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Excited Blue Jays tour military base in Edmonton

Special to
Despite the cold, winter temperature and the recent return of hockey to town, Canada's boys of summer received a warm reception from the citizens of Oil Country during the Edmonton stop of their Winter Tour, presented by TD, across Canada.

"It's great to get out here and see the fans and talk with [the fans] ... that's what it's all about," said Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus. "Everybody's so pumped up about the moves we made in the offseason. Yesterday we got to go to a hospital and meet some of the kids here in Edmonton, which was great. They were so jacked up about meeting us as players and that put a smile on their face, and we were able to sign some autographs, so hopefully that'll boost their spirits a little bit and make them want to fight a little harder because that's what it's all about. Being in this position, and to see those kids, it's humbling. And it just makes you want to play hard for them and everybody else just to give everybody a boost of some excitement."

The frigid and snow temperatures in the city, and at the Canadian Forces base where they concluded the first part of their final day of their annual off-season 2013 winter tour across Canada, Sunday, surprised and amused some of the Jays players who were far more familiar with the much warmer climate of the southern United States.

"Definitely different from where I'm originally from," said Blue Jays pitcher Drew Hutchinson, who is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. "I'm from Florida, I've never seen so much snow at one time."

Rasmus, who is also from the Deep South, agreed with his teammate. "[Edmonton] is definitely the most north I've been, and I've told some people I rarely see snow where I live. I'm from Alabama, so for me to be able to come up here in this cold weather, snow -- it's a different experience, but it's cool."

The Blue Jays, who started the morning being introduced to members of the Canadian Forces stationed at CFB Edmonton, were quickly divided into three groups of two and taken by the soldiers to view some of the vehicles and equipment that the military had brought out for the day.

One of the groups, catcher J.P. Arencibia and Hutchinson, were led around and shown the inside of an Armed Heavy Support Vehicle Systems, AHVS Wrecker, which is used mainly to tow other military vehicles, such as tanks.

"This truck is one of our most capable trucks that we have, and its a shame we don't have them here in Canada," said Lance Corporal Thelmate, who was charged with the task of showing the team the vehicle, adding that the lack of usage of the vehicle in Canada was due to governmental policy. "But [Drew and J.P.] seemed to enjoy it. It's the biggest Tonka toy we have that has wheels on it, so it's awesome."

Indeed, moments following Arencibia's entrance into the vehicles' driver's seat and wondering aloud where the horn was on 'this thing,' the vehicle emitted a loud siren-like noise that caught almost everyone in the close vicinity off-guard.

Arencibia was not the only one to have a bit of fun with the equipment, though.

After returning from a tank ride outside with Rasmus, a ride which he described as "wind wiping" and "freezing my face," fellow outfielder Anthony Gose appeared seemingly out of nowhere donning a large bomb suit similar to the one that was made famous by the 2008 war thriller "The Hurt Locker."

"Oh, it was great," said Gose, who was visibly smiling the entire time through the suit's helmet. "[Though] that thing's heavy. I mean, right now I could probably run a race and beat Usain Bolt. My legs were so light, my whole back and everything. There's a lot of weight on your head and you're not used to having all that weight on your neck, so your sitting there trying to look up, but I feel right now I can stretch out the legs and go pretty good."

Rasmus, who had taken a ride in the tank with Gose earlier, remarked, "It's great to be able to have this opportunity ... [It] was very interesting to see how they drive it and how big it is, and how much it weighs, and we're just cruising around in the snow. It was just pretty sweet."

For two of the Blue Jays, Gose and manager John Gibbons, military bases are all but foreign and unfamiliar places. Gose, who relayed an experience of travelling to the base his buddy was stationed at in Colorado Springs, reiterated that "You never know about any of this until you're around a base."

For Gibbons, whose father served in the Air Force and was stationed at a military base in Goose Bay, Labrador, while he was growing up, the experience of what the soldiers were going through really hit home.

"People don't get to see this, the nuts and bolts of it all. We take it for granted, living in a free world. These are special guys who sacrifice a lot and don't get paid a lot of money."

Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Payton, who also grew up in Goose Bay, admired the connection that Blue Jays' skipper has to the military. "His father was in the service for 30 years, so he understands the military community, understands the team that's built within the military community. I thought that was really interesting."

Many of the troops were also impressed with the interest that the players showed in the equipment and their personal stories. "It's good ... they seemed to be interested in what we do and how we use it," said vehicle commander Joel Ribert, echoing the "guys and guns" sentiments of another colleague.

The team also participated in an autograph signing for soldiers and families at the base, as well as a general fan signing at the West Edmonton Mall later in the day. Finally, the contingent filmed a Canada Day message, which will be played at the Rogers Centre on July 1.

Atta Almasi is a contributor to

Toronto Blue Jays, J.P. Arencibia, Anthony Gose, Drew Hutchison, Colby Rasmus