Grand Forks Invitational back on track

The Grand Forks Invitational Baseball Tournament (GFI) is back on the base paths and, despite a few curves, baseball fans won’t have to wait until September to enjoy it.

Following a one-year hiatus the GFI returns to James Donaldson Park from June 25 to June 30, a move from its historical time slot over the September long weekend.

“We’ve got 11 of the 12 teams confirmed,” GFI coordinator Joan Thomas told the Grand Forks Gazette. “We’ve got some strong teams returning such as Seattle Studs and Thurston County. We’ve got some new ones such as West Coast Guns out of California; we’ve got the North Sound Emeralds, which we haven’t seen before.”

Since its inception in 1968, the tournament has been a popular season finale attracting fans and  teams from as far away as Australia, Russia, Japan, Taiwan, and China.  However, last year’s hiccup was the result of a variety of factors, said Thomas.

“We had some of our long-term volunteers retire. We were already looking at changing the date because it’s harder to get teams at the end of August. Some of our teams pulled out because it was right before nationals. Plus, the field was under construction and didn’t get done until fall. So it gave (the field) a chance to settle over the winter.”

In the absence of a Grand Forks baseball team, the Trail AM Ford Orioles will act as the host team, and, due to the earlier date, will likely enjoy a full lineup going into the tournament.

“I’m hoping that works,” said Trail baseball coordinator Scott Calvin. “At least for the Orioles I think it works, because a lot of problems the Orioles had over the years is that by September long weekend, we rely on a lot of guys that are hockey players, and they’re gone.”

The move to June should allow some its premiere players like Connor and Kellen Jones, Scott Davidson, and Dallas Calvin as well as Fruitvale native Joey Underwood, who plays baseball for Bryan College in  Tennessee, to play in the big event and hopefully help the O’s pick up a share of the  reported $54,000 in prize money.

Because of the change, the Orioles will forego the Canada Day Baseball Blast tournament in Kelowna in favour of the GFI, and end their season hosting the B.C. Senior Men’s Baseball championship at Butler Park Aug. 1-4.

“As far as that (finances) goes, this year should be a lot better,” said Calvin. “They (Orioles) travelled to Kelowna on the July long and then last year provincials were on the Island, so you cut those expenses out and you got a tournament in Grand Forks where you can drive back and forth, not spend on hotels and then you host provincials. I mean there is some cost to that, obviously, but there should be some recoup there, so it’s a bonus that way.”

The Canadian contingent at the tournament will be represented by Trail, the Langley Sr. Blaze, Kamloops Sun Devils, and Parkland Whitesox from Alberta, while the American teams include the Seattle Studs, Thurston County Senators, West Coast Guns, Everett Merchants, Northwest Honkers, and North Sound Emeralds.

“People have their favourites,” said Thomas. “Some people come to see the (San Diego) Stars, some come to see the Studs. A lot of people will come over from the Trail area to watch the AM Ford Orioles.”

The teams will be placed into three divisions, with the top two teams in each division plus two wildcard teams going on to the money round.

So far 37 players have passed through the GFI on their way to the Major Leagues including Trail native and 2004 NL Rookie of the Year, Jason Bay, Tim Lincecum (San Francisco Giants); Josh Becket (Boston Red Sox); Brendan Ryan (St. Louis Cardinals); as well as former Toronto Blue Jay, John Olerud, and Montreal Expo, Larry Walker.

The Lewiston Truckers claimed top spot in the 2012 GFI and took home $20,000. Team Canada finished second pocketing $12,000, while Seattle Studs placed third and picked up $5,000. Trail tied for fifth and won $3,000.

The Orioles play in the Pacific International League (PIL) and will begin their season Saturday at Butler Park hosting the Kelowna Jays at 3 and 5 p.m. and on Sunday at 11 and 1 a.m.

With files from the Grand Forks Gazette.

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