoticed by Harvey, who has made the trip to Florida before. Harvey also has a lot of respect for the way Arencibia appears to play with emotion and the fact that he has a lot of power -- especially for a catcher -- certainly doesn't hurt, either.

"J.P. doing this is really truly amazing, it's hard to even explain," Harvey said. "I am still so stunned and thankful because it's so kind and sweet and shows why I like J.P. I plan on getting a jersey of his out of respect.

"I like to tell the guys positive things because that's part of being a diehard [fan]. I am not a fan of saying things negatively, because it's a hard job to do and I am so proud [of the] players."

Harvey wasn't officially diagnosed with autism until he was in his 20s. Before that, he went through a lot of challenging times and high school proved to be especially tough. There were times when he was cornered and beat up in the locker room for no other reason than he was different.

Most of the bullying came from jocks who felt Harvey was "weird and they didn't know any different." The repeated incidents made Harvey understandably depressed and he labeled it as the most difficult experience of his life.

There's nothing that can erase that from Harvey's memory, but it's the small things in life such as Arencibia's gift and the support of his girlfriend, who suffers from a similar condition, that have changed his outlook on life.

Arencibia was informed prior to his interview that Harvey wanted to pass along his thanks and said he was excited for what he felt would be a truly amazing experience. It's not often that big leaguers take time out of their day to think about the big social issues like bullying, but the relayed message brought a smile to Arencibia's face.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "For me, the biggest thing is how you treat people and the legacy that you leave behind. Even from just that, it has made me want to start a program or do something for people that have to deal with that stuff. Not just autism, but also being bullied.

"I'm in a position where I can take somebody like that and make it a special day for them. It makes whoever was bullying wish they had the same opportunity. Make those people realize they are special regardless of whether they have health issues or they're not the cool one in the class. None of that makes a difference, everyone is a human being and everyone has a heart."

Harvey now finds himself more excited than ever for the upcoming Blue Jays' season. The club restocked itself during the offseason with a series of big moves that suddenly has the fan base optimistic about the postseason for the first time in almost two decades.

It's something that Harvey has spent a lot of time looking into. One of the things that originally sparked his interest in the game are the amount of stats. Numbers are a passion of his and there's no shortage of that during a baseball season.

"Autistic kids have skills, in some cases trains, cars, other things," said Harvey, who can be found on Twitter at @Halladayfan32. "In my case, it was stats because I am a numbers type of autistic kid. Baseball has so much stats in all of it with ERA, batting average, and all these advanced stats like WAR now."

Harvey will be keeping close tabs on those numbers all season, but instead of evaluating them from home on Opening Day, he'll be right there with a sold-out crowd as Toronto begins its quest to conquer the American League East.

There's little doubt he'll be cheering loudly for the entire game, but the loudest ovation likely will be saved for his favorite player who made the special moment possible.

"A player like J.P. doing something about bullying is really important," Harvey said. "A lot of times kids with disabilities need someone to step up and it's incredible that he's doing that."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.

Toronto Blue Jays, J.P. Arencibia