TORONTO -- Eric Thames had a clear message for a group of children at St. Andrews Public School in Scarborough, Ont., on Tuesday afternoon: Exercise is fun.
The Blue Jays' left fielder visited a class of sixth-graders to speak to them about the importance of staying physically active and eating healthy.
He even told them that if they get into a routine of at least 15 minutes of exercise a day, there is nothing wrong with playing video games, too -- an activity he enjoys.
"I told them to listen to their mothers and eat their peas and carrots," Thames said. "Eating vegetables is very important -- and grains, oats and carbs for energy. It's very important [to eat right] for the kids, having energy for their brains to stay active, stay witty, stay sharp and focus. Water above energy drinks and soda."
He also says kids shouldn't be upset when they are packed the customary peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich for lunch, which is one of his favorite pregame snacks and is full of carbohydrates. The benefits of what's inside the food is one of the key points Thames wanted to drive home.
"I'm trying to teach them now so that later in life they don't have any issues with their health," Thames said.
Thames and Blue Jays mascot Ace's visit made the kids' day and even got them out of class for an hour, much to their delight. The 25-year-old approached the kids from behind and surprised them and, after a roar of applause, proceeded to talk to them about what a healthy lifestyle consists of.
Afterward, Thames took the class to the schoolyard and participated in a game of kickball with the students, also known as "soccer-baseball" -- a popular game among grade-schoolers.
For Thames, this is all part of the responsibilities that come with being a professional athlete, and something he says he genuinely enjoys doing.
"It always helps and reminds us that we were once kids growing up, and we had dreams and aspirations. So it's good to give back and talk to the kids, and remember what it was like," Thames said. "Remember that life isn't so serious and there are worse things out there. We are playing a kids' game. It always helps us relax and helps the community, [too].
"[You've] got to help the kids out, because one day they might be in your shoes -- and that's why it's so important to me to come out here."
After the kids played a couple of innings, Thames participated in a question-and-answer period and ended the day by signing autographs and taking a group picture with the youngsters. Signing autographs comes with the territory of being a pro athlete, but it doesn't mean it's something these players ever get used to, at least not Thames.
"It never gets old," Thames said. "It's one of the greatest privileges in life to have someone ask for your autograph, especially a kid who plays sports like yourself -- when you were a kid and then you're their hero.
"It's kind of surreal when you think about it, but it's amazing at the same time."
The students from St. Andrews can relate, as it's not every day they get the chance to talk, play and get an autograph from a Blue Jays player.
"It's cool to see a professional athlete," said 11-year-old Anthony Phu-Nguyen. "Eric Thames is cool because he actually came to our school and taught us about health."
Another student, 12-year-old Carter Lang, agreed, but said he isn't even the biggest Thames fan in his family.
"It's really cool, so much fun," Lang said. "My nanny loves baseball, and the first game I watched with her, Eric Thames was playing. So I think he was like the first person I saw."
Lang's favorite position is right field, the same position his favorite player, Jose Bautista, plays. Not to worry for Thames, though, Lang's grandmother is a huge fan of his and was at the school on Tuesday, as well. She greeted Thames with a hug when she got the opportunity to meet him.
As much as Thames' visit was to promote the benefits of exercise and good health, it was a day of fun for all involved. Perhaps the best laugh of the day came when one of the students asked Thames what he would have been if he wasn't a Major League Baseball player.
Thames' response surprised some, when he revealed that he would have wanted to be a World Wrestling Entertainment star.
"In sixth, seventh, eighth grade, wrestling was huge -- with The Rock and Stone Cold [Steve Austin], and it always seemed fun to me," Thames said. "You get to work out all day. It always seemed like a fun thing to do.
"I believe the ultimate job is to do something that you're having fun at, that's what I try to tell these kids. If they keep working at what they believe, they will have a job they have a lot of passion for -- and then they will be excited to come to work every day."
Thames knows the next Canadian star player may come from the class he played with -- and was impressed by -- at St. Andrews.
"These kids are incredible athletes," Thames said. "I'm excited to see what these kids become when I'm an old man in 20 years."
Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.