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Vancouver kids enjoy special day with Play Ball

MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

Boys and girls from the Vancouver area got out into the sunshine and fresh air Wednesday to participate in a special Play Ball event hosted by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball in conjunction with the AABC Connie Mack World Series.

More than 200 kids formed a baseball mosaic at historic Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the Class A Short-Season Vancouver Canadians, as they partook in various baseball- and softball-centric activities including home-run derbies, pitch and catch, baserunning and more. Wednesday also featured a doubleheader as children with physical or cognitive challenges enjoyed baseball activities in the afternoon session.

Boys and girls from the Vancouver area got out into the sunshine and fresh air Wednesday to participate in a special Play Ball event hosted by Major League Baseball and USA Baseball in conjunction with the AABC Connie Mack World Series.

More than 200 kids formed a baseball mosaic at historic Nat Bailey Stadium, home of the Class A Short-Season Vancouver Canadians, as they partook in various baseball- and softball-centric activities including home-run derbies, pitch and catch, baserunning and more. Wednesday also featured a doubleheader as children with physical or cognitive challenges enjoyed baseball activities in the afternoon session.

"It's a great community, and I'm having fun with all these players that I didn't even know" said Devon, a Play Ball participant. "I love it out here; it's beautiful."

Plenty of Blue Jays hats could be found at Challenger Field, where children from many different backgrounds and abilities came together for a day of fun physical activity.

"At Baseball Canada, we're all about inclusion," said Andre Lachance, Baseball Canada's business and sports development director. "Whether it's girls baseball, athletes with a disability or aboriginal people, we feel it's important for everyone in the country to be exposed to baseball. Today is a great example."

Video: Blue Jays host Play Ball event at Nat Bailey Stadium

It was the third Play Ball event held in Canada since the start of last year. The Jays Care Foundation has set up youth baseball programs in all 10 of Canada's provinces and two territories to spread the game across the nation and inspire kids to get involved in sports at an early age, and roughly 40,000 Canadian children are enrolled in those programs -- with many of them getting an introduction to the game for the first time.

"The hope is that these events spread the word about what the game of baseball can do for a kid's development," said Robert Witchel, executive director of the Jays Care Foundation. "Whether it's learning teamwork or resiliency, it's a fantastic opportunity."

Participants even got a special visit from members of Canada's Women's National Baseball Team, who swung by Nat Bailey Stadium before heading off to Florida for the 2018 Women's Baseball World Cup later this month.

"It's not just a boys' sport," said Emma March, a Canadian National Team player who also starred in the 2014 Little League World Series. "Baseball's for whoever loves the game, and you have a future in baseball. I know there will be a girl in Major League Baseball one day. It's a sport for everyone."

It was clear that everyone, regardless of age or gender, was having a blast playing the game on a beautiful summer day. And, best of all, the participants got to say they played on the same field as professional ballplayers.

"I love baseball because I get to play with my friends," said participant Brayden Angeles. "I've never been on this field; it's humongous compared to the field I play on."

Launched by MLB and USA Baseball in 2015, Play Ball has organized hundreds of baseball and softball events throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Canada. Visit playball.org for more information on how to get involved.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Toronto Blue Jays