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Blue Jays visit Canadian Forces Base in Kingston

Special to

KINGSTON, Ont. -- As the days wind down to Spring Training and the long season approaches, several Toronto Blue Jays players and staff members had the opportunity to experience another kind of daily grind on Friday.

In their second stop on the year's Winter Tour, Adam Lind, Josh Thole, Steve Delabar, Anthony Gose and manager John Gibbons made a visit to the Canadian Forces Base in Kingston. They all had a chance to participate in military training exercises and -- most enjoyably -- got to chat with the base's personnel and share a little bit of their own fandom.

"I come from a military family and I always have a great appreciation for these guys," Gibbons said. "I don't want to say I'm a military buff but I enjoy reading about the military; what's going on around the world.

"So when you come up close to guys and get the chance to communicate with guys who have actually been there -- it's kind of the same way they feel about baseball guys. They've seen it, they've been there, and they can give you the real answers."

Toronto's skipper and its current backstop, Thole, seemed most intrigued throughout the events of the day, showing their interest vocally and asking plenty of questions with each step.

"It was quite overwhelming to see what these guys go through on a daily basis," Thole said. "This is what they do, how they train. Sometimes we bicker a lot about how long our days can be and the monotony throughout the day -- and you don't realize how good we have it until you come out here and see what these guys go through."

The exercises began with the players and Gibbons getting down on their hands and knees in the dirt searching for mines, before one was triggered and a violent fake reaction earned an outburst from all. The group of five then chatted with a United Nations deployment specialist about overseas operations before getting a weapons and ammunition demonstration.

"It's just a little taste of when you're in Kandahar," Lieutenant Colonel Steph Dumas said. "Usually there's a keen interest to actually touch the weapons and all that and with regards to the explosions, everyone freaks out a bit. It's a nice surprise. But this happens every day [overseas]."

They finished with an impressive communications exercise, which base personnel tailored to its guests, simulating an attack of the Boston Red Sox on the fan base of the Toronto Blue Jays. While the exercise was enjoyable for everyone, the instruction was indicative of potentially real scenarios.

"It's very serious," Major Chris MacDonald said. "This kind of setup, whether it's just VHF radios or a full communications setup, this would be the actual headquarters in a theatre of operations like Afghanistan.

"A facility like this is controlling the flow of information on the battle space, the troops that are out on the ground advancing to contact, crews that are going out doing construction and rehabilitation, or the communication back and forth to higher headquarters. It's the brain of an operation."

The experience was a new and exciting one for each of the members of the Blue Jays who attended, though Gibbons and Gose visited CFB Edmonton on last year's Winter Tour and Thole took a trip to a naval base several seasons ago.

"My uncle was in the military, in the Air Force back in the States years ago," Thole said. "He's out now but I have a lot of friends who are in the Marines and the Army, but I've never [experienced] anything like this whatsoever.

"The closest I've been to something like this was when I had a chance to go to [Naval Base] Coronado in San Diego and be with the Navy SEALS when we went out there to play a few years ago, but even then it was so quick. To really interact and sit down and really engage and listen to the guys tell stories was pretty cool."

For baseball players in their offseason, the trip to Kingston helped to put their roles in perspective.

"A lot of times we bicker about being gone for seven days," Thole said. "These guys go for months and months and months at a time. I'm on a four-day trip with two kids at home; it's Day 2 and you're thinking, I want to go see the kids.

"And they're not sitting in nice hotels, eating great dinners, right? They're in the sand; they're grinding it out. That's important to realize, especially when you're here talking with the guys."

"These guys are dealing with life and death; we're dealing with wins and losses," Gibbons said. "We were out in Edmonton last winter and we went to the military base out there and we had a blast. I grew up in a military family -- my father was 30 years in the U.S. Air Force -- so I have a great appreciation and admiration for what these guys do."

Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to

Toronto Blue Jays