Lewiston wins GFI; Geelong leaves an impression

Two teams were still standing after 24 games of the 31st Grand Forks International (GFI); one team was not a surprise while the other would have been termed a shocker.

The Lewiston Pafille Truckers defeated Australia's Geelong Baycats in the 2011 GFI championship game.

Two teams were still standing after 24 games of the 31st Grand Forks International (GFI); one team was not a surprise while the other would have been termed a shocker.

This would be the Lewiston Paffile Truckers fourth consecutive appearance in the final while in the other dugout were the amazing Geelong Baycats.

The Baycats seemed to be getting stronger as the week progressed and one of the characteristics of this club from Down Under was resiliency. They came from behind most of the week, stunning the Langley Blaze, who came with an outstanding roster, and dispensed with the always tough Seattle Studs.

Baseball fans were beginning to cheer on the Aussies. While many were surprised, the Baycats’ Manager Nathan Holmes indicated that he had felt before they came to Grand Forks that his team could compete.

So here was a new match-up at a GFI final and one the fans certainly embraced. The game was scoreless through three innings. Eighteen-year-old Thomas Kerr-Chapman was on the hill for Geelong while Lewiston’s hopes rested on Sal Arena.

The Idaho club scored first, picking up two runs in the fourth inning. After the third frame I scratched on my note pad, “Will the arms last?” I soon received my answer.

In the fifth, the outstanding college team, known in its regular season as the Lewis-Clark State Warriors, would break the game open, cracking three homers, all to right-centre field. This was game number six for these teams and, as it has been in the past, it came down to pitching depth. The Aussie baseball players had provided a lot of excitement for the crowds, who were slowly adopting this underdog team, unfortunately the tank was empty. This marvellous group of ballplayers who come from a place where baseball is not really on the radar had finally succumbed.

The Truckers were led by tournament MVP Bobby Joe Tannehill, who blasted a pair of home runs. Three of his teammates would also add round-trippers. The final score in the game was 9-1. Yet when the game was over there was a sense that no one really lost.

Yes, the difference in winning the final is $9,000 more than finishing second – that’s a lot of money to be sure. However the great showing by Australia will impact their program in a positive way. Indeed it may inspire other teams and baseball in general in this country where Aussie Rules football and cricket dominate.

Holmes, who worked so hard to get the team to Canada and the GFI, shared with me after the game that the numbers on their Facebook membership list had more than tripled during this historic week.

Baseball enthusiasts from all over who attended this year’s tournament were winners. They felt fortunate to see them perform and have the opportunity to meet these superb athletes in person.

The GFI was a winner, for the Geelong Baycats were a real asset to this year’s event.

And finally our community won. I have already heard comments from businesses where our Australian friends dropped by. They left a positive impression. It was a truly remarkable week and we have enough memories to last until the 2012 Grand Forks International.