By all accounts, softball is alive and well in Yellowknife and one of the big reasons why it’s in good shape happened last week at Tommy Forrest Ball Park.
The annual Family Day at the Ballpark took place on June 19 with the Yk Fastball League and Yk Minor Fastball joining forces once again to put on an evening of fastball and plenty of fun for everyone who came out. There was an exhibition game with players from the fastball league forming two all-star teams followed by an exhibition game featuring the U14 team from minor fastball, known as the Wolverines.
Kristal Melanson, Yk Minor Fastball’s president, said the game itself has taken root and has become something everyone in the fastball community looks forward to each year.
“It’s a great movement with plenty of momentum behind it,” she said. “It highlights the kids and gives the younger players a chance to see what the future holds for them with the adults playing.”
Aside from the entertainment on the field, there was plenty off of it with face-painting, balloons a-plenty and a barbecue put on by the Lions Club of Yellowknife.
The most important part of the entire game, said Melanson, was the candy player, a player randomly selected at various points of the game to try and get a base hit of some sort.
If they succeeded, every youth at the park got candy.
“That’s the big thing,” she said. “No one wants to mess that up.”
The event began in 2013 just as minor fastball began to re-start in Yellowknife and Garrett Hinchey, president of the adult fastball league, said it’s evolved over time.
“We use this event as a chance to promote fastball in Yellowknife,” he said. “Fastball has such a rich history here and it’s such a great game for kids to play in the summertime. We want people to come out and see what the adults are doing but years on, it’s turned into a showcase for what the kids are doing.”
Some of those kids got the chance to show off their skills as the Wolverines split into two teams and played for the crowd following the bigger kids.
Melanson said not only do the Wolverines give the older players a chance to continue on in minor fastball but it will provide a production line of sorts for the future.
“You either replenish or you die out – it’s as simple as that,” she said. “We’re trying to help develop fastball players for the future and hopefully have them play in the adult league one they graduate out of minor ball.”
Something else the minor ball game had was junior umpires working the base paths and Melanson said umpiring is another avenue where minor ball is helping the adult league.
“Those juniors are getting the experience and they’ll hopefully move into a role with the adult league in the years to come,” she said.
The numbers for Yk Minor Fastball this season are impressive – close to 250 youth playing over several age groups – and Hinchey said minor ball has come a long way from those first days of the re-birth.
“To go from something like 50 or 60 kids when it got back going to almost 250 kids in a span of five or six years is amazing,” he said. “The turnout you see is almost all kids in the minor ball program so it shows how much the sport has grown in the city and it’s such a great thing to see.”
Getting players from the adult league to help out on the day isn’t a hard sell, he added.
“We always have more bodies than we need,” he said. “We get players volunteering to help out around the park, we had a player working the sound system, we had players barbecuing. The players have a deep appreciation for the sport and the guys always look for a way to give back. We love being a part of this.”
As big as minor ball has become, the problem is that it’s become so big that not everyone gets the chance to play each year, said Melanson.
“We’re as big as we can get right now and we have a waiting list,” she said. “There’s only so many days and so many spots available and we’re at full capacity everywhere. I hate telling parents that their kid can’t play but we are literally full.”