Toronto players and fans do lunch

Toronto players and fans do lunch

TORONTO -- Dennis Jr. stuck close to his mom, fumbling with a camera as he walked around the room, looking wide-eyed at the many ballplayers surrounding him.

One walked over, crouched down to greet the 5-year-old, and said, "How are you? I used to play."

When he's older, Dennis Jr. might not remember his mom introducing him to former Toronto pitcher Pat Hentgen. She'll have a picture to remind him.

He might recall meeting a different pitcher, though.

Dennis Jr. wasn't sure how many players he had met, but when asked who his favorite Blue Jay was, he quietly replied, "Roy Halladay."

Halladay and Hentgen were just two of the past and present Blue Jays on hand for the 30th annual Welcome Back Luncheon at a hotel in Toronto on Thursday. The event is held each year to allow fans to have one-on-one interaction with the team and the proceeds from the luncheon benefit -- the Jays Care Foundation.

As fans walked into the luncheon, they lined up for autographs from players such as Lyle Overbay, B.J. Ryan, Bengie Molina and Shea Hillenbrand. In a seperate room, players and coaches mingled with fans, giving them a rare chance for photo opportunities and conversation. When everyone moved into the dining room, one member of the Jays sat at each table with a group people.

While it was a great experience for the fans, the event also was unique for the players.

"It's something I've gotten used to, but you meet different people," Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells said. "You talk about what they do for a living, instead of always what you do for a living. It's a chance to just get to know the other side of life.

"It's good to get out and meet the people that cheer for you and vice versa, for the fans to get to see a different side of the players."

Since 2002, Wells has served as the honorary commissioner of the Rookie League, which is a program that was founded in 1989 to give children living in Toronto Community Housing a place to play baseball.

The Rookie League is just one of the many programs aided by the Jays Care Foundation, which received another boost with the luncheon. As part of the event, there was a raffle and an auction. The profits from those two activities, along with the other proceeds from the luncheon, were given to the foundation in the form of a $30,000 check.

"It's huge for the Jays Care Foundation," Wells said. "Obviously, I have first-hand experience with it and see the kids, how it touches them, and see what kids we're able to reach -- the smiles that it brings to their faces. It's great to see."

There were smiles all around the luncheon, especially when one table received an unexpected surprise.

After all the Blue Jays took their seats at various tables, table No. 43 was void of a player to chat with. Before too much time had passed, though, over walked Halladay, who took the empty seat.

"It was a pleasure. What an amazing guy," said Rob Ricci, who got to sit two seats over from Halladay. "I've met him before, but to talk to him one-on-one was amazing."

For fans like Rob and Dennis Jr., the event will probably be something they'll never forget.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.