The Grand Forks International Baseball Tournament is a go this year, despite concerns that the tournament could fold due to lack of volunteers.
Tournament coordinator Steve Boutang confirmed this week that the 2018 tournament will run from June 26- July 2 this year, albeit with a few changes that he and the board hope will spark renewed enthusiasm in fans and locals alike.
After the board’s annual general meeting in the fall, Boutang said there were questions about if the GFI could move forward facing a serious lack of volunteers to take on team lead positions. However, over the past few months, the board has worked, volunteers have stepped up and he’s pleased that things are in motion for the 2018 tournament.
This year’s GFI is a seven-day run, as opposed to the usual six days. This is due to a scheduling change to make the game schedule more “fan-friendly,” Boutang said, and also returns to the tradition of running the last day of the tournament on a holiday Monday, as was practice when the GFI ran on Labour Day weekend.
Tournament days will include four games per day this year (at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.), as opposed to the traditional five game per day schedule that began at 8 a.m. and lasted until long after midnight.
Fans simply weren’t coming out that early in the morning for games, and the late nights were too much for families and locals who work during the week.
“During the week it is hard for local people to be out, especially with kids,” he said. “People just don’t come out at 8 a.m. We have tried to arrange the schedule to be a bit more friendly for fans to come out and watch.”
Other highlights this year include the return of several favourite teams: the Seattle Studs and the Burnaby Bulldogs, but also last year’s second place team, the Alaska Goldpanners. Longtime GFI fans can also look forward to the return of the Reno Astros, who haven’t attended for a few years but will be back on the field this season.
Boutang said he was also excited about working on an international team coming to the tournament, but was tight-lipped on which team until it has been confirmed.
This year’s GFI board of five has a lot of fresh faces, and Boutang said they are hoping to increase gate attendance — especially attendance by locals.
To that end, Boutang said the tournament is rolling out new pricing. Ticket packages for families and for weekend games will be available, and he is expecting the full tournament pass to be available at a reduced rate this year.
“Lots of people come from out of town, but one of the criticisms from local people is that it is very expensive if you want to do for a day and take your significant other and family. We are trying to find ways to do it for less so people can come out,” he said.
Bountang has been an umpire with the tournament since 2001 and took over as umpire-in-chief in 2009. This is his first year as tournament coordinator and serving on the board. Boutang is based in Abbotsford, but will be coming back and forth to Grand Forks before the tournament and, of course, will be here for the duration of the GFI.
While the GFI has always been “the best week of the year” for him, Boutang said this year will be extra-special: he will be umping his 200th game at the GFI this year.
“Even though I don’t live here I still feel like I’m part of the community because I have been coming here for so long. I do notice that it is a big community event,” he said.
The board is still looking for people to fill security and first aid slots, and Boutang said he is hopeful that they will be able to find people locally to fill the slots.
Examples of volunteers who would be ideal are anyone with their basic first aid, medical practitioners, people who work in industrial first aid or are a firefighter.
The goal of the changes — especially reduced ticket pricing — Boutang said, is to get more people out to the park.
“It’s a fine line with reducing ticket prices between reducing it to get people to come out, or shooting yourself in the foot,” he said. “We have a good balance there. The goal is not more money, but more people in the park.”
As in past years, volunteers who give 12 hours will receive a tournament pass.
A new attraction to the tournament this year will be a home run derby held on Wednesday night following the opening ceremony. The derby will see the top hitters from each team try to hit as many balls out of the park in a fixed period.
The GFI is the only Canadian qualifying tournament for the NBC World Series, held each year in Kansas. The tournament secured qualifying status last year for the first time, something Boutang said has increased the attraction of the tournament for many amateur clubs, especially American teams.
Despite the changes, Boutang said the bedrock elements of the GFI are staying the same — the great baseball, the team prize purse and the excited atmosphere.
Anyone looking for more information on the tournament, or for information on how to volunteer can check out the Grand Forks International Facebook page.