Softball world descends on Prince Albert for 'biggest event' to hit the city
The softball world has come to Saskatchewan, rewarding a four-year, multi-million dollar fundraising effort.
The Junior Men's World Softball Championships hit the diamond in Prince Albert, Sask., on Saturday, bringing 13 nations, thousands of fans and an economic boost to the city.
"I think it's just the biggest event to ever hit this city," said Felix Casavant, one of the co-chairs of the tournament. He said this is the first world championship of any sport to be held in Prince Albert.
Thousands pack the park
Casavant said watching Tuesday night's Canada versus New Zealand game, which drew a crowd of over 5,000 people, gave him "goosebumps."
"We knew if we built these diamonds, the world would come," he said.
"It was just a great feeling to see the park packed and everybody so enthusiastic and so many positive comments coming from the teams and the fans about our facilities."
The long road to host the tournament began four years ago.
Co-chair Derek Smith said they had to extend one of the diamonds at Prime Ministers' Park and build a completely new one.
"When we first built these fields 25 years ago nobody thought 250-foot fences for a world championship would be needed, so that was our stumbling block right off the bat," he said.
Fundraising for the tournament totalled $2.3 million. More than $1.5 million went to upgrading the facilities to have two championship-calibre diamonds with lighting, regulation fences and grandstands for spectators. Another $800,000 was for various necessities to run the event like temporary fencing, tents and waste disposal.
"We are really happy to have lots of great, generous local sponsors," said Smith, noting the provincial and federal governments also chipped in.
The return on those costs is expected to be massive, with thousands of people spending money at local hotels and businesses.
With teams in the city for 10 to 12 days, Casavant said the economic impact is estimated to be $10 million for the province, $8 million of which will go toward the city itself.
Playing in his own backyard
The tournament is also benefiting players who get to compete on the world stage, some of them on home turf.
One of those players, Troy Kosmynka, is from Warman, Sask., about an hour away from Prince Albert. He said it is "incredible" to be playing in such a big tournament in his own backyard.
"I've played here lots but nothing like this calibre," he said.
"I can't believe it, we had about 6,000 people at our game against New Zealand and it was louder than I could ever imagine."
Canada is 4-0 in the tournament so far, including a big win against tournament favourites New Zealand. The home team will face-off against Hong Kong Thursday night to finish its preliminary round.
Kosmynka said the team has its eye on a gold medal but whatever happens, he is proud to don the red and white.
"I dreamed about this day. It's surreal, its crazy," he said.
"I just can't believe im playing for Team Canada, for my country."
'Fans have fallen in love with them'
Smith said the tournament has been getting "great crowds," and not just for the big games like Canada versus New Zealand.
"We're getting 400 or 500 people out for the 12:30 [p.m.] games so we are happy to see that," he said.
Casavant said even teams that are new to the sport are getting attention.
"India played Mexico in a 1-0 game, and those are two of the maybe not as talented teams that are new to the system of softball," he said.
"But they just played their hearts out with such enthusiasm and the fans have fallen in love with them."
The tournament is set to conclude on July 15, but already organizers have been told this won't be the last championship in Prince Albert.
"We've been told by Softball Canada that basically 'you ask for any championship you wanna host and you have it,' " Casavant said.
He added that the World Baseball Softball Confederation has encouraged organizers to bid for any tournaments in the future because they are "so impressed with the organization and small community."