Listen, I'm not here to debate Gruber vs. Sprague vs. Donaldson vs. Glaus or anyone else who played the hot corner for Toronto. Every one of those players is certainly a top-notch ballplayer in his own right, and I'm not taking anything away from any of them. What I am here to say is that I grew up in an era where Kelly Gruber played third base for the Toronto Blue Jays while I was playing baseball, and I thought he was one of the better third basemen I had ever seen.
Today, however, I found out that his efforts as a regular person far outweigh anything he did on the field because Kelly Gruber is an amazing person. And I say that knowing that he won a World Series with the Blue Jays.
In an autograph session put on by Rogers Communications, Kelly Gruber sat and talked with fans for lengths of time. He made connections with kids who weren't even a twinkle in their parents' eyes when they watched Kelly play. He spent time reaching people on a personal level where his celebrity status was used to make those connections. He listened. He talked. He smiled. He told stories of life in baseball. He happily took photographs with fans. He was warm. He embraced those that wanted hugs with genuine sincerity.
Kelly Gruber turned a lot of Blue Jays fans into Kelly Gruber fans today.
Look, I'm getting nothing for writing this, but he's been traveling with the Blue Jays caravan across Canada that Rogers Communications is backing. I saw a man today reach through age barriers, wage barriers, and social barriers to bring fans of all walks of life together. I saw a man whose skill on the diamond was celebrated and revered yet he was as approachable as your next door neighbour.
Isn't it great when your heroes turn out to be genuinely exceptional people?
We've seen in some situations that athletes can occasionally be jerks. Just like people in life, there are those who fail to remember that we're all connected in some way or another, and those that forget this lesson often find difficulty in achieving goals because the help they require from others has abandoned them due to past actions. For every Alex Rodriguez, there are guys like Kelly Gruber who restore your faith in athletes. Kelly, who was here on a promotional tour, did something that Alex Rodriguez wouldn't even dare to consider that shows exactly what kind of man he is.
As I was working at the caravan, a lady walked up to where I was stationed and asked if Kelly Gruber was signing autographs yet. I noticed she had some memorabilia in her hands including a framed photo of a young girl and Kelly. I informed her that Kelly was signing autographs inside the store, and that we were outside doing the fun stuff. She thanked me and headed inside. Some 20 to 30 minutes later, she emerged from the store, went to her car, and drove off.
There was no line inside, so it was apparent that Kelly had spent some time speaking to this woman. What I wasn't expecting, though, was that this woman had also spent some time talking to Kelly, and her story was incredible to hear.
What she failed to mention in her question for me is that she is a former Make-A-Wish Foundation cancer survivor whose wish was to meet Kelly Gruber at a Blue Jays game when she was younger. The framed photo? That was her and Kelly some years ago when Make-A-Wish granted her wish and sent her to Toronto to meet her baseball idol. Reportedly, the look on Kelly's face was amazement as he glanced at her and then down at the photo as he recalled the moment.
Kelly autographed everything she had and you could tell that meeting her idol once again was a moment she was going to hold onto forever. She left with a smile on her face after explaining to Kelly what she had gone through, and several of Kelly's people jotted down some information so that they could follow up with the woman regarding her experience. What happened next, though, was evidence of the kind of person that Kelly is.
Kelly decided that after the autograph session he was going to visit this woman at her house. Why? He wanted to talk some more to her and really make a connection with her after he had meant so much to her while she was battling cancer. Obviously, the connection she had with him from watching him play baseball was one that would last forever, and now Kelly was going to make sure that it was bronzed and talked about for years to come. And just as he said he was going to do, once the last autograph was signed, he and his crew piled into their vehicle to make a whole new slew of memories for one woman.
How cool is that?
I'm happy to say that I got to sit and chat with Kelly a little bit today. It's always refreshing to find out that the guy who you believed to be a helluvan athlete is an even better person. When these people are the people one aspires to be, seeing how genuine and friendly they are with everyone is exactly why athletes can and should inspire us all to not only be better athletes, but better people and entirely better to one another.
It's an easy thing to say, but it takes an exceptional person to walk that life. Kelly Gruber not only is walking that life, but he's inspiring many people to follow him on that path. That's what our heroes should inspire us to do.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!