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Ortiz gets active in Toronto right off the bat

Recently called up Blue Jays reliever joins Ace in promoting healthy lifestyle to kids

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays newest reliever Ramon Ortiz didn't take long to make his impact on the Toronto community.

Ortiz was called up on Monday to fill the team's long-relief role, and only two days later, the veteran right-hander and Blue Jays mascot Ace arrived at Westmount Junior School in Toronto to help promote healthy and active lifestyles on Wednesday.

"It's so hard to be a professional baseball player. You have to work so hard and you have to have good discipline, and that's what I tried to teach today to the young kids," Ortiz said.

The 39-year-old Dominican Republic native's message was heard in front of a crowd of 32 students between grades 3-5 in the cozy Westmount gym, and the students took his lessons to heart.

"I learned that if you don't warm up before any sport, you could pull a muscle and really injure yourself," said Khali Abdi, one of the students taking part in the afternoon's festivities.

But before Ortiz was introduced to the young crowd, it was Ace who first arrived, getting a lesson of his own. The Blue Jays mascot pumped up the crowd with a round of high-fives for everyone before being taught by the kids how to jump rope and dance.

Shortly thereafter, a chant of "Go Jays" broke out among the students who broke into applause once Ortiz stepped through the gym doors in his Blue Jays home uniform.

Ortiz, who made his big league debut in 1999 with the Angels, taught the students the warm-up drills he uses before every game and explained how important stretching is before being active. Afterward, everyone was treated to some water and orange slices.

"The program itself was fantastic," said Westmount principal Michelle Lawrence. "And then having the healthy treat at the end and the water, so you're having a piece of fruit and not having a Timbit when you're done playing, it was all very well done."

It was all part of a program by the Blue Jays to encourage active and healthy lifestyles for kids. And although it was educational, the best part for the kids -- besides meeting a professional baseball player and the team's mascot -- was slinging dodgeballs at both of them in a friendly game.

"It was fun throwing the balls at Ace," Leonita Ramadani said of her most memorable experience.

It was an afternoon that the kids will never forget, and neither will Ortiz.

"It's very important for me. We love the little kids, because when I was a little kid, I didn't have everything that I have right now," Ortiz said. "I'm so happy [to be here], man."

"I came here a couple days ago and ... I [am] having fun already. It's unbelievable. I like talking to the kids and interacting with them."

Before it was all over, there was a brief question-and-answer period with the Blue Jays' long-relief man.

"In class talking to a little kid today, he asked what he had to do to be good," Ortiz said. "To be a good student, you have to work hard. You want to be a professional baseball player, you have to work hard. That's what I let the kids know today -- how hard you have to work to be good in your life."

In the end, it was a memorable afternoon at Westmount Junior School. The students got to meet a player, ask him questions, play dodgeball with both him and Ace and learn about leading healthy lifestyles.

"It's one of those opportunities that some kids will never have anything that tops it," Lawrence said.

Evan Peaslee is an associate reporter for
Read More: Toronto Blue Jays, Ramon Ortiz