Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue Jays stars dazzle pupils

Bautista, Cecil, Loup drop by city school

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Sure, the show of hands for kids who like math was greater than the show of hands for kids who play baseball.

But statistics can be misleading -- every kid at École Van Walleghem School on Monday morning was a Toronto Blue Jays fan -- a seriously big-time fan.

That can happen when your school is randomly picked for a visit by the Jays' winter caravan, featuring superstar outfielder José Bautista and relief pitchers Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup.

When was the last time you were addressed at an assembly as "y'all?"

That came from Louisiana-born Loup, the rookie who amazingly allowed only two walks in 30 innings last year. He gave the kids his pitch for eating fruits and vegetables.

"You want to eat your vegetables -- fruits are definitely big," said Loup.

Bautista noted you'll never know you love a particular vegetable until you eat the first one.

"When I was young, I said I didn't like different things, and I hadn't even tried them," he said.

Cecil, looking considerably slimmer than in previous seasons, admitted he's been losing weight.

"I haven't always been the healthiest person. After 8 p.m., I did a lot of snacking," he told the kids. "Grilled chicken and steak are what I'm into" now.

MC/broadcaster Jamie Campbell got into the act, telling the kids not to eat fast food or drink pop.

At Van Walleghem, the theme for January is initiative, and Bautista said he had plenty of it.

"My parents never had to tell me to do my homework or tell me to go out and play," he said.

Players need to be self-motivated to work out in the off-season, Cecil said.

"Initiative goes a long way for us," Loup explained. "If not, someone else is going to pass us and take my job."

Principal Brad Burns said there are two baseball diamonds with backstops on city parkland behind the school. They'll be put to use this spring -- the Jays promised a gift of baseball equipment will arrive soon.

A few minutes earlier, Cecil told reporters he was surprised by the thousands of people who turned out Saturday to see the three at Polo Park.

Bautista said Winnipeg is only the third Canadian city he's visited, having been to Ottawa and, of course, Toronto. The caravan is also going to Saskatoon and Edmonton.

"The team is trying to get interaction with fans. We see (national) excitement -- that's going to be a boost for us," he said, even though it might not sell a lot of tickets.

"Geographically, it doesn't work out for us. A family can't afford to climb on the plane and come to Toronto" very often, he acknowledged.

If you're wondering, his injured left wrist is just fine.

A thoughtful Bautista disagreed with one questioner's premise that the Blue Jays have a target on their back after adding so many star players this winter. He said a target implies killing or eliminating someone, language he won't apply to a game.

On another topic, Cecil said in an interview he doesn't know why he and so many pitchers get hurt these days. At 23, he won 15 games as a starter; at 26, he's fighting for a job in the bullpen.

"It's such an unnatural motion for you to do. It's really unexplainable," said Cecil, who's aware that decades ago, pitchers used to throw complete games and pitch 200 to 300 innings a year. "What's so different about how they threw back then?" he wondered.

He said he's committed to pitching long relief.

"I don't want to be that swing guy. I don't think my arm can take that buildup, breakdown -- that one inning in the pen and then six as a starter."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 8, 2013 A2

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