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Players' visit 'extra special' for children in hospital

Redmond, Cecil, Rasmus, Thole play wheelchair baseball, sign autographs

TORONTO -- In the midst of a seven-game losing streak -- which was snapped in Thursday's 4-0 win over the Astros -- events like Thursday afternoon's hospital visit reminded players what was really important.

A quartet of Blue Jays, several of their wives and mascot Ace descended upon the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital to visit with patients.

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"You come and visit the kids, and the big picture is right here, right in front of us," Todd Redmond said. "You go out there and try your best to win. We've had some bad luck lately, but these kids have worse luck than we do right now. To put a smile on their faces is priceless to me, more so than winning a ballgame."

Redmond, Colby Rasmus, Josh Thole, and Brett Cecil -- the latter three accompanied by their wives Megan, Kathryn, and Jennifer, respectively -- participated in the event, which elicited thousands of smiles throughout the day.

One of those smiles came from a little girl who spent time with Cecil, pretending a small orange pylon was a hat.

Players and the mascot posed for photos and gave autographs before moving on to activities, which included a wheelchair race and, of course, some baseball.

"It really brings fun to the kids," said Kenny Whittmann, 18, who was among the patients in attendance and acted as the group's spokesman. "They do a lot of therapy in a day, and they struggle a lot with what they go through, so for them to go to an event like today, it just brings a lot more fun to what they've been struggling with.

"For me, just looking at the kids' faces, just seeing the smiles, I think it speaks for itself."

Many of the children were dealing with a developmental disability or chronic illness, and the event was a brief respite from the routine of rehab.

"Kids just get to be kids," said Breanne Mathers, certified child life specialist for inpatients and co-organizer of the event. "We try and make it as inclusive as possible, and that their disability, or their ability, is not highlighted. It's an opportunity for everyone to be on an equal playing field, literally and figuratively. Just an opportunity for them to be kids, forget about what's going on and have an extra-special experience, not just a special experience, but an extra-special experience."

The Blue Jays players competed in all the activities in sports wheelchairs. Naturally, they had some initial difficulties with their new rides, so much so that Rasmus even batted right-handed the first time he came to the plate.

While the games took place, a pair of players visited children who were bed ridden.

"That's a really important thing for some of our clients who are in quality-of-life, to be able to provide some of these experiences," Mathers said. "They get minimal opportunities to actually get out of bed and leave the hospital to do things. Their options to actually go see a game are not as often as some other people. It's something that's a unique experience that they can remember. ... [It] just makes that day a little special compared to the ones before and after."

Before the players had to leave and return to Rogers Centre in time for their game vs. the Astros, children and players spent some more time chatting and taking pictures.

"It's just great to have all these guys here," Whittmann said. "I've actually learned a lot from them as well ... just seeing them here, enjoying themselves. ... [You get] to really see their style of a person, and not just the style of an athlete."

The players were equally impacted by the experience.

"Just to see the kids smile, to have fun, to get out of the room and wheel their chairs around and get autographs, and have a good time. Can't put a price tag on it. Can't be happier for them," Redmond said.

Evan Peaslee is an associate reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @EvanPeaslee.

Toronto Blue Jays