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Blue Jays pay visit to SickKids Hospital

TORONTO -- It was a break from the everyday routine.

Before Wednesday night's game against the Phillies, several Blue Jays players, their wives and staff members took some time out of their morning to make the day special for children battling through their daily lives at SickKids Hospital in Toronto.

Not only was it a fantastic visit for the baseball fans at the hospital -- who got their only opportunity to see their athletic heroes up close and personal because they are confined to the building, their rooms or even their beds -- but it was an incredible opportunity for Mark and Jamie Buehrle, Kevin and Amanda Pillar, Liam and Kristi Hendriks, Brett Cecil and Drew Hutchison.  

"It's really enjoyable, obviously, if you can have an impact," Hutchison said. "That's what we're here to do. If you can just make the kids smile and help them forget about what they're going through even for a couple minutes, that's what it's all about. That's the reason why we come on these visits, and we take a lot out of it, probably more than they do."

When the players arrived, all of them joined a select group of children in Marnie's Rainbow Lounge, where they could hang out and play games together. Hutchison then made visits to individuals in isolation, and Cecil and Buehrle -- Toronto's honorary fire chiefs for the season -- went a few floors up to visit the children in the burn unit. 

"It's great seeing the kids smiling and laughing," Buehrle said. "Especially when I'm goofing off with them, playing games and hearing them laugh. If they're having some pain or going through treatments, therapies or whatever surgeries they're going through, it's nice just to hear them come out here and laugh. I don't know if they get to laugh like that very often, so just to hear the laughs, see the smiles and joke around with them, that's the best part."

Throughout his career, Buehrle has made a number of visits to local hospitals, finding time to spend with children in the community wherever he is. During his time with the Blue Jays, Cecil has done the same, often taking part in the team's visits and sharing a similar sentiment.

"This is important to me," Cecil said. "I love kids, and if there are any hospital visits or anything involving kids, I'm down for it 100 percent. It gives me a break from my job and kind of lets me into the real world a little bit, and [makes me] realize that what I do is next to meaningless compared to what these kids have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. I hope, if nothing else, I can come here and put a couple smiles on kids' faces and make everything happy. Hopefully I did that."

The kids' faces lit up as their jerseyed idols sat to talk with them, signed autographs and offered them Blue Jays caps and firefighter hats. They hung out on their level with a group of other baseball fans, played a variety of games and, most of all, broke up the monotony of their time at the hospital.

"What's really important about today's visit is the sense of community they're creating," said Andrea Fretz, the SickKids coordinator of patient and family events. "Their visit really brings kids to a certain area to hang out for a period of time -- kids who would otherwise have not met each other. They're all meeting under a common love for baseball, which is how they've been identified to be here for this special experience.

"They do love watching them on TV, so having this experience is going to be the most exciting thing about being here in the hospital ... it is extremely important for them. The days kind of all run into each other here. Some of our children are here for weeks at a time, so having something like this will be not only the highlight of their day, but their week, their year and then they'll be talking about it forever." 

The experience was one that won't be soon forgotten by any of the special visitors, either. While Pillar has been able to make similar visits before with the Blue Jays, the opportunity was a first for his wife, Amanda, who was blown away by the children, the interaction and the chance to do even more in the future.

"This is awesome because we have this whole platform we can use to be whatever we want to be, and [Kevin] can take the time to talk to these kids," Amanda Pillar said. "I feel really good that we can be a part of the community -- even though we're not from the community -- and it's really fun to be a part of it. I look forward to doing a lot more stuff with the team and the girls and everything we're able to do through the Blue Jays community programs. It's awesome to have that platform.

"I love seeing how happy the kids are to see them. Just to be a part of it makes me feel really blessed because they're here and they're stuck here, they know about the games, they watch the Blue Jays and they're big fans, so it's nice to be able to see them interact with the guys."

Added Kevin Pillar: "These aren't the things you think about growing up and wanting to be a professional athlete, but seeing what this jersey means and what we can do for people is a very powerful thing."

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