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Play Ball event draws hundreds in Quebec

MLB.com @Shannon__Ford

QUEBEC CITY, Canada -- While Daniel Morgan snagged a photo and autograph from former Montreal Expos star, Ken Hill, his mother, Mia Archibald, beamed with excitement.

"I was really excited, really intrigued and thought, we're going to Quebec City," explained Mia, who made the two-hour, forty-five-minute drive up from Montreal to participate in MLB's Play Ball event on Saturday.

QUEBEC CITY, Canada -- While Daniel Morgan snagged a photo and autograph from former Montreal Expos star, Ken Hill, his mother, Mia Archibald, beamed with excitement.

"I was really excited, really intrigued and thought, we're going to Quebec City," explained Mia, who made the two-hour, forty-five-minute drive up from Montreal to participate in MLB's Play Ball event on Saturday.

More than 350 kids from all over the province of Quebec came to Stade Canac stadium to participate in the two-session event hosted by MLB, Jays Care Foundation, Baseball Canada and Baseball Quebec for the second consecutive year. This was the first of two Play Ball events planned for 2018, with the second to be held in Vancouver in late summer.

A four-year veteran to the sport, Morgan played T-ball as a young boy before switching to soccer in hopes of finding his niche. But after just two years in soccer, he made the switch back and hasn't regretted it for a second.

"What's been really popular is changing the way the game is played for youth," said Andre Lachance, director of business and sport development for Baseball Canada. "We got rid of T-ball years ago and Rally Cap has been really, really important, as it has been our flagship program for the last 10-12 years, so the first experiences in baseball have been positive and kids are staying in the game."

The resurgence of baseball in Canada over the last 10 years has been the result of a rebuilding effort that began after a dropoff in the mid-1990s when the Montreal Expos relocated.

"In the last 10 years, we've seen important growth everywhere across the country in each province," said Lachance. "When I say important growth, we're talking a 5 to 15 percent increase every single year for the last 5 to 10 years, all the way from British Columbia to Newfoundland."

Today, Quebec City is home to the Quebec Capitales, a minor league team that is passing on excitement for the game by showcasing stellar baseball, transporting fans back to the memories of the Expos' glory days.

"We were watching the Expos all the time on TV, so [while] there weren't a lot of people involved [in the sport], I just loved the game," said Olivier Lepine, former catcher for the Capitales.

A storybook introduction to the game, Lepine grew up an Expos fan in Quebec City, playing catch in the backyard with his dad and older brother. He shares the game today with his children, whom he hopes will take away the many life lessons the sport has to offer.

"I played a lot of years in baseball, so I want to make sure that every kid who wants to play has at least one coach or one dad that would help them to enjoy it a little bit more," said Lepine. "Who knows, maybe [they will] play for the Capitales one day or for the Expos if they come back."

While youth is at the epicenter of growth, Baseball Canada goes beyond grassroots events, developing more competitive ways to play for older kids, including opportunities for girls.

"We've started servicing them a little bit more, we have a National Championship for 16u, 11u, open division and we've seen success at the world level with our second-place world ranking right now," said Lachance, who also serves as manager of the Canadian Women's National Team.

The growth of baseball opportunities is expanding globally. Major League Baseball will host its Trailblazer Series for the second consecutive year next month. The event, designed to develop girls in baseball, will welcome Canadians, Kennedy Toews from Blumenort, Manitoba, and Natalie Cormier from Moncton, New Brunswick.

"This is our vision for our sport in Canada, so if we can find all the different means to get kids to play baseball and get back to where we were 20-25 years ago when it was the sport of the summer, that's our goal, our dream, and we're living it daily at baseball Canada," said Lachance.

Adding, "It's summer's perfect game."

Shannon Ford is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Shannon__Ford.