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When it comes to baseball, Holly LaPierre has done it all — from playing pickup games as a child, to coaching, and serving on the boards of Baseball Nova Scotia and Baseball Canada. Along the way, she’s picked up honours including Baseball Canada’s first ever Female Baseball Builder Award. And in 2020, long-time sportswriter Bob Elliott ranked her 26th on his list of the 100 most influential Canadians in the game. Somewhere in there, she also managed to have a 30-year career with Bell.

Holly has headed the Hammonds Plains Minor Baseball Association (HPBA) in suburban Halifax for two decades. While she is known as an unwavering champion of girls’ and women’s ball, her ultimate goal is for as many people as possible to enjoy the sport, whether they are playing house league, AAA, Challenger Baseball (an adaptive program for players with disabilities) — or anything in between. Holly’s enthusiasm for the game draws in those around her. While she has pulled back a bit on her baseball activities now that she’s a grandmother, Holly still runs the HPBA, which will be hosting the Baseball Canada Senior Women’s Nationals in July, and serves on the board of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Holly and I spoke during the off-season, during a break from her child-care duties, as her grandson napped. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

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I grew up in Lower Sackville, N.S., and I played sandlot or pickup with the boys in the neighbourhood. And I played softball because girls would play softball then. It must have been a whip-pitch type thing, and when I became 16, 17, I played slo-pitch with older ladies. You know, I used to play against my mom in the league, for God’s sake!

I would call myself a tomboy. With four girls, I was the closest my father had to a boy. I love sports. I always have. I played ringette, and I played baseball and basketball, played soccer, volleyball — you name it.

When my kids Jeff and Samantha started playing, I remember saying I wanted them on the same team. Christine, who was running baseball in Sackville, said, “OK, but you’re going to have to coach.” At the games, parents would approach Greg, assuming he was the coach, and Greg would be like, “Yeah, no. You need to talk to my wife.”

When we moved to Hammonds Plains in 2003, I remember they had nobody to do the registration, and I said, “Oh, I’ll do it.” And then it was, “Well, we have no one to book the fields.” And it kind of went from there.

I’ve always said my goal is to produce children who will become productive and responsible adults in society. I’m not interested in finding the next Aaron Judge in my ball association. We have 800 to 900 players a year in Hammonds Plains. Too many times, you see associations or organizations trying to put all their efforts into the one per cent of their membership, when they should be worrying about the other 99 per cent.

Some people say, “Holly isn’t competitive enough.” Trust me, I want to win as much as the next person.

There’s a group that was trying to create a competitive league for nine-year-olds, and I’m like, not happening. If you sit at the national level like
I have, or look at any research from people who are the actual experts, not some bunch of dads who are coaching, competitive at that level is not good for long-term athlete development. All you need to do is watch what Scandinavian countries have done. Some of them don’t even start keeping score till they’re 14, and look at the success they have at the Winter Olympics with some of their programs.

In 2008, I became the chair of the Girls Committee for Baseball Canada. There were not a lot of opportunities in the province. It would always frustrate me. And it still does to this day, when you talk to a local association or at the provincial level and they say, “We don’t have a champion to do the girls program.” Well, why do you need a champion? Just do it as part of what you’re paid to do as a staff member, or in your association.

If you give them the opportunity, they’re going to keep coming out. I can’t believe how many girls we got to sign up just because it was listed as an option on our registration database. People would sign up their son and go oh, there’s a girls’ program, and just put their daughter in.

I asked other associations why they didn’t do that, and they were like, “Well, we were going to wait to see how many would be interested.” How are you going to know if they’re interested if you don’t list it? Come on.

With Challenger Baseball, there’s a gentleman by the name of Ian McLean from British Columbia who really took off with it. And of course, I would see him at different Baseball Canada conventions. He came to Halifax in 2013, trying to encourage other people to grow it, and I invited a couple of parents that I knew. The first year, we just emailed within our own association to say who out there has children or a child that would be a fit for this new program. And all of a sudden, we had 11, and then through word of mouth next year we got 30, and then 40, and it kept growing and growing. Now we have about 70 players, and 120 to 130 buddies who help out during the season. We play three games on Sundays, because there are so many kids. So we have a 24-game schedule that runs over eight weeks.

Challenger Baseball is under the Jays Care umbrella now, and they have a Ted Rogers Scholarship of $10,000, $2,500 a year for four years, for people in Challenger going into first-year university. About 20 of our buddies and a couple of our Challenger players have won them. That’s almost 20 individuals in the Hammonds Plains organization: $200,000 in scholarships.

When I look at somebody who wants the one per cent of the elite players to get a scholarship through baseball — well, volunteer in your community.

I’ve given over 20 years of my time to baseball. As far as being in these higher-end volunteer roles, I couldn’t do that when I had my grandkids come along. I’m still running Hammonds Plains minor ball, and now my grandson’s two and he lives in the Hammonds Plains minor ball footprint.

Jeff used to say, “Mom, what’s your exit strategy?” and I would just say, “Death.” Because how do I get out of it now, when my own grandson is going to be playing, right? In two years he’ll be in T-ball. I had to step back from Baseball Nova Scotia, step back from Baseball Canada because I said, “No, my time needs to be on my grandson.” And then I got asked to be on the board of directors for the Hall of Fame. But that’s not something that takes up a huge amount of my time.

So I’m trying to scale back a little bit. When I used to work for Bell, I could multitask: work email, work email, work email, baseball, baseball, baseball. Well, caring for my grandson, I couldn’t be at my computer physically. My time was from 7 to 9 in the morning, and then when he naps in the afternoon from 12 to 2.

There weren’t a lot of women coaching when I started in the late ’90s, and there still aren’t. But, you know, I’ve walked in a man’s world for a long time. When I was a summer student, I worked at Moosehead Breweries. I ran every machine in there. In the baseball boardrooms, I always used to joke with the men. I’d go, “Let’s see, there’s one of me, 12 of you. You guys are outnumbered!”

I’m 54 now. I’ve been living this for a long time. I’ve established my knowledge of every aspect of the game. I talk a lot — everybody says it, you know it. But once you talk, people understand: she knows what she’s talking about. I was so confident in myself, I didn’t really care what somebody else had to say.


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