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Delabar, Vancouver manager McCullough visit school

Special to

TORONTO -- Blue Jays right-hander Steve Delabar is a natural when he's standing at the top of a mound, ready to throw his shutdown stuff to an opposing batter. At Blessed John XXIII School, he looked a little bit out of place with his 6-foot-4 frame towering over the students in Andrea Cooke's fourth-grade class.

Armed with brand new baseball gloves and Blue Jays hats, the students in the school gym practiced throwing and fielding with Delabar on Friday morning. Despite the difference in height, Delabar, a former substitute teacher, was right in his element.

"You can make mistakes in this game; even the best players make mistakes," Delabar told the students. "Remember: You're playing this game."

He emphasized the word playing to solidify the message that the Blue Jays are bringing into the community, before giving a fist bump to every student in his group.

It's one of many visits the organization has made this season to promote an active lifestyle through the game of baseball. At each stop, the Blue Jays leave a trail of goodwill behind: bats, bases, helmets and balls for the school to keep using on its own field after the visit is over.

"It's the best thing [to be here], because it takes you back to when you first started playing for all the right reasons," Class A Vancouver manager Clayton McCullough said. "You see kids grab a bat, and good or bad, they swing and smile and laugh about it."

McCullough is entering his second season at the helm of the Vancouver Canadians. He worked diligently alongside ACE, the Blue Jays' charismatic mascot, showing students how to take swings off of a tee.

"It's so important for our organization. We're pulling for the entire country," McCullough said. "To get as many young kids involved in supporting the Blue Jays and coming out and being a part of things, it only bodes well for the future of the fan base and the expansion throughout the entire country."

Principal Anna Chiesa wore her Brett Lawrie jersey as she watched the excited class take part in the activities. Meanwhile, Cooke was ecstatic to have her picture taken with ACE.

"This is great for them," Chiesa said of the event.

She added that the day was deemed "Blue Jay Day," and the entire school was wearing their favorite baseball gear instead of the usual navy-and-white uniforms.

After the lessons wound down, Cooke's class had an opportunity to ask their most pressing questions to the pros.

"Are you a better pitcher than Jose Bautista?" one student asked.

"Definitely," Delabar said. "Hitter? That's yet to be determined."

The quizzing continued: Why can't pitchers hit? When will shortstop Jose Reyes be back? Who is pitching on Tuesday, when the school will attend an afternoon game at Rogers Centre? Who is the best player on the team?

"You don't win with just good players," Delabar said. "You win with a good team."

The students sought final high fives from McCullough and Delabar as a school day to remember came to a close.

McCullough was touched by the energy in the room. He hopes that the young students, who are both new and existing fans, will be able to share the great time they had playing baseball.

Delabar thought back to the coolest thing that happened when he was in the fourth grade, nearly 20 years ago in his native Kentucky. It was 1993, and a remarkable year in Blue Jays history.

"We had a World Series going on [in our class]. It was the Phillies and Blue Jays," he said. "We had a really good time."

Steph Rogers is a contributor to

Toronto Blue Jays, Steve Delabar