On a warm, muggy night at a baseball field in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighborhood, young women on the field lean in, ready to jump. At the plate, there is a crack of the bat as nine-year-old Layla Grintuch hits a ball and runs toward first base.
It’s a chaotic struggle as coaches and parents shout instructions. The first throw doesn’t arrive on time. Layla is safe.
This is Layla’s second year in this 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 the same,” Layla explained, but she said she prefers to play with girls because it’s easier to make friends.
“I just wanted to try something new.”
These girls are part of a wave that is sweeping the province. Baseball Quebec says almost 5,500 girls registered this year, up from 1,888 in 2014.
Overcome obstacles with strategy
Without a major league team (the Expos’ departure in 2004 is still raw for some) and with soccer dominating as a summer sport (170,000 Quebec children are registered in soccer leagues), the future of baseball in Montreal appears shaky.
But lately it is making a resurgence and it is not just girls who practice this sport. Also in the last decade more children have started playing ball. In 2014 there were 22,983 registered and in 2023 that number increased to 31,626.
In total, Baseball Quebec has 37,000 players this year, up from 25,000 in 2014.
This is largely due to a concerted effort behind the scenes.
Sébastien Gariépy, chief operating officer of Baseball Quebec, says his organization has been more aggressive and more tactical in making the game more attractive to young families.
There are fewer players on the younger age group teams, which means the kids stay more active. There is 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 championship, Quebec girls took gold in the under-13 and under-16 categories.
Your own league
The rise of women’s soccer is a source of pride for Noah Sidel, vice president of NDG Baseball.
He grew up an avid fan of the Montreal Expos. Now, his three children practice this sport, including his two daughters. Sidel believes the sport is finally taking advantage of an underdeveloped resource. For years, girls hoping to play baseball were on co-ed NDG teams. That has changed.
“This year, with Baseball Quebec, we were able to create what we call the NDG Bobcats women’s baseball program and in year 1 we went from about 15 girls in our association to almost 80,” she said, while sporting a red Bobcats jersey.
“To me, the future is really female as far as the growth of baseball and sports in general, and we have a great opportunity to get more and more girls playing and that’s really part of our mission.”
He is not surprised by his interest in the sport he has loved his entire life. “It’s a game that really grabs your heart and tugs at your heartstrings,” she said.
“There is something about the sights, smells and sounds of the baseball game that is unlike any other.”
Mia Fine is also on an all-female team, concluding her second summer on the diamond with the Dollard Expos.
“I started when I saw my sister play baseball. It’s just a sport that really makes me feel confident and talented,” the nine-year-old said as she warmed up for her game.
Mia watches a lot of games on television, cheering on the Toronto Blue Jays and her favorite player, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Mia’s mother is also relatively new to the sport. Sara Espinoza grew up playing soccer in her native Spain and thought her daughters would do the same. But after they began to shine in baseball, Espinoza dove headlong into the sport like Guerrero sliding into second base. She says the girls are blossoming.
“It’s just an invaluable asset in life. It teaches them friendship, leadership, trust, team play and builds self-confidence on the field.”
“Not only boys know how to play ball. Girls are very good at playing ball,” he added.
Espinoza is on the board of Pierrefonds Baseball and says the association is struggling to make room for new players.
“We don’t want to turn around and say ‘no’ to any child, so we are basically affiliated with other associations and we send them to play with other associations. It’s a continuum. We have waiting lists but there are no children left.” back,” she explained.