After welcoming Team Canada's women in May for their selection camp for the upcoming Pan American Games, the Blue Jays brought back several members of the current team to help continue to grow the sport at the grassroots level. Women's National Team veteran Ashley Stephenson has been an instructor with the Academy for several years, and she was impressed by the strides they've already made in a short time.
"The first year we had 120 girls and now we have 185, so adding 60-plus in only a couple years is fantastic," Stephenson said. "One of the little girls was five years old, all the way up to 16 years old, and all kinds of talent levels. It's nice to just see kids out playing -- they're playing with their brothers, their moms and dads -- and there's a general interest in being active and out there playing.
"It's nice to see a number of girls interested in the game, and some are softball players. We want them out on the diamond -- softball diamond or baseball diamond. Obviously we would love for them to play baseball, but maybe they haven't been exposed to it, and this is a great opportunity for them to be exposed to it."
For many parents and players in attendance, the idea of playing baseball isn't an altogether easy one to fathom. With only one league strictly for girls in the Greater Toronto Area, and even the Women's National Team Members playing in a men's league in the Toronto Baseball Association, young female players are often forced into softball, or into other sports altogether.
Getting a chance to participate in a camp with national-level athletes ranging from Team Canada's youngest player -- Emma Carr, 16 -- to the veteran Stephenson, 32 (with Autumn Mills, Ella Matteucci, Cindy Saavedra, Bradi Wall, Kate Psota and Team Canada coach Sam Magalas all in between) could be a big help for the future of the women's squad.
"It would have been unreal actually," Stephenson said of having something similar when she was growing up. "I remember watching the Jays, and I used to get my mom to wax our living room floor once a week so when Kelly Gruber dove back to first base, I could dive back to the register in the ground. That's a true story. I'd practice that.
"So to be able to come to something like this, I would have been chomping at the bit to get out to the SkyDome at the time, to get on the turf and experience this. It's cool that the girls get out here. They're super excited about it, and we had lots of help out here. It would have been really nice, and I'm glad they get the opportunity to do it ... it's something to aspire to, and they get to be out here and have a good time."
Psota has been to six World Cups with Team Canada as one of two original members of the roster remaining -- along with Stephenson. However, Saturday marked her first experience with Girls' Day, and she couldn't have had a more enjoyable time.
"It was amazing," Psota said. "I know the girls have talked about it before, but this far exceeded my expectations. They were all super excited and running around, and the young ones were all over. The older ones were good and paying attention, but it was really just a great day for women's baseball. Everyone had a lot of fun, us included."
Among the talented group, eight-year-old Elise Marco was incredibly excited to get a chance to get out on the field at Rogers Centre with a group of baseball-playing girls and show off the skills she's honed on boys' teams with the Ajax Spartans.
"I've played baseball for about six years," Marco said. "I played a couple of different sports, and then I figured out that I wanted to play baseball. I did a mixture of different things like basketball and soccer, but I didn't play on a team and I just wanted to play baseball ... I'm the only girl on the team, and all the boys are my friends."
Along with the majority of campers, the young centre fielder sought pictures and autographs with and from the national team members before departing for the night. She is also excited to head to Ajax in the upcoming weeks to get a glimpse of her heroes on the field as they compete in their first multi-sport event in the history of the program.
"It was really, really cool to be with them," Marco said. "The best part was probably getting my picture with them. I'm going to watch them at the [Pan Am] Games."