TORONTO -- Students at Dixon Grove Junior Middle School in Toronto received a special treat on Thursday morning when the Blue Jays paid a visit to the Etobicoke school.
Relief pitcher Aaron Loup, first-base coach Tim Leiper and Blue Jays mascot ACE were on hand to put on a mini-clinic for the Grades 7-8 Athletic Council and to encourage healthy, active living.
"The toughest and most important part of being an athlete is keeping your body in shape, eating healthy and being physically ready to play," Loup told students.
This was the first of five school visits the team will do throughout the 2014 season to promote health and wellness through physical fitness and proper nutrition.
The excited students were given a Blue Jays cap as well as a Roberto Alomar Gold Series baseball glove that they would use during the morning clinic inside the school's gymnasium. Along with gifts for the participants, the Blue Jays donated baseball equipment to the school, including bats, helmets, tees and softie baseballs to be used in their gym classes.
"It's nice to see these kids involved and want to be active," said first-year coach Leiper.
The students rotated between a pitching and fielding station coached by Loup with help from ACE, while Leiper ran through hitting instruction with the use of tees on the other side of the gym.
"It's great to see the skill level of the students on these visits," said an impressed Leiper. "With some opportunity, these kids can go a long way."
Loup was equally struck by the students' ability.
"It's an amazing experience to see these kids super excited to play the game. I'm impressed [by] how quickly they pick up on what's being taught. Any time we can help students learn and practice, it's a good day."
After the baseball instruction portion of the morning was complete, the students were given the opportunity for some question-and-answer time with the pros. The attentive group learned from Loup that his most memorable moment in baseball was his 2012 MLB debut and that his childhood in Louisiana was spent playing pickup baseball, basketball, soccer and football with friends.
"Any chance you can get, get out in your neighbourhood with your buddies and just stay active," said Loup, in keeping with the theme of the day.
One student asked the pitcher who his inspiration was growing up.
"My dad and grandpa," answered Loup without hesitation. "They are a huge reason why I'm here today and for the success I've had."
Loup, an Atlanta Braves fan growing up, added that his baseball idols were pitchers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. As the visit drew to a close, students were able to have their pictures taken with Loup, Leiper and ACE as well as receive autographs on their new Blue Jays caps.
It was a morning that made a lasting impression, not only on the students, but on Loup and Leiper as well.
"This was a very attentive group with a lot of natural ability and leadership skills," said Leiper. "I find with these visits that I learn a lot more from the kids than they do from me. It was a pleasure to be here."
Jon Cram is a contributor to MLB.com.