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GFI gets underway in Grand Forks

Wednesday’s events feature a home run derby
In their exhibition games last weekend, the Cuban team Unión de Reyes was praised for their swift thinking and tight defense. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Ahead of the start of the 2019 Grand Forks International, baseball fans showed their enthusiasm about the return of the tournament from a one-year hiatus when they packed James Donaldson Park on Saturday to watch Cuban club Unión de Reyes win 5-0 over the Trail AM Ford Orioles in an exhibition game.

According to tournament coordinator Steve Boutang, around 300 people attended the game, despite the intermittent rain.

“I thought [the exhibition] was very good,” Boutang said. “It was well-attended and a good opportunity for Trail to come and showcase their talents and we’re thankful for that. It was certainly an opportunity for local fans to get a preview of the quality of play that the Cuban club is going to bring to the GFI, too.”

Unión de Reyes played a second exhibition game against the Orioles in Trail on Sunday, which the visitors won 12-6. But beyond their speed and sharpness on the diamond, the Cubans showcased their team attitude by lending their help to preparing the stadium for the tournament.

“They were a tremendous help,” Boutang said. “They arrived here on Thursday and made themselves available to work all day Friday, which they did. [They] helped put up the black paper that we [surround] the field with and a few other little odds and ends. They’re hard-working people that love to give back and they’re very grateful for everything in the community.”

Ahead of the first competitive game of the tournament, which took place between the Houston Westchase Express and San Francisco Seals on Tuesday morning, Boutang praised the quality of the teams in this year’s tournament.

“As far as the play is concerned, I think people will find this year’s tournament to be tremendously competitive with 10 of the best teams that we’ve had in over a decade,” he said.

Standouts, Boutang noted, include the Reno Astros, who are returning to the tournament after a long hiatus; the back-to-back-to-back defending champion Seattle Studs, who have yet to lose a GFI game since 2014; and the Express who feature a large contingent of new players.

“It would be very, very difficult to put a wager on any one team and feel comfortable that they were the favourite,” Boutang added.

While the tournament officially began on Tuesday, the main festivities take place on Wednesday night.

The opening ceremonies begin at 8:00 p.m., with a performance of the national anthem by Vancouver-born country music artist Aaron Pritchett, followed by the tournament’s inaugural Home Run Derby at 8:30 p.m.