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Popularity of kids’ baseball is exploding in Quebec as girls take up the sport

On a warm, muggy night at a baseball diamond in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighbourhood, the young girls in the field lean in, ready to pounce. At the plate, there’s a crack of the bat as nine-year-old Layla Grintuch hammers a ball and tears toward first base.

It’s a chaotic scramble as coaches and parents scream out instructions. The throw to first is not in time. Layla is safe.

This is Layla’s second year in the sport. She played on a boys’ team last year but is now learning the game with a team full of girls.

“I don’t think it’s better, I feel like it’s equal,” Layla explained but said she prefers playing with girls because it’s easier to make friends.

“I just wanted to try out something new.”

These girls are part of a wave washing across the province. Baseball Quebec says nearly 5,500 girls were registered this year, up from 1,888 in 2014.

Two preteen girls in baseball gear with their arms around each other's shoulder smile into the camera.Ruby Leibov, left, and Layla Grintuch, right, are both players with the NDG Bobcats in Montreal. They are part of a wave young female players who are bringing baseball back to Montreal. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

Overcoming obstacles with strategy

Without a major league team — the departure of the Expos in 2004 is still raw for some — and with soccer dominating as a the sport of summer (170,000 Quebec children are registered in soccer leagues), the future of baseball in Montreal has seemed shaky.

But it is having a resurgence of late and it’s not just girls taking up the sport. More boys have started playing ball in the last decade too. In 2014, there were 22,983 signed up and in 2023, that number grew to 31,626.

In all, Baseball Quebec has 37,000 players this year, compared to 25,000 in 2014.

It’s thanks in large part to a concerted, behind-the-scenes effort.

Sébastien Gariépy, the operations manager for Baseball Quebec, says his organization has been more aggressive and more tactical in making the game more appealing to young families.

There are fewer players on teams in the younger age groups which means kids stay more active. There’s better training for coaches and more emphasis on growing the sport for girls.

That growth has also translated into trophies. At this year’s national championships, Quebec girls took home gold in the under-13 and under-16 categories.

Girl stands confidently at bat.Abigail Spencer Perron gets ready to swing. She is one of almost 80 girls playing organized baseball in Montreal’s NDG neighbourhood this summer. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

A League of Their Own

The boom in the girls’ game is a source of pride for Noah Sidel, the vice-president of NDG Baseball.

He grew up an ardent fan of the Montreal Expos. Now, all three of his children play the sport, including his two daughters. Sidel thinks the sport is finally tapping into an underdeveloped resource. For years, girls hoping to play baseball would be on co-ed teams in NDG. That has changed.

“This year, with Baseball Quebec, we were able to create what we called the NDG Bobcats girls baseball program and in Year 1 we went from about 15 girls in our association to almost 80,” he said, while sporting a red Bobcats jersey.

“For me, the future is really female when it comes to the growth of baseball and sports in general, and we have a huge opportunity to get more and more girls playing and that’s really part of our mission.”

He isn’t surprised about the interest in the sport he’s loved his entire life.  “It’s a game that really grabs you in the heart and tugs those heartstrings,” he said.

“There’s something about the sights and the smells and the sounds of the game of baseball that’s like no other.”

A man dressed in a red baseball jersey stands in the infield of a baseball diamond.Noah Sidel, the vice-president of NDG Baseball and the father of two girls who play baseball, says the sport is tapping into a whole new pool of players by expanding girls’ teams and leagues. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

Mia Fine is also on an all-girls’ team, wrapping up her second summer on the diamond with the Dollard Expos.

“I started when I saw my sister playing baseball. It’s just a sport that really makes me feel confident and talented,” said the nine-year-old as she warmed up for her game.

Mia watches a lot of games on TV, cheering on the Toronto Blue Jays and her favourite player, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

In the foreground, a girl stands poised on third base. In the background, players from the fielding team stand.Mia Fine of the Dollard Expos stands on third base while the hometeam NDG Bobcats look on. (Jay Turnbull/CBC)

Mia’s mother is relatively new to the sport, as well. Sara Espinoza grew up playing soccer in her native Spain and thought her daughters would follow suit. But after they took a shine to baseball, Espinoza dove headfirst into the sport like Guerrero sliding into second base. She says the girls are blossoming.

“It’s just a great value asset in your life. It teaches them friendship, leadership, trust, play as a team and it builds self-confidence on the field.”

“It’s not just boys who can play ball. Girls are very good at ball,” she added.

Espinoza is on the board of Pierrefonds Baseball and says the association is scrambling to make room for new players.

“We don’t want to turn around and say ‘no’ to any kid, so we are basically affiliated with other associations and we send them to play with other associations. It’s non-stop. We have waiting lists but no kid is left behind,” she explained.

WATCH | These Ontario girls say they like having a ‘safe space’ to try out baseball: 

Blue Jays program provides safe space for girls in elementary school

Girls at Bat is a program at Glenwood Public school in Windor that gives the elementary students a “no judgment, carefree zone” to learn baseball. It’s supported by the Jays Care Foundation.

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