MONTREAL -- Tim Raines and Marquis Grissom used to be the speedsters on the basepaths at Olympic Stadium. On Sunday morning, some 300 youth baseball players gave them a run for their money at the first Play Ball event in Canada.
Raines and Grissom jumped right into the action again at the Big O to the delight of the youngsters on the field and their parents looking on from the stands at the former home of the Montreal Expos.
The baseball bug was plain to see in each of the two World Series champions as they played with and encouraged the Canadian kids.
"Well, my dad played ball and I had older brothers that played," said Raines, who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year. "But we not only played baseball, we played all the other sports as well. We played football, we played basketball, we ran track, I mean, anything that we could do outside, we did it. And as a kid, I wasn't sure that baseball was the sport that I would end up playing."
Raines joked around with a few of the younger players after they posed for a photo with him with a base with "808" on it, representing his career stolen-base total. It was baseball that ultimately stole Raines away from football when he was growing up in Sanford, Fla.
"I took a chance when I got drafted out of high school," Raines said. "I figured I would give baseball a chance at least for a couple of years to see what would happen. I knew I was a decent player in my town and in my state, but I wasn't really sure how that would pan out as far as the world competition. That's why I decided I would give baseball the first couple of years out of high school and if things didn't work out, then I would go back to school and play football. Thank God it worked out the way it did."
Grissom's future in baseball turned on a fateful encounter with an Atlanta policeman when he was 7 years old.
"He was riding through our neighborhood, we were playing stick ball in the street and he broke up our game," Grissom said. "I didn't know this until about three years ago but he was looking for a baseball field to practice and he ran across us, and I hit his car with a rock because he was taking too long to drive through our game. And he backed up and pulled out his police badge."
Officer Thomas Wilson cut a deal with a terrified young Marquis; he wouldn't tell Grissom's parents about him hitting his car with a rock if he played for his baseball team.
"And that was the deal," Grissom said. "He picked me up every day, he paid for my uniform, because no way we had 40 bucks to play on a team, and that's how I started playing organized baseball."
The kids on hand who were aware of Raines and Grissom and what they represent to baseball in Montreal got that knowledge passed down from their parents.
"We're just former baseball players, but the story that needs to be told is the work that we put in to become something," Grissom said. "And so I try to transfer that into fundamentals a little bit and try to put those two together, hard work and education, you have a real good chance of being something, a productive citizen. And in Canada, Florida, Georgia, it doesn't matter where you're at, you have a chance to be productive."
The primary message Raines wanted to pass along was the one that ultimately led him to Cooperstown.
"Follow your dream," Raines said. "My dream wasn't to be a Major League Baseball player but my dream was to be good at something, or be great at something. And if baseball is what you choose, then give it every opportunity that you can and don't ever give up the chance of being as good as you can be. I think a lot of times people get into sports and they think it's automatic. There's a lot of hard work ahead of them, some good and some bad, but if you believe and you have the talent, who knows how far you can go?"
Sean Farrell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.