Blue Jays find plenty of fans in BC

Final Winter Tour stops include baseball clinic, autograph session

Blue Jays find plenty of fans in BC

During the last two events of the 2015 Blue Jays Winter Tour, the team managed to excite and give back to many of the Blue Jays fans out on the west coast of Canada. On Friday evening, the team hosted a baseball clinic at the Richmond Olympic Oval in partnership with Baseball BC, and on Saturday they held an autograph session at Metropolis at Metrotown in Burnaby.

At the baseball clinic, around 200 kids from around Greater Vancouver learned lessons from Russell Martin, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar. The instruction included hitting tips from Martin, pitching advice from the three young hurlers and how to turn a double play from the 10-time Gold Glove winner Alomar.

"When I work with kids, it's more or less having fun and connecting with them," said Hutchison. "If you can connect with them or tell them one or two things that sticks with them, that's what's important. It's more or less just being there for them. You get to know them and interact with them, and I think that makes it easier to have something stick with them."

When asked by Alomar at the end of the event, the kids said they learned skills such as how to field ground balls as a pitcher and the proper footwork when turning a double play. Nico Cole, who plays for South Vancouver Little League and went to the Little League World Series last year with Team Canada, said he specifically learned to stick with his main pitches when he's on the mound.

His coach, Ed O'Leary, also echoed the benefit of the event, saying his players were thrilled when they heard they had a chance to learn from the players.

"They're basically learning the basics by the looks of it, and it's all good for our kids, because we have a bunch of young kids here that are 8 and 9," said the longtime coach. "We [also] have a few [11-year-olds] and 12s, so it's pretty well divided."

Martin, who remembers going to camps with Montreal Expos players when he was a kid, said he enjoys being able to give back and seeing the smiles and energy from the young ballplayers.

"If there's just one kid that learned a little something that they will take with them and maybe make them a little bit better or have a better shot at doing what he wants to do in whatever it may be, it's worth it," said the catcher.

The event concluded with the Jays Care Foundation providing a $10,000 donation to Baseball BC, and each participant receiving an autograph from the players.

On Saturday, more fans from around Vancouver received a chance to get autographs from Martin, Sanchez, Stroman, Hutchison and Alomar, with one family driving seven hours to come from Williams Lake. Over 500 fans waited in line for a chance to meet the Blue Jays, with some fans getting there at 7 a.m for the 11 a.m. event.

Teenager Jayden Wolfe from Richmond, decked out in a Blue Jays jersey, got in line at 7:45 a.m. and was mostly excited about meeting Alomar, whom he considers his idol. Fellow Jays fans Taylor Reeves, who was born in Toronto but currently resides in Port Coquitlam, showed up at 8:30 and said the wait was absolutely worth it. Reeves attends around 15 Vancouver Canadians game per year and remembers seeing Sanchez and Stroman back when they made their Minor League stop at Nat Bailey Stadium.

Both teenagers saw the event as signifying the nationwide support of the Blue Jays.

"It just shows how big the fanbase for the Jays is," said Wolfe. "No matter how far we are from them, we still support them through everything."

Mike Kaulbach, manager of Game On Sports that's located next to where the autograph session took place, said basically everything sold at the store Saturday was Jays gear -- from jerseys to hats to stockings. He said one man came in to buy a new jersey after the signed one he was currently wearing would be framed.

The last autograph of the Winter Tour went to Fumiya Ishii, who had his Martin T-shirt signed by the catcher. After Martin put down the pen, he let the teenager know he would receive a trip to Toronto to see the Blue Jays play this year -- which was followed by a shocked reaction and a giant smile.

Ishii was originally thrilled to just meet the players, but said it's a dream come true to attend an MLB game since he's never been to one before. His favorite player is Munenori Kawasaki, and he said he'll for sure be back at the Winter Tour next year.

The 2015 Blue Jays Winter Tour may now have concluded, but it's clear that the support for the Blue Jays remains strong across Canada, and they'll have plenty of fans cheering for them come Opening Day in April.

"You can forget about that when you're all the way out on the east coast in Toronto, and you think you're just a Toronto team and you forget you literally have an entire nation behind you," said Stroman. "So it's pretty special to get out here and see that you have people rooting for you just as hard as the fans in Toronto are."

CJ Pentland is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.