The key to the whole afternoon was hitting a home run.

Not an easy proposition for over a dozen NHLers taking some swings in the Jays batting cage at the Rogers Centre Monday afternoon.

In fact, only four of the 15 puck boys on hand managed to clear the fences. The rest certainly left with a whole new respect for how easy their major-league friends make it look — and how hard it actually is.

"It's a sport I definitely wish I could play better," said David Clarkson of the New Jersey Devils. "You're up there trying to hit the ball for all you're worth, but it's a lot tougher than it looks."

The other key to the afternoon was fun, and Clarkson and his NHL peers were entertained for about two hours as they swung for the fences and laughed at some of the side-splitting antics from guys like Paul Bissonnette, the NHL tweet king who could probably run his own nighttime TV show.

Chirping — good-natured ribbing — was in full bloom.

The batting practice has been held for a few years now, and while players like Mats Sundin cleared the fence in years past, no one managed that one almighty swing last year.

"Yeah, there was some joking going on, and I guess because no one hit one out last year, everyone expected me to do it this year because I played softball," said Dan Winnik of the Phoenix Coyotes. "Maybe it's because I'm stronger, training with Matt Nichol."

Nichol, the former Leafs strength coach who currently trains NHLers and other elite-level athletes, had a stable of his hockey clients testing their baseball swings, including Bissonnette, Winnik, Clarkson, former Leafs Nik Antropov, Jay Harrison and Matt Stajan, and University of North Dakota forward Miles Koules.

Clarkson may have had somewhat of an inside track on squaring up a ball.

"I played for the Rexdale Renegades a long time ago and I remember Cito Gaston coming out and helping us out with batting practice," he said.