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Role-model Rays promote reading

Role-model Rays promote reading

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After Tuesday night's win, the Rays continued to solidify a presence in Orlando, as catcher Shawn Riggans and southpaw J.P. Howell spent Wednesday morning at the Orlando Public Library reading to area elementary school children.

"It kind of brings you back to your roots and how you started out," Howell said. "And you kind of need that check, seeing these kids, I enjoy it."

The event, which started at 10:30 a.m. ET, garnered a much-larger crowd then expected, as approximately 140 people assembled to hear the two players read books about baseball.

"I think it went really well," library director Mary Ann Hodel said. "The kids were very enthusiastic, J.P. and Shawn were very attune to the audience and they connected very well to the kids."

Hodel said the library contacted the Rays' public relations staff when they heard the team would be playing in Orlando, and was glad the players were able to fit a visit into their hectic three-game series with the Blue Jays at Disney's Wide World of Sports.

"I'd love to do it again," she added. "They are role models, so what they do the kids will mimic. Having them do very positive things, positive behaviors, like reading, I think it's wonderful for the children, that's how they learn. Baseball players are definitely adult heroes."

Although Riggans and Howell had participated in similar read alongs, it was both players' first time reading on the road, and one they both thoroughly enjoyed. In addition to storytelling, the players stayed until every participant had a chance to meet them -- signing autographs and taking pictures for 45 minutes after the reading ended.

"Their reactions, there's a couple little kids that are really, really into it," Riggans said. "It's tough sometimes to keep three- or four-year-old kids into it, but they had a good time, and that's the most important thing."

In addition, the library had a surprise for Howell, bringing a Rays decorated cake for the pitcher, who turns 25 on Friday.

Both Howell and Riggans were wearing smiles as they left the library -- after the last of the participants had cleared out.

"It was a good time," Riggans said. "We got to interact with them and their teachers, and got to get them out of their school for a little bit."

Brittany Ghiroli 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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