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Native fastball tourney preparations underway

Spruce City Stadium is getting a bit of a facelift in preparation for the 2020 Canadian Native Fastball Championships.
Jared Potskin of the Prince George Rivers Kings eyes up a pitch thrown by Westbank Cardinals' Caleb Keeshig at the Canadian Native Fastball Championships in Prince George in 2016.

Spruce City Stadium is getting a bit of a facelift in preparation for the 2020 Canadian Native Fastball Championships.

“People like the ambiance of Spruce City Stadium, it’s kind of acquired a reputation, like Fenway Park,” said Harley Desjarlais, chair of the Canadian Native Championships host committee. "It's an older structure and it's not steel and it's not new and I think people really like it. That's always going to be our main field for our bigger games."

The organizing committee at the Jan. 20 council meeting secured a $48,133 grant from city council to help pay the costs of hosting the four-day tournament, July 31-Aug. 3. It will attract close to 80 teams and 1,200 athletes playing in six divisions. Prince George last hosted the Canadian native championship in 2016, and before that in 2006 and 1994. 

The organizing committee presented an update to city council at the Jan. 20 public meeting, where council approved $26,300 to cover facility rental and services costs related to the tournament, including rental of port-a-potties and new shale for the infield. Council also approved the organizing committee’s $21,833 request to purchase a portable backstop and fencing to be used to temporarily convert baseball fields to fastball diamonds. The money will come for the city’s Major Events Reserve.

“The backstop and fencing will make a big difference,” said Randy Potskin, president of the Canadian Native Fastball Association. “We can use Citizen Field now because we can put the backstop there and the portable fencing there, which was not used last time.

“We’ll probably put the women’s final there. Before (in 2016) they were at Freeman Park and now we’re all in the same area. The women always get mad because they’re always in a different location but it’s tough because the dimensions are different. In women’s fastball, the pitcher’s mound is closer. The bases are the same (distance apart) but they usually want a smaller fence so they can hit home runs.”

The participating teams from out of town and their supporters will fill hotel rooms and restaurant seats and stimulate the retail sector. Colin Carson, manager of sport tourism for Tourism Prince George, estimates the tournament will pump $3.4 million into the local economy.

“The city is going to be very busy, there will be a lot of activity in the hotels and it’s going be a big boost for the local economy,” said Desjarlais. “We’re also going to have a very professionally-run event. Last time it kind of exceeded our expectations and there’s some things we learned and I think this one will be bigger and better.”

The tournament is during the August long weekend and Monday, Aug. 4 will be set aside as a rain day if the schedule is delayed by inclement weather. Operating with a tournament budget of $242,000, the organizing committee expects to raise $50,000 of that in sponsorships and $20,000 in grants. 

Prince George will enter teams in the open, masters men's, junior and women's divisions and many of the smaller native communities in the north central Interior will field teams.

"A lot of the reserves in the area who weren't able to make it to Winnipeg last year will be in the tournament, I think the last time we had an event here we had 10 to 12 teams in men's division from the immediate area," said Desjarlais. "The First Nations community is very supportive as far as helping us with financing and fundraising."

The success of hosting the 2016 Canadian Native tournament and the 50th anniversary Canada Day tournament has the group considering bids to bring even larger tournaments to the city, including the 2021 Canadian senior A championship.

"One thing we have our eye on is the North American Indigenous Games, which would be quite a challenge," said Desjarlais. "But we've seen that Regina, which is a similar-sized city, was able to pull it off (in 2014). We're very confident in our ability."