Meet the girls hitting it out of the park on Montreal's baseball diamonds

Baseball players are often referred to as the boys of summer, an endearing nickname that's also indicative of how the sport is so frequently associated as a game reserved for men and boys.

The bat-and-ball sport most frequently associated with women is softball, but this year, Quebec's provincial baseball association is trying to change that by putting the spotlight on women's baseball.

Sylvain Saindon, technical director for Baseball Québec, said about 3,000 girls across the province play baseball, and expects the organization will be getting more calls than usual with the Blue Jays in town for two exhibition games this weekend.

They want to increase the number of Quebec girls who play on the national team as a way to show prospective players where baseball can take them, so they're focusing on improving their elite teams, which serve as springboards to Team Canada.

"The more we have that as the end goal, the more motivating it is," he said.

'You have to keep proving yourself'

Evelyn Laferrière can see the evolution of her sport just by looking at her team photos.

When she started playing organized baseball at four-years-old, she was one of the only girls in the picture.

Now, at 15, she now plays on an all-girls team — against boys. And while her team, the Bantam A West Island Cardinals, doesn't wipe the floor with their opponents, they can hold their own.

For girls who play baseball, playing with boys is, for now, basically inevitable. She said she sometimes feels like the boys get more leeway to make mistakes and have bad games.

"You have to keep proving yourself as a girl playing with guys. You constantly have to be showing the coaches that you're just as good, if not better than them," she said.

Even so, Laferrière, an accomplished pitcher and student at Lindsay Place High School, loves the sport so much that it's hard for her to put it into words. From the mental aspects of the game, to technique, to the excitement, she finds it anything but boring.

Her idols are her contemporaries, she said — girls who, like her, are playing on regional or provincial teams and know what she's been through.

Girls should be free to play the sport they want, dad says

Eric Laferrière, Evelyn's dad and coach, said when he tells people his daughter plays baseball, they interject and correct him — "You mean softball, right?"

The CEGEP professor, who has been the regional representative for girls baseball in the Lac Saint-Louis region for eight seasons, is passionate about getting more girls into baseball.

The elder Laferrière pointed out that while baseball is considered to be America's national pastime, for decades, women have been systematically redirected into softball instead, cementing baseball as a male-only sphere.

Girls weren't allowed to play in Little League, which has been organizing local youth baseball leagues for nearly 80 years, until 1974.

It's no coincidence, Laferrière said, that the same year the organization was ordered by the courts to allow girls to play, they created a softball league.

In that sense, he sees the push for getting girls into baseball as a battle for rights — girls should be free to play whichever bat-and-ball sport they want, without feeling like their only option is a sport that is similar to baseball, but just isn't the same.

"It's a constant battle to raise the collective consciousness of everyone, including males my age who still direct their daughters into softball because they don't know any better," he said.

'Oh it's a girl, we've got this, it's easy.' Well, no.

Softball was never an option for Erica Ahad. From the start, it was either baseball or soccer. She chose baseball and hasn't looked back.

If all goes according to plan, the 17-year-old commerce student at John Abbott College will be playing for three teams this summer, two all-girls, one co-ed. She'll be at a ball field nearly every day from June to September, which doesn't bother her at all.

Ahad, also an accomplished pitcher, has also played with boys all her life. She said she, too, feels the need to prove herself, but uses her opponents' overconfidence as motivation.

"Me being a pitcher especially on a guys' team, sometimes [I hear] 'Oh it's a girl, we've got this. It's easy.' Well, no, I'm going to make it harder for you just because you think that," she said.

For Ahad, even the idea of something as simple as playing catch brings her joy. Her ultimate goal is to play for Team Canada, but really, she just wants to play for as long as she can and see where the game takes her.

What all three would eventually like to see is a system where girls have competitive leagues of their own, from the local level all the way up to a girls' version of Major League Baseball.

And while there has been progress, including a league for girls ages 17 to 21 in the Montreal area, there is still a ways to go before those leagues are widespread.

"I know that girls' baseball can grow, because it's happened in other sports. In basketball, and in hockey… [women's leagues are] big everywhere, but they just don't happen to be big in baseball," said Evelyn Laferrière.

"I just hope it can grow there too."