Whoever set fire to Spruce City Stadium, one of the city’s oldest and best-known sports facilities, likely to cover up evidence after they stole the ballpark’s sound system, has willfully damaged an iconic Prince George structure which could bring a premature end to the men’s fastball season.
Robbie Antoine, vice-president of the Spruce City Men’s Fastball Association that leases the city-owned facility at Carrie Jane Gray Park, says the fire that ripped through the concession/kitchen and upper-floor media box early Wednesday morning destroyed the equipment that controls the ballpark lighting and scoreboard.
It also gutted two fridges, a commercial deep-fryer, a grill and all kitchen equipment and utensils used to cook food for fans and players at the stadium. All the league’s first-aid supplies were also destroyed. The arsonist and any accomplices at the time the crimes were committed around 5 a.m. Wednesday stole two large wireless speakers used for the stadium’s public address sound system.
Prince George RCMP are continuing their investigation into the fire, which police confirmed Thursday as an act of arson. It caused an estimated $100,000 damage and left a pall of uncertainty hanging over the seven-team league, with about one month left in the season.
“Now we don’t have power at the park and we can’t use the lights; that was all controlled upstairs as well – it’s a significant blow,” said Antoine.
The Prince George Youth Baseball Association has stepped up and offered the league permission to use the Rotary Field baseball diamond, which is right next to Spruce City Stadium. The portable backstop and fencing used last weekend on that field for the Canadian Native Fastball Championships are still in place and the field does have lights.
Antoine said the league might decide to start its games earlier to play the remaining league games and playoffs at Spruce City under natural light. Weeknight doubleheaders have been played this summer at 7 and 8:30 p.m.
“We might have to start the games a little earlier because the days are getting shorter and shorter but in the same sense you want to play at your home field,” Antoine said.
He and many of the players are reluctant to leave the field they’ve called home since they were teenagers. Spruce City Stadium was built in 1960 by a group of fastball enthusiasts that included current SCMFA president Peter Ghostkeeper.
“It’s not just a field to us, it’s a place that you call home, kind of a getaway, and this is a real significant blow to northern B.C. fastball,” Antoine said. “That park’s been around since before I was born.”
This is the second time in less than two years the stadium has been burglarized. In February 2021 the Spruce City discovered the media box/storage area was broken into and a sound system donated to the league in 2015 was stolen along with the scoreboard control switching panel.
“I’m not too sure on our gameplan yet, we’ve dealt with this time and time again throughout the past couple of years and it seems like theft is getting really bad in the area,” said Antoine. “Theft in Prince George is essentially getting out of hand. It’s one thing to break into a place and steal a PA system a couple of times, but to burn a place down, it’s a low blow.”
Antoine is counting his blessings the fire didn’t happen a week earlier, just before 50 teams and 900 players arrived in the city for the three-day Canadian Native Fastball Championships, which wrapped up Sunday.
He said the league will step up its security measures and will consider installing electronic sensors/cameras or security-guard monitoring.
“Hopefully now, with this, we’ll get a more secure building,” Antoine said. “There’s quite a bit that was lost, there was pretty significant damage and we’ll have to see what the structural integrity of the building is still like, because it looked like quite the blaze.”
Police are asking the public to help them solve the crime. If you have any information, call the above-mentioned phone number or Northern B.C. Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or go online to www.northernbccrimestoppers.ca. You do not have to reveal your identity and could be eligible for a cash reward if your information leads to an arrest or recovery of the stolen property.