James Donaldson Park, home of the renowned Grand Forks International baseball tournament (GFI), is being restored after a cruel summer.
The field is being reseeded with drought-resistant turf, reflecting an industry trend towards long-term sustainability. Owing to provincial guidelines, the park went without water for nine weeks starting in late July, killing the Kentucky bluegrass across the entire infield and much of the outfield, Alex Adams, city manager of public works told The Gazette Tuesday, Oct. 5.
The damage was so extensive, the ball diamond had to be razed to the subsoil early last month. It will take around 100 cubic yards of sand to level the infield and to break up years of red clay tracked in from the surrounding baselines. Low spots will also be filled in in the outfield, where Adams said much of the grass had been irretrievably fried.
Once established, the new field will sport species of fescue that will stand up to the same amount of play while using significantly less water and fertilizer.
GFI volunteers have been helping with the restoration. Grounds crew leads Rocky Voiken and Jim Raho said they were excited to see the park make a comeback in July 2022, two years after the COVID-19 sunk the tournament.
Voiken, now in his 25th year volunteering with the crew, played at the GFI in the mid-1980s with the Grand Forks Slag Dusters. “We won a few games,” the former catcher and third-baseman recalled, joking that, “We didn’t quite make it to the money round.”
Setting down his wheelbarrow, Raho said the tournament meant so much to him that, “The GFI was one of the reasons I moved to Grand Forks.”
GFI co-ordinator Steve Boutang said the project will yield “huge” improvements to tournament play.
“When the rubber meets the road, the most important thing about Donaldson Park is the field,” he said. “I’m thankful that the City of Grand Forks was able to find room in their budget to bring it back up to snuff.”
“All signs are pointing to us being a go for the first week of July 2022,” he added, qualifying that next year’s tournament, last played in 2019, would hinge on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Boutang said several teams from the United States and Canada are hoping to come back, especially because the GFI is a big draw in the week leading up to Kamloops’ tournament, the Kamloops International.
Mayor Brian Taylor said he was happy to see the work being done at Donaldson Park. “It’s a long time coming,” he noted.