CHICAGO -- When Cubs pitcher Neil Ramirez was in high school, he didn't pay much attention to eating the right foods. His message on Wednesday to about 50 kids at Wrigley Field was that it's important not only to eat right but also be active and avoid performance enhancing drugs.
Ramirez took part in the PLAY Campaign stop at Wrigley. PLAY is a national public awareness campaign of the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) in conjunction with MLB Charities and the Taylor Hooton Foundation. The Cubs' athletic trainers, PJ Mainville, Ed Halbur, and Matt Johnson and physical therapist Ryan Mertz, all took part in the two-hour session.
The children were from the Cubs' RBI junior program, the Union League Boys and Girls Club, and The ARC, which advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Ramirez gave a 10-minute speech, and talked about how his life changed once he realized he needed to eat well.
"I stressed the importance that they're young now and making the right choices now in nutrition, exercising and doing the right thing and not taking those kind of [performance enhancing] drugs will help as they get older," Ramirez said. "When I was younger, I didn't take that stuff into account as much as I should. Once I started eating right, I noticed immediately how much it helps.
"I told them, 'Everybody is young right now, but you can make that a part of your lifestyle now and have it become part of who you are and it'll become easier for you later on."
The kids not only heard about the importance of nutrition, but had a chance to do some exercises on the field, take part in some basic fielding and throwing, and hit off tee in the batting cages.
The emphasis for PLAY is to help fight steroid abuse and educate young people about the dangers of steroids as well as promote a healthy and active lifestyle.
"One of the simple take-home messages we gave them is stay out of the center aisles [at grocery stores]," Mainville said. "It's all processed foods for the most part. What you notice about your grocery store is the outside is more fresh fruits, and vegetables and meats and so forth."
Being more aware was part of Ramirez's message. His parents made certain he ate right but it wasn't until he got involved in baseball that he learned how important it was.
"Once I got into the Rangers organization, their strength coach, Napoleon Pichardo, we became tight and he got me focused on eating right and getting stronger," Ramirez said. "That's one of the reasons I struggled early on with health was that going into pro ball, I wasn't strong. I didn't do a whole lot of that in high school. Strength training is huge at this level."
The PLAY Campaign visit is one of Cubs Charities' 100 Gifts of Service, which represents a year-long program featuring Cubs players and associates engaging in community service in celebration of Wrigley Field's 100th birthday season.
The Cubs were able to combine a message with playing on Wrigley Field. It was a perfect match.
"It was a great, great day," Mainville said. "It was a great experience, and not just for them but as much for us. It was a really positive experience."