There was grand slam excitement Saturday at the grand opening of the new ball diamond at Sugarcane.
Thanks to a grant from the Toronto Blue Jays Foundation, and incredible local generosity and support, the $158,000 project was completed.
The new ball diamond features a new infield made of crushed brick, a fully irrigated outfield, field lighting, new bleachers, a new washroom and a new backstop.
The Blue Jays Care Foundation attended the event, helping to celebrate the grand opening, including executive director Robert Witchel.
“This is a spectacular setting,” he said during the opening ceremony. “It makes us very proud when we select a group for a grant. We can get almost 100 applications every year, and we’re only able to fund a dozen of those, if we’re lucky. We invested $1.4 million this year in projects like this.
“When we saw the application from the Williams Lake Indian Band, we were familiar — we’d had some of your youth leaders in Toronto for some training, especially with Right to Play”
He said there’s no better game than baseball to teach life skills, including resiliency — learning to fail and to learn from your failures.
“You brush yourself off, get back up and try even harder the next time,” he said. “It’s an important part of life, and we’re hopeful that this diamond will help all kids and members of the community to learn those life skills.”
The Alkali Lake Drummers performed two honour songs for the occasion, including Elder Arthur Dick’s Mountain Song.
WLIB Coun. Willie Sellars was emcee for the event, and the opening prayer was given by Virginia Gilbert.
There were kids and coaches from the Williams Lake Ball Camp, and from the U-12 ball teams on site for the opening ceremony, and to take part in a skills camp. Every youth who attended received a Blue Jays cap, and Sellars was presented with a Blue Jays jersey.
“I think just touching back on the history of fastball in Williams Lake, it has a long history and is a big part of the culture surrounding the Williams Lake Stampede,” Sellars said. “That men’s league was something I grew up in, and something we eventually lost. Moving forward, with the Jays Foundation giving us the grant dollars to help improve our diamond here at Sugarcane, this is something we want to re-ignite for sure: the history of this diamond.”
The Jays Care funding provided the means to put the fence up, the dugouts and partially filled backstop and install the irrigated outfield and bleachers.
Sellars added Allteck donated the lights and light poles, WLIB funded the electrical component and Lake Excavating Ltd., Borland Creek Logging Ltd. and many other local industries and businesses helped with cash and in-kind work.
“Many community champions have pushed this along the way, including past administration and workers from the WLIB, who had the vision and belief to work to make this possible,” he said.
“This is such a beautiful diamond. When we first finished the upgrades to it in May, we wanted to kick it off with a really big event, so we held a men’s fastball tournament.
“The highlight of the weekend for me was playing under the lights, when the local Sugarcane team played against the Ashcroft Cowboys.”
Sellars said during the game he played centre field alongside a 16-year-old in right field and another 16-year-old in left field, adding it was their first time playing under the lights for the two boys.
“Every time we ran out onto the field to warm up and throw the ball, they said non-stop what an awesome experience it was,” Sellars said. “They were excited, and I know that feeling exactly: it’s what gets you hooked on ball, on sport and camaraderie.
“The sheer passion and joy in their eyes when we’d run out onto the field was magnified under the lights. It made me smile and made my heart glad.”
Witchel said the Jays Care Foundation is currently on tour celebrating its B.C. investments.
“This is the largest one we made,” he said. “This is spectacular. They did such a good job here. It makes us feel so good when they do such a great job leveraging the funds from us and attracting further donations and contributions.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears into this diamond, and this is truly humbling for me,” Sellars said.
“My vision is to have a fastball league here, not only men, but would love to see women, as well as a minor ball program playing here. We’d also like to have a good slo-pitch league. We have the options of night games, which is a really good draw.
“Just like anything, attracting community champions and volunteers is the key thing. Volunteers are very, very welcome. If you’re a ball fan, we’d love to hear from you.”