Wells helps kids during charity outing

Wells helps kids during charity outing

TORONTO -- From the moment Vernon Wells arrived at the Rogers Centre field early on Thursday morning, he was followed by a horde of children seeking autographs, pictures and handshakes.

The Blue Jays center fielder could not wipe the smile from his face as he accommodated the kids, who were on hand for the wrap-up of the 20th season of Rookie League baseball.

"Yeah, this is fun," Wells said with a huge grin. "To get a chance to see kids come out and have a great time and enjoy themselves is all that matters."

Wells was representing the Jays at the conclusion of the eight-week program that provides a free baseball league for children living in Toronto Community Housing.

More than 400 children from 22 Toronto Community Housing units participated in the league, which is run by the Jays Care Foundation in partnership with TCHC.

The Jays have been involved with the Rookie League since its inception in 1989. To date, more than 10,000 children have benefited from the program.

Wells, who has served as the league's honorary commissioner since 2002, believes that the program is for a worthy cause.

"It allows a lot of these kids to get out of their homes and be in a safe environment," said Wells. "A lot of these kids don't have an opportunity to get out and do things that normal, everyday kids have a chance to do. They come out here and meet friends and I tell them all the time, 'If you surround yourself with good friends and good people, it can keep you out of trouble.'

"It's an opportunity for them to make friendships and also learn how to play a game that has obviously treated us [players] really well."

Since mid-July, the league's players met once a week at Riverdale Park for a day filled with baseball clinics, drills and games. On Thursday, they had the chance to play and take part in various activities on the Rogers Centre field. Following lunch and an afternoon trip to nearby Centre Island, the league's participants were set to return to the stadium in time to watch the Jays take on the Yankees.

In addition, two children were chosen to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, while one of the Rookie League's teams will get to participate in the seventh-inning stretch on the field.

According to Danielle Silverstein, executive director of the Jays Care Foundation, Wells has played an integral role in the league since he arrived in Toronto. Along with his wife, Charlene, Wells' donations to the league this year provided a new baseball glove to each child, along with a T-shirt, lunches throughout the program, and a backpack filled with school supplies.

"He's been just a tremendous, tremendous contributor to this program," Silverstein said of Wells. "It's really sort of the heart of everything that he does here in the community. Both him and his wife, Charlene, have been amazing."

Watching Wells interact with the children on Thursday, Silverstein also acknowledged the rapport that the center fielder has with them.

"He's a huge hit with the kids." she said. "Because he's been with the program for so long, the kids know him and he's just phenomenal with them."

David Singh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.