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Blue Jays teach kids skills at London camp

Before final Winter Tour autograph stop, players and staff instruct local youth

Special to

LONDON, Ontario -- Before the year's Winter Tour concluded with an autograph signing at Erin Mills Town Centre in Mississauga, the Toronto Blue Jays made a stop in London.

Players and staff headed to Centrefield Sports on Saturday morning, offering up Major League skills training and getting in a workout of their own before leaving town.

Colby Rasmus, Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan, Todd Redmond and Esmil Rogers were all impressed by the talent and level of dedication they saw from the event's young participants. They offered instruction during an hour-long training camp before the pitchers threw side sessions of their own and everyone got in some quality gym time.

"It's awesome to be able to come out here with the little guys," Rasmus said. "I had my little hitting group, but there's only so much you can say in that amount of time. We just tried to have fun with it.

"And this is a nice facility they've got here. I talked to some of the boys and they drive 45 or 50 minutes or more to get here to work out and stuff like that. So that's pretty cool that they enjoy the game that much, and hopefully it will work out for them."

As the only Blue Jays hitter on hand at Centrefield Sports, a 45,000 square foot facility owned and operated by former big leaguer and Team Canada staple Adam Stern, Rasmus tried to give some advice to the young hitting hopefuls looking to someday be in his position.

"The only thing I was trying to tell the kids was to just relax and just breathe. Because the more you breathe, the more you relax, the better you see the ball, [and] the better you'll hit it," Toronto's centre fielder said. "But sometimes kids don't think about it. They've got so much energy that they just want to get up there and whack it and just play around. So I tried to tell them to relax and have fun with it."

Also on hand for the second-last Winter Tour stop was Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar, who enjoyed taking part and lending a hand to the young baseball players from the area. Constantly looking to help grow the game at the grassroots level north of the border, Alomar stayed long after the camp to watch even more of Canada's up-and-coming talent.

"This is great," Alomar said. "It's always great here with this [facility] around, and with some of the guys who are playing the game here now, being surrounded by the kids and the Winter Tour, it's always nice to give back. I'm glad that I'm here."

Stern was also glad that the Toronto organization made a stop at the facility as well, and he was happy to open his doors to the big league instruction that the Blue Jays brought to the field.

"It's awesome to get the Blue Jays out here in the middle of winter, and to do a clinic for these kids is great," Stern said. "The Winter Tour is a special thing -- not every city gets to have them. We're honoured to have them here at Centrefield."

To have the interaction between the current Major League players and those who aspire to be there one day was something that Alomar believes was invaluable for all participants.

"I was blessed with my dad playing in the big leagues, so I was surrounded by big league ballplayers all the time," Alomar said. "I never had the chance to do this kind of camp, so I think this is great for the kids and the community here, and hopefully they can continue to do it."

Though Rasmus didn't have quite the same experience that a young Alomar did, he knows how much it would have meant for him to have had an opportunity like the one that the Blue Jays offered on Saturday.

"I didn't have any experience with big league players when I was young … but this is cool," Rasmus said. "Now that I'm older, I'm a little more outgoing. When I was younger I was kind of like these guys -- quiet, didn't say a lot.

"You kind of want the kids to talk to you and ask you questions, but at the same time you know that they're just happy to be here. That's cool, to just put a smile on their face and tell them good luck and hope everything works out for them."

Alomar believes that just being around Major League players helped him progress as a player, and he is happy that more young Canadians are now getting similar chances.

"It grew my game a lot," the Hall of Famer said. "I learned so much from them by asking questions and being surrounded by them. I was always the kind of kid who asked a lot of questions. I wanted to learn and I wanted to get better. I think some of these kids will really take advantage of this."

Alexis Brudnicki is a contributor to

Toronto Blue Jays