GFI tournament coordinator and head umpire Steve Boutang. (Kathleen Saylors/Grand Forks Gazette)

Cuban team joining Grand Forks International baseball lineup

Teams are coming from across North America for the tournament June 25 to July 1.

Teams from Cuba, San Diego and Reno, Nevada will be joining the lineup for this year’s Grand Forks International tournament.

The tournament is slated to run June 25 to July 1 at James Donaldson Park. The board of the GFI made the team announcements Thursday morning, as well as other features of this year’s GFI event.

The teams coming to this year’s GFI are: the Seattle Studs, the Burnaby Bulldogs, the Everett Merchants, the Fairbanks Alaska Goldpanners, the San Diego Stars, the San Francisco Seals, the Reno Astros, the Northwest Honkers, the Houston Westchase Express and the Union de Reyes from Matanzas, Cuba.

GFI coordinator Steve Boutang said the tournament is pleased to welcome such a variety of teams to this year’s tournament, including several teams that have not attended in recent history.

Boutang said there will be some changes to the tournament this year, including adding an extra day to for a maximum of four games per day, meaning games will start later and end a bit earlier. Ticket prices will also go down this year to encourage more locals to come out to the tournament, and as in years past, volunteers clocking at least 12 hours will receive a free tournament pass.

Boutang said he felt the entertainment value and quality of baseball provided by the Cuban team will be high.

“I have been coming since 2001 as an umpire. I think this tournament, these ten teams, is the strongest field we have seen since the World Baseball Challenge here in 2002,” Boutang said.

“The Studs, Reno is bring a team loaded with professionals, Cuba will be very competitive. Fairbanks made it all the way to the finals. If I had to pick four teams I was looking out for being in it on Monday, those would be the four.”

By piggy-backing on an event the Cuban team is doing in Victoria, Boutang said the tournament was able to save significantly on the cost of bringing the team in from Cuba. They are looking for billet families if possible, he added; information is available on the GFI website.

Many of the teams slated to attend the GFI last year were disappointed, when the tournament was cancelled in the wake of May’s devastating flooding. However, Boutang said the teams are aware of what Grand Forks has been through in the last year, and are eager to come back, help out and put on a good show.

“Most of the players who come here, when they warm up and see the fans and the entertainment at night, the atmosphere the park has, the players frequently say ‘I can’t believe this tournament exists in such a small town,’” Boutang said. “To not have it last year was a big loss, they love coming up here … and they are excited to be back.”

More information on the GFI is available through grandforksbaseball.com.

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