International baseball tournament makes welcome return to Grand Forks

The Grand Forks International Baseball Tournament is back on track and promises to bring one of the most competitive events in senior men’s baseball to James Donaldson Park.

The GFI routinely brings in the top teams in North America, and will throw out the first pitch on Tuesday with 10 teams set to battle for a prize purse that tops $50,000.

“To be honest, I think the tournament has some kind of lore among baseball people around the world,” tournament coordinator Stephen Boutang told the Trail Times. “Founder Larry Seminoff and later coordinator Gerry Foster really paved the way for this over the years with their hard work. They offered good prize money at a time when it wasn’t the norm and once the high level of competition was established, it became a mainstay on the baseball schedule for a lot of these clubs.”

Competing in this year’s event in the fittingly named Larry Seminoff Division are the Seattle Studs, Reno Astros, Burnaby Bulldogs, Redmond Dudes, and Union de Reyes from Cuba. In the Gerry Foster Division are the Northwest Honkers, Alaska Goldpanners, Everett Merchants, Houston Westchase Express, and San Francisco Seals.

It’s the Cuban team’s first visit to the GFI after engaging in an exchange program with Vancouver Island teams since 2015.

Cuba plays a two-game series against the Trail AM Ford Orioles this weekend with a game scheduled for Sunday in Trail at 4 p.m. at Butler Park, then will head to Grand Forks where they’ll open Tuesday night against the only Canadian team in the GFI, Burnaby, at 7 p.m.

The Seattle Studs are a fan favorite every year, and have been coming to the GFI for three decades. The Studs have won the GFI five times, including the last three, and are the reigning National Baseball Congress’ World Series champion. The high level of competition is a highlight for all teams, but it’s also the electricity in the park that keeps teams coming back.
“It has stood the test of time obviously as we go into our 37th tournament,” said Boutang. “We’ve had teams recruited from across the globe and most have wanted to come back once they have been here.

“The atmosphere in the park is tremendous. Players comment continuously about the fun environment, the high quality of competition, the friendliness of the people, and how much fun it is. Coaches use the tournament as a drawing card for their clubs each summer. The GFI is the richest amateur tournament in North America year after year.”

After having to cancel the tournament last year due to the tragic flooding of the Granby and Kettle Rivers in Grand Forks, fans have emerged not completely unscathed but more than ready for the return of the 2019 GFI edition.

“I think people in Grand Forks have suffered a lot over the past year for different reasons. People really need a fun event to help get things back on track. Economically and mentally.”

The tournament has seen some changes this year, but all for the good. There will be four games per day, with ticket prices a mere $6 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $4 for child 6-11, five-and-under are free. A single day adult pass is $13, and tournament passes go for just $69 for 18 games.

In addition, organizers added a Home Run Derby on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. following the Opening Ceremonies, where Canadian country music star Aaron Pritchett will sing the national anthem.

The event is a huge economic driver for the community and surrounding area bringing in about $1-million over the week, but more than that, it is an incredible emotional and psychological boost for the residents.

“That’s a big deal to a depressed area, particularly as some businesses are still trying to get on their feet again after last year’s floods,” said Boutang. “From a mental standpoint, and emotionally speaking, there hasn’t been a lot to be cheerful about in town and so to have this iconic event again will really boost the spirits of people who can just come out to the park and maybe relax and enjoy simpler things for the week.

“We reduced ticket prices this year for that very reason … we want people to be able to afford to come often.”

The tournament goes all week and winds up on Canada Day, July 1, with the final at 3 p.m.