Play ball!

North America's richest annual invitational baseball tournament is played in Grand Forks, B.C.

In a hockey-mad country, Grand Forks, B.C., puts on a pretty impressive baseball tournament. In 1975, longtime Grand Forks resident Larry Seminoff was inspired to invite baseball teams from Canada and the United States to compete in a tournament, and that turned out to be the inaugural year for the Grand Forks International Baseball Tournament (GFI). Except for a few unusual years, the GFI has taken place annually on the Labour Day weekend. This year’s tournament will be the 32nd event.

“Without Larry and his dream, and drive, and passion, this never would have happened,” said Gerry Foster, president of the GFI and organizer of this year’s event.

Foster, a retired United Church minister, has been involved with the tournament since 1997. He is filled with appreciation for the many volunteers—it takes about 300—who work to carry off the biggest event of the year in Grand Forks. He is also amazed at the generosity of the community, which has contributed the bulk of the prize money; the total is an astonishing $54,000, making this the richest invitational baseball tournament in North America.

How it evolved

“Way back in the 1930s was when the dream really began,” Foster said. “James Donaldson took a field of rocks and weeds, and turned it into a place where the neighbourhood kids could play baseball.”

Donaldson deeded the park to the City of Grand Forks, which over the years has added floodlights for night games and a new grandstand. James Donaldson Park has been voted one of the top 16 parks in Canada in the Canada’s Favourite Ballpark contest sponsored by Baseball Canada.

“If he could see it now,” said Foster, “James Donaldson would be overwhelmed and overjoyed to see what his dream has come to.”

Finding sponsors for the tournament is a big part of the fundraising effort. Foster said that several businesses have been dependable supporters over the years. The Grand Forks Credit Union, Community Futures and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) are among the corporate donors. Roxul Inc. is the GFI’s biggest sponsor, donating $10,000 to the 2012 event. Creating some extra excitement this year is a new sponsor: the Toronto Blue Jays have come on board, raising the profile of the tournament and the sport itself among young players. 

“Having the Blue Jays in the sponsorship lineup will certainly augment the exposure and stature of this weeklong Canadian sporting spectacle,“ said Foster.

Team lineups

Six U.S. teams and six Canadian teams will meet in Grand Forks on or before August 29, some of them flying into Spokane and driving to Grand Forks, some driving through southern B.C. from Vancouver and points east. Many of the players are accompanied by family members, and all of these people—along with the many spectators expected—will need to be fed, fuelled and housed along the way and during the tournament. It promises to be another hit season for the hotels, motels and restaurants in the area. The revenue generated by the event itself, along with most of the approximately $90,000 spent to produce the tournament, gives the entire community a welcome influx of cash, spread over a period of months.

The defending Western Canada Senior AA Baseball Champions, the Trail Orioles, will be playing in the Grand Forks tournament, as will the Langley Senior Blaze, a very new team that last year made everyone sit up and take notice. Langley recently captured the 2012 BC Senior Men’s Championship. Making their GFI debut this year are the UCLA Bruins Alumni, led by legendary Hall of Fame coach Gary Adams.

We’ll see what happens when the teams meet over the Labour Day weekend. As Foster commented, “Only once since 1975 has a Canadian team won the tournament, and we’d love to see it happen again.”

Marie Milner

Marie Milner is a writer and photographer for Kootenay Business magazine and several other publications. She appreciates the inspiration that she gets during her interviews and hopes to share that inspiration with you. View all of Marie Milner’s articles

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