The Grand Forks International (GFI) baseball tournament will be back at back this year with a new organizer at the helm.
Brian McAndrew, who was been involved with the GFI board for a few years, will be moving up into the coordinator role after Joan Thomas stepped down.
McAndrew told the Gazette he is looking forward to this year’s event and said it looks to be better than ever.
The biggest change will be the date. The tournament will start on Tuesday, June 30 and run for six days, wrapping up on Sunday, July 5.
“I started out as a director three tournaments ago and then moved up to vice-president,” said McAndrew. “When the president (Bud Alcock) and coordinator stepped down after this last tournament, I stepped into those roles. This is my first year as coordinator. I’ve been involved in doing the program and website now for about six years.”
McAndrew said the role is a volunteer position and is a lot of work. He acknowledges that it won’t be easy to replace Thomas.
“It’ll be hard to fill her boots because she took it from a critical situation and brought it into a really good situation and we’re doing really well now because of her,” he said.
For various reasons, the GFI cancelled in 2012. The tournament returned last year and was moved from the end of the summer (Labour Day weekend) to the beginning of summer during the Canada Day long weekend.
“That year (2012) was a really difficult one for baseball tournaments in B.C. for the fall time because the Canadian nationals were happening at that time and it was very hard to acquire teams,” said McAndrew. “In the fall it’s hard enough to get teams because after mid-August most of the college players head back to school so most of the teams are finished and the season is over. So getting teams is really hard.”
McAndrew said several of the teams they had lined up that year ended up going to nationals and had to withdraw, forcing the GFI to cancel.
“Even though we were very flush and in good shape it was the fact that we couldn’t get teams that we had to cancel the tournament and that was the main reason for changing the date to the springtime — so we could get teams and refresh the tournament,” he said.
McAndrew said making the change wasn’t easy as everyone from the teams to the fans to the sponsors were resistant at first.
“It was really hard,” he said. “In changing the dates for anything you can expect a slow down in the turnout and you’ll get people that have to get used to the new dates, that don’t like change. It wasn’t the best turnout we’ve. It was a little slack.”
McAndrew also noted there was a lack of confidence in the sponsors after the tournament was cancelled for the one year.
“Hopefully we can build that confidence up again,” he said.
McAndrew is also hoping that attendance numbers will be up with the final going on a Sunday rather a regular workday Tuesday as it was with last year.
He said despite diminished numbers, everyone had a good time last year and enjoyed the great baseball action. The exciting final that saw the Burnaby Bulldogs come from behind in the last inning to beat Langley Blaze was a real treat to watch.
“We’ve got nine teams booked already and we’re just looking for three more teams,” said McAndrew. “We’ve got some really interesting, exciting new possibilities we’re hoping to bring in that I’m investigating. There are three teams we could pick up right now but I’m hoping to get three new teams we haven’t seen here before and possibly bring in someone from outside of North America.”
McAndrew confirmed that the Burnaby Bulldogs would be back to defend their title. Also back will be the always-popular Trail Jays, the Kootenay’s representative.
McAndrew said the GFI this year will continue to be family friendly while offering a fun atmosphere for adults.
“We had an exhibition with the little league teams that got to play on the field in an exhibition game,” he said. “That went really well. We’d like to do that again. That was extremely popular and really goes in line with the mandate of the tournament to be family oriented.”
Also in line with the family friendly aspect is that liquor is only served at the far end of the stadium in the “blue monster” area.
“The law allows us to have a stadium-wide liquor licence but we decide to keep it within the framework we’ve always had and keep the beer gardens separate,” said McAndrew. “When you have rowdy fans and players drinking, you don’t want that around the families. We’ll keep that in that section.”
All the usual fun GFI events will be back like the 50/50 draws, baseball bingo, hot dogs and other stadium staples at the hard ball café concession.
“Even if you don’t like baseball and you never watch it, you will enjoy yourself,” said McAndrew. “Many friends I’ve brought out to the GFI haven’t exactly been baseball fans but they come out of there and want to come back the next year. They have that much fun. Our tagline is ‘Catch the Spirit.’ With a live game there is a feeling, an atmosphere. It’s the biggest community effort we have.”
McAndrew said that last year the GFI had more than 300 volunteers which is almost one-tenth of the population of Grand Forks.
“That’s an incredible amount of people when you think about it,” he said. “It’s amazing. It’s a real community event.”
McAndrew said that the GFI will have an office downtown at 283 Market Ave. where people can get more information and/or purchase tickets when they’re available.