It was incredibly cold outside, but there were a lot of warm hearts inside the gymnasium at W.S. Hawrylak School.
The Toronto Blue Jays began the western swing of their Winter Tour in Regina Thursday night with a room full of little baseball players who participate in Challenger Baseball, a league set up for children living with physical or cognitive disabilities.
Jays Care, the charitable arm of the Blue Jays organization, announced it will be assuming leadership of Challenger, which is why pitchers Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez along with second baseman Devon Travis and centre fielder Kevin Pillar were braving the Saskatchewan cold.
Parents with cell phones at the ready looked on as their kids were split into groups and paired up with the stars for throwing and catching drills. In one corner, Sanchez was lightly throwing balls to a little boy with a glove almost bigger than his head with Travis helping him wrangle the ball.
In another, Estrada cheered loudly as each kid caught the ball he lobbed to them and near the back of the gym Pillar played catch with a little boy wearing a jersey shirt with none other than Pillar’s own #10 on the back.
Pillar said his parents, grandparents and his high school always stressed the importance of community service and it stuck with him.
“There’s not a lot of 14 to 18 year old kids that want to spend their free time doing community service, but as you start doing it you find causes that are important to you … and see how (you) can impact these kids,” he said.
Pillar has taken part in other Challenger Baseball events over the last few years, but those have taken place at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, something he knows can be challenging for parents of children with disabilities. So to be able to come out west and come straight to the kids was important to him, and it radiated in the way he interacted with the children.
“It’s always nice to come out here and teach these guys a little bit about baseball and how important it is to us and how it can help them in their everyday lives.”
But, it’s not just the Jays that do the teaching, Pillar said in the years he’s been involved with the kids through Challenger Baseball, he’s learned something to.
“You just see how the little things are so special,” he said. “In our life it’s real easy to get caught up with … what the industry wants from us, what our bosses want from us, what our teammates want from us, but when we’re here it’s just easy to be in the moment and enjoy each other’s company.”
“Hopefully we can teach them the value of baseball and how important it’s been to us and hopefully they can just teach us the value of being in the moment and being present.”