Prince Albert officially welcomes top U15 Boy’s Softball teams, honours former player and umpire Victor Thunderchild at opening ceremonies

Mason Thunderchild (left), the grandson of former Prince Albert softball player and umpire Victor Thunderchild, receives the ball from Prince Albert U15 Astros assistant coach Matthew Kutnikoff following the opening pitch at the U15 Boys’ Canadian Championship opening ceremonies Wednesday evening. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Ten teams from four different provinces marched in with their provincial flags for the 2023 U15 Boy’s Fastball Canadian Championship opening ceremonies Wednesday night at Max Power Ball Fields in Prime Ministers Park.

The Prince Albert U15 Astros are one of four Saskatchewan teams taking part. The team is looking forward to the competition and the camaraderie.

“It’s really great,” Astros pitcher and SS Willis Finch said prior to the opening ceremonies. “It’s just so fun to be on our home field having all the fans here watching us.”

Teams from Saskatchewan, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland are taking part in the three-day tournament. Finch said it’s great to have a chance to compete against teams from outside the province.

“It’s really interesting because we don’t know what’s coming at us,” he said. “We just have to figure it out throughout the game.”

“It’s certainly a higher level,”2B Isak Larsen added. “I think we’ve stepped up to that higher level of play, and it’s been great so far.”

Organizers and officials said it was encouraging to see good crowds and strong play on the tournament’s opening day. Softball Canada Supervisor Gary MacDonald it’s particularly encouraging to see so many communities fielding teams of boys.

“It’s great to see boys playing because the boys game is kind of dwindling in areas,” said MacDonald, who is working his fourth Canadian Championship as supervisor. “To see 10 teams out here playing hard and good sportsmanship is awesome, and again, the facilities here in Prince Albert are marvelous. It’s a great atmosphere to play in.”

The Prince Albert U15 Astros march in during the opening ceremonies at Max Power Ball Fields on Wednesday, Aug. 9. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Players, umpires, and organizers were welcomed onto the field with an honour song and an opening prayer on Wednesday. The ceremony also included a short tribute to former Prince Albert softball player and umpire Victor Thunderchild, who passed away in April 2021.

“This has really been the first opportunity as an organization … to honor him at an event such as this,” Prince Albert Minor Softball Association commissioner Steve Climenhaga said. “Provincials were shut down for a couple of years. We didn’t host any this year. This has been the first major event, so we thought it was a perfect time to do that.”

Climenhaga presented Thunderchild’s grandson Mason with a commemorative jersey to mark the occasion. Mason then threw out the first pitch to Prince Albert Astros coach Matthew Kutnikoff.

Climenhaga said Thunderchild was a welcome presence on Prince Albert’s softball diamonds, first as a player and then as an umpire.

“His contributions are all based around that inclusivity,” Climenhaga said. “He thought sport was a great way to bring cultures together and to bring a sense of pride.”

While much of the talk at Wednesday’s opening ceremonies involved the play on the field, there was also plenty of talk about the facilities. The Max Power Ball Fields will host one of three six-team group stage competitions in July 2024, then the Men’s Softball World Cup finals in 2025.

Climenhaga said previous tournaments, like the Men’s World Juniors, have left enough of a financial legacy that they plan to upgrade the Kinsmen Park diamonds with new outfield fences and dugouts. He’s expecting the 2024 and ’25 tournaments to be just as successful.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Climenhaga said. “It’s going to be a busy time and I think the community is in for something they’ll never forget.”