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Jaso revels in chance to work with kids

Jaso revels in chance to work with kids

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ST. PETERSBURG -- A few days ago, Jeff Niemann told John Jaso that if he had heard during Spring Training that Jaso would be batting leadoff and catching almost every day, he would have laughed it off and walked away.

Sometimes it's even hard for Jaso to fully comprehend how far he has come in the past few months, but he got another reminder this week when he took part in the Chevy Youth Baseball Clinic at Tropicana Field on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The 26-year-old, who was called up from the Minor Leagues early this season and has become a mainstay in the Rays lineup, answered questions from all the Little Leaguers on the three days he visited the camp.

"I got some pretty funny questions. Who's my best friend on the team seems to be the most popular question that these kids could ask me," Jaso said. "It was a lot of fun. It was interesting to see the way these kids' minds think when they're watching the game and everything like that.

"Every once in a while you'll get some pretty deep questions. It was funny."

The clinics gave the children from sponsored Chevy Youth Baseball leagues the opportunity to get free training from instructors on the field. They set up at five stations and spent time at each one before heading to the stands on the first-base line and asking Jaso questions.

The catcher said he never got an opportunity to go to that kind of camp when he was younger because he lived "kind of out in the boondocks" of Northern California, but that only made him appreciate his work with the young baseball players even more.

"Some of the parents asked me for advice to give to the kids while they're on the field, and that's an opportunity to be a role model like that and tell them not to throw their helmets or anything," Jaso said. "I'm glad I got the opportunity to do that."

And the children, who lined up for Jaso's autograph at the end of Friday's camp session, were clearly excited about the chance to talk to Jaso and play in Tropicana Field.

"I think this is the only baseball camp that is held by a Major League team that actually allows the kids to come down onto the field, so it's kind of cool to let these kids come out here and see how big it is," Jaso said. "You get down to the middle of the stadium and look out to the outer walls, and it's pretty big."

Being relatively new to the big league team, Jaso wasn't entirely familiar with the Rays' community involvement, but he has taken a crash course this week between his work at the camp and his participation in Thursday night's Rays on the Runway charity fashion show.

"I kind of like it, just getting to see what this whole part of the game is about," Jaso said. "That fashion show last night was a lot of fun, and getting to come out here and talk to these kids was a lot of fun, too. If an opportunity like this happens again, I'm going to take it."

As for the questions he answered each day, Jaso said some tended to repeat more often than others -- When did he start playing baseball? What's it like out on the field? Who's your favorite pitcher to catch? -- and the campers asked him every day who was his best friend on the team.

"I picked a different player every time, but I had to answer that question all three days I was here," Jaso said. He answered with players like pitcher Wade Davis and infielder Reid Brignac, whom he spent a lot of time with in the Minors. "They're really into favorites for all that stuff. They want to see what it's like, what is this person like, that kind of stuff."

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

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