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Rays host PLAY campaign event at the Trop

Kiermaier, Duffy and former pitcher Johnson interact with kids, promote inclusion
MLB.com

ST. PETERSBURG -- The National PLAY Campaign made a stop at Tropicana Field on Saturday morning, with current Rays players Kevin Kiermaier and Matt Duffy and former Major League pitcher Jason Johnson encouraging kids to be active in order to live a healthy lifestyle.

Johnson, Tavis Piattoly from the Taylor Hooton Foundation (which warns youth about the dangers of steroids) and Rays trainers spoke to the group before the kids took the field to learn proper stretching and warmup exercises. Kiermaier and Duffy joined later to talk about their childhood activities and answer questions.

ST. PETERSBURG -- The National PLAY Campaign made a stop at Tropicana Field on Saturday morning, with current Rays players Kevin Kiermaier and Matt Duffy and former Major League pitcher Jason Johnson encouraging kids to be active in order to live a healthy lifestyle.

Johnson, Tavis Piattoly from the Taylor Hooton Foundation (which warns youth about the dangers of steroids) and Rays trainers spoke to the group before the kids took the field to learn proper stretching and warmup exercises. Kiermaier and Duffy joined later to talk about their childhood activities and answer questions.

"My message of the day is be active any way you can, whether it's a sport, whether you're playing in the rain, getting muddy outside, fishing, doing whatever," Kiermaier said. "I'm not trying to get yelled at by the parents by telling your kids to go get muddy. … But I'm sure your parents would much rather wash your dirty clothes when you're out having fun being active, rather than you playing inside and having to kick you out of the house and telling you to go do something."

PLAY: Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth

Kiermaier played a number of sports as a kid, and his mom often had difficulty tracking him down because he would be all over the neighborhood playing basketball or backyard football, he said.

"I was always moving around at a young age, and I still do that," Kiermaier said. "I could never sit still."

Duffy would get extra work in after his baseball practices as a kid, taking about 200 ground balls for an hour and a half afterward with his dad. Following that, Duffy would set up floodlights the family had because of his dad's work in construction, and he and a friend would hit in the backyard until 10:30 p.m.

"It was kind of ridiculous how much work we put in," Duffy said.

The event also promoted disability inclusion, with Johnson talking about living and pitching with diabetes. He found out he had type 1 diabetes when he was 11 years old, and he wondered if he would be "normal" having to take insulin the rest of his life. Eventually, Johnson came to a realization.

"I am like a normal person. I just have to take insulin," Johnson said. "When it comes to disabilities, it's the same thing. They're just like anybody else. Everybody's the same. You can do whatever you want to in life. I played 10 years in the Major Leagues with diabetes."

Johnson became the first player in the Majors to pitch while wearing an insulin pump on the field. There was one problem in which the pump, located on the back of his belt, was hit by a line drive and shattered, forcing him to take insulin shots between innings instead. Still, Johnson never let diabetes stop him.

Along with an active lifestyle, Johnson also advocated for healthy eating. He frequently ate cheap fast food while playing in the Minor Leagues because of how low his salary was, but now he can't remember the last time he's eaten that way.

"The more you work out, the more you stay active, you get out there and use your body and get it strong and healthy, the better it's going to be later in life," Johnson said. "And the better you eat is just as important."

Connor Mount is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg.

Tampa Bay Rays, Matt Duffy, Kevin Kiermaier