Organizers, guests praise ‘world-class’ event

Thousands attended the World Junior Softball Championships held in Prince Albert fron July 7-15, 2018 (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

If the organizers of last week’s World Junior Softball Championships wanted to put Prince Albert on the map, they certainly accomplished that feat.

The tournament, which ended Sunday, attracted thousands, and had many eager to one day return to Prime Minister’s Park.

Australia ultimately won the gold medal, but some might argue the city came away as the ultimate victor.

“This tournament ranks up there with some of the big ones,” said Lance Winn, one of the Ballpark Broadcasting crew who put on the games live on Youtube throughout the week.

“One of our main comments was that it didn’t feel like a junior tournament. It felt more like a senior tournament. All of the countries and all of the support and host committee here was outstanding. The way everything was run was really impressive.”

Riccardo Fraccari, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) president, had similar comments. In his closing statements, he thanked the community for all it did to put on a “world-class” event.

It’s time for (the local organizing committee) to keep building on the overall success of this event,” he said.

“Prince Albert will forever be a part of softball history. A special mention to all volunteers and staff. You have been magnificent hosts, hoping to make everyone feel at home here in Prince Albert.”

For tournament co-chair Derek Smith, it was “wonderful” to see the project he and six others dream up four years ago turn out the way it did.

“When we first put in a bid, our fences were too short and we were kind of ‘oh do we go forward with this,’” he said.

“It’s been a great four-year process, but we’ve got a facility that’s going to be here for many years to come for all of our grassroots levels and many softball teams throughout the province.”

Smith said the tournament “exceeded” expectations.

“I guess our slogan when we first started out was ‘if we built it, they will come’, and the world has … for sure.”

Crowds were abundant all week, to the point where more bleachers had to be put out by the outfield fence to accommodate everyone. Tuesday night, when Canada faces off against New Zealand, about 5,000 people came through the gates, setting an attendance record.

Attendance was still good in the Sunday championship and bronze medal games, despite the fact that Canada didn’t make it out of its playoff contest on Saturday.

“The weather played a little bit of a factor Sunday. I think we would have been real close to an attendance record if we had good weather. But all in all, it was an awesome turnout and a great tournament,” Smith said.

The economic impact is estimated to be $10 million for the province, of which $8 million is estimated to stay in Prince Albert.

Locally, 26 directors and 300 volunteers banded together to make things happen.

Volunteer Morley Harrison shakes hands with players from Team Mexico following the final game of the World Junior Softball Championships onJuly 15, 2018 (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“We actually had to turn down volunteers,” Smith said.

“We had so many of them, we didn’t have more jobs for them. It was a great community effort pulling this tournament off for sure. It was an awesome atmosphere at the park. I think all of the teams really enjoyed being here.”

Some of the teams got out and about around town, too. A South African fan complimented the city’s shops, and another South African journeyed over to the Joe Fafard exhibition at the Mann Art Gallery. Team India was out in uniform, and according to CTV, has developed a newfound love for poutine.

Already, the softball community is making noise about coming back.

“After the first few days, (the WBSC) was already tapping on shoulders and asking when (we are) bidding again,” Smith said.

“We’re going to take some time and think about it and look back at what we did here, and I’m sure into the future we’ll put some kind of committee together to think about the next event.”

Seeing a big event return to Prince Albert is certainly something Winn would like to see.

“I think Prince Albert put on a fantastic show,” he said.

“If the WBSC or anyone else isn’t knocking on your door, if they haven’t already, then they should. This is a world-class facility and it should have world-class events.”