The Grand Forks International is pleased to announce the lineup of teams for the 35th anniversary tournament, to be held June 28-July 3.
Four teams will be making their initial appearance at the GFI including the 2015 Stan Musial World Series champions from Houston, Texas.
The Westchase Express won their first United States national championship last year in Farmingdale, New York where they defeated the Long Island Storm 4-3 in the final. Yes, that’s the same Long Island organization that played in Grand Forks a few times, capturing the GFI crown in 2005.
The Express are led by their president Robert Van Nieuwenhuyzen and are part of the Coastal Baseball League in Southeast Texas. They have an excellent program, stressing teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership and positive community citizenship.
In 1985 the San Francisco Seals were established as a summer semi-pro/collegiate team. For many years it has been our hope to one day have the Seals participate in the tournament—that day has finally come. The Seals have been one of the finest summer travel teams in America. Recently their coaching staff merged with another Bay area team, the Alameda Merchants. This means that the squad that comes north for the GFI will be even stronger.
It was my privilege last summer to personally meet with the Seals founder and long-time coach, Abel Alcantar. We are excited to have this San Francisco area team coming to our 35th tournament.
Geoff Freeborn, a Canadian from Alberta, pitched professionally for the Northern League’s Calgary Vipers. He also played baseball in Europe, including Germany and France He actually participated in the European Championship one year.
One baseball commentator said, “Geoff has bounced around the baseball globe.” And he will bounce into Grand Forks this summer; managing the Calgary Sidearm Nation. At one point in his career he developed an effective sidearm-submarine pitch which prolonged his career, hence the team name.
From his contacts in baseball he has assembled a team of former college and professional players, a few having played on Canada’s national team. This week Geoff Freeborn will be taking an under-15 group of ballplayers to Cuba.
Also making their GFI debut are the Snoqualmie Valley Hurricanes. The architect behind this Washington state team is Peter Kairis. They recently formed an alliance with the Dragons Baseball Club.
Associated with the Dragons organization are Fernando DaSilva, born in Montreal, and a former draft pick of the Montreal Expos, and recently retired 19-year major league star, Raul Ibanez, who is now a special advisor to the L.A. Dodgers.
The Hurricanes and Dragons organizations have an excellent philosophy in supporting youth and providing them opportunities in life.
The Seattle Studs return as the defending Grand Forks International champions. Last year they also won the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas for the second time in three years – a remarkable achievement.
The Studs are one of the more prominent semi-pro teams in North America; their roster over the years has been dotted with outstanding athletes, including future major leaguers Tim Lincecum and Brent Lillibridge.
The Everett Merchants return for their third appearance in Grand Forks, having twice made it to the finals. Oh, so close! Will 2016 be the Merchants’ year to win it all? Their long-time manager Harold Pyatte is one of the most dedicated baseball persons you will ever come across. His commitment to the Everett team over the decades is a remarkable and heart-warming story to say the least.
This team will have a roster of committed and gifted athletes. Their schedule this summer includes a trip to Alaska to play a six -ame series against the Alaska Goldpanners in Fairbanks.
The Kamloops Sun Devils won the bronze medal at the 2015 Canadian Championships, defeating the host New Brunswick team 5-1 in the medal game. Their head coach is Ray Chadwick, born in Durham, North Carolina and a former pitcher for the California Angels. The team will include several players from the Thompson Rivers University roster.
The Burnaby Bulldogs won the GFI in 2014, only the second Canadian team to win this tournament in its long and glorious history. They were Canadian champions in 2010 and have won the provincial crown six times. Their general manager David Laing is a class act; he also serves as the executive director of Baseball B.C.. The Bulldogs will again bring a competitive team to Grand Forks, looking to capture the excitement of 2014.
The North Sound Emeralds have been a welcome addition to the GFI the past few years. Last year, Henry McAree, offered up the finest pitching performance of the tournament. He is playing for the Lewis Clark State College Warriors this spring.
In addition, Emeralds player, Mason Pierzchalski, was the GFI All-Star first baseman in 2015. He is currently attending and playing college ball for the North Dakota State Bison, and is one of the top three hitters for that NCAA team.
The Emeralds will have a new manager/head coach this summer, Greg Goetz, who has a reputation as an excellent pitching coach. One of the players he mentored in college is Keone Kela, now an outstanding relief pitcher with the Texas Rangers.
The Thurston County Senators are part of the Puget Sound Collegiate League and the West Coast Guns play an independent schedule against teams from the Pacific International League and other Northwest teams. Matt Acker is the driving force behind both these squads. Once again they will be in the hunt for the big prize money in Grand Forks. Matt also owns and operates the Kitsap Blue Jackets of the very strong and competitive West Coast League. There are a lot of first-rate baseball players in his fold and the rosters of the Senators and Guns will be well stocked for the 2016 GFI.
Rounding out the 12 teams are the Northwest Honkers who have just released their 2016 schedule. They will be playing at least 50 games this summer, 28 of them before they land in Grand Forks. Martin Lawrence is the general manager of the Honkers and his wife Jocelyn acts as the assistant GM.
An integral reason for establishing this team a few years ago is stated on their website, “A simple passion for the game along with the urge to continue to compete at a high level drove the idea to put together the Honkers organization.”
There you have the 2016 roster of teams for this special 35th anniversary year of Canada’s finest baseball tournament. Prepare for the excitement that is coming soon to beautiful James Donaldson Park.
It all began in 1975. Thousands of players and fans from North America and many parts of the world have discovered a diamond in the rough. Millions of dollars have been pumped into Grand Forks and area over these many years as a result of this event.
In 2001, Steve Ewen, a reporter from the Vancouver Province newspaper, attended the GFI. His article appeared in the Province during the tournament with the headline A great tourney in Grand Forks! He penned these words, “Looking for one of those best kept secrets in amateur sport? Try here, a six-hour drive from Vancouver, in this border-hugging town of 4,200.”