JACOB NOSEWORTHY for the Grand Forks Gazette
Wednesday was an eventful day at the 2019 Grand Forks International as fans at James Donaldson Park were entertained by four action-packed games, the tournament’s opening ceremonies and a truncated Home Run Derby that was cut short after a thunderstorm knocked out the park’s floodlights.
Day two of action also marked the first games for the Seattle Studs and Alaska Goldpanners, the two finalists of the 2017 tournament, as the teams looked to earn their way back into the final.
San Francisco Seals 3 at Northwest Honkers 4
Pitchers: Sonny Brandwood (San Francisco) and Sean Nussbaum (Northwest)
After losing to the Everett Merchants on Tuesday, the Northwest Honkers showed that they’re still tournament contenders with a 4-3 win over the San Francisco Seals to begin the day.
A three-run fifth inning propelled the Honkers to victory in the defensive and highly competitive game.
The Seals tried to mount a comeback in the top of the ninth inning but were only able to score a single run while stranding two runners in scoring positions.
A notable moment in the game came for the Seals in the fourth inning when centre fielder Jackson Hall hit a stand-up RBI triple to deep centre field but was ultimately left stranded on the base path.
Honkers starting pitcher Sean Nussbaum stood out in the defensive game allowing only one earned run through his seven innings on the mound.
The result improved Northwest’s record to 1-1, while San Francisco fell to 1-1 and third place in the Gerry Foster Division.
Houston Westchase Express 2 at Alaska Goldpanners 3
Pitchers: Josef Frias (Westchase) and Jacob Fricke (Alaska)
In another tight, defensive game, the Alaska Goldpanners celebrated their second appearance in the GFI with a 3-2 victory over the Houston Westchase Express.
Assisted by a perfectly laid bunt by centre fielder Blake Porter in the first inning, the Goldpanners took a two-run lead after one and scored the winning run in the third.
The Express clawed back two runs in the seventh inning, but it was not enough as Houston left the tying run stranded on third base.
A diving catch to snag a foul ball near the home bullpen by Alaska first baseman Connor Konishi provided the second out of the ninth inning and helped the Goldpanners secure the win.
Although Houston pitcher Josef Frias was left with the loss, he pitched the full game and earned 11 strikeouts in his eight innings on the mound to help keep the Express in the game.
The loss sent the Express to the bottom of the Gerry Foster Division with a 0-2 record, complicating their potential path to the money round.
Burnaby Bulldogs 4 at Reno Astros 5
Pitchers: Jacob Mahon (Burnaby) and Don Wanner (Reno)
In a battle between previous tournament winners, the Reno Astros held off a Burnaby Bulldogs comeback as they took a 5-4 victory in the third game of the day.
The game was tied at two after a competitive first five innings, but a three-run sixth inning, due in part to two costly errors by the Bulldogs, proved enough for the Astros to beat the BC Senior Champions.
Burnaby nearly was able to come back in the top of the ninth inning off the back of a lead-off double off the top of the left-field wall but was stymied at two runs as they left three runners stranded on base.
Reno centre fielder Terry Bennett showed his worth to his team throughout the game, as he hit two solo home runs to help propel the Astros to the win.
His first was a lead-off home run in the first inning over the tallest fence in James Donaldson, while the second came in the third inning with a shot over the centre field wall.
Burnaby and Reno were left with matching 1-1 records after the game.
Seattle Studs 10 at Redmond Dudes 2
Pitchers: Michael Warnick (Seattle) and Calvin Wood (Redmond)
The Seattle Studs showed that they’re not happy with only three consecutive titles as they won a 10-2 mercy rule decision over the Redmond Dudes in the final game of the day.
The Studs kicked off their run at an unprecedented fourth-straight GFI championship with impressive offensive and defensive showings, as they easily brushed aside their Pacific International League rival to open their tournament.
A four-run performance in the third inning, followed by three-run showings in both the sixth and seventh, provided Seattle with the victory.
Back-to-back home runs in the seventh inning highlighted the game for the defending champions as Brennen Hancock and Ryan Budnick crushed shots to opposite fields.
Hancock, the designated hitter, was a clear star as he earned five RBIs and three hits from his five plate appearances.
The Dudes fell to a 1-1 record from the loss, while the Studs took full possession of first place in the Larry Seminoff Division.
“Last year we were losing, but now we’re winning, and we’ll continue winning.”
Tournament coordinator Steve Boutang used the opening ceremonies to send a positive message to the people of Grand Forks after the flooding of 2018.
A procession consisting of the Grand Forks Pipes and Drums, members of the four branches of local emergency services, all 10 teams, youth baseball players, GFI committee members and others began the ceremonies prior to the anthems.
An instrumental version of La Bayamesa, the national anthem of Cuba, was played over the loudspeakers before renditions of The Star-Spangled Banner and O Canada were performed by Canadian country music artist Aaron Pritchett.
Mayor Brian Taylor gave a greeting while representatives of the fire department, police department, ambulance services and search and rescue were on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitches.
The opening ceremonies also honoured two former GFI coordinators: Larry Seminoff and Gerry Foster.
In addition to the tournament’s divisions being permanently named after the two men, Boutang also unveiled the newly named Larry Seminoff Broadcast Booth, where the former coordinator spent many years as the public address announcer, and announced that Foster would receive a lifetime GFI membership and a plaque at the stadium.
Home Run Derby
While many baseball fans were hoping to witness booming home runs, a booming thunderstorm created a near-blackout at James Donaldson Park as the floodlights went off, ending the inaugural Home Run Derby early.
Despite the abbreviated event, fans around the park seemed to quickly come to love the new attraction.
A ‘Mini-Derby’ kicked off the evening, as members of both the ‘minors’ and ‘majors’ of Boundary Babe Ruth Baseball got their chance to swing for the fences.
The ‘fences’ were shorter than usual, however, as the minors players needed to hit the ball outside of the infield while the majors players needed to cross an orange line laid down in the outfield.
Fans cheered on all the contestants, but Archer Courtney of the minors came out on top with 12 ‘home runs’ in two minutes.
Of the GFI competitors who had a chance at bat before lightning turned off the flood lights, Ataru Yamaguchi of Burnaby hit the most home runs, with five in two minutes, while Randy Camaraza of Cuban team Unión de Reyes and Jimmy Cain, the San Francisco Seals first baseman who pounded back a beer to chants of “chug!” during his 30 second timeout, were fan favourites.
Although the park’s floodlights were slowly coming back on, the nearly empty crowd, the lack of many of the contestants and dangerous field conditions forced the event to be cancelled at 10:09 p.m.
However, due to the popularity of the event, public address announcer Kevin McKinnon said that the derby could be finished later in the tournament if time permits.