The boys of summer are back

Richmond City Baseball player Gavin Lunny stops off at second base during a Bantam AAA game versus Nanaimo Pirates Sunday at Blundell Park. - Don  Fennell photo
Richmond City Baseball player Gavin Lunny stops off at second base during a Bantam AAA game versus Nanaimo Pirates Sunday at Blundell Park.
— image credit: Don Fennell photo

In the glow of a warm spring sun, Mayor Malcolm Brodie officially opened the 2014 Richmond City Baseball Association season Sunday at Blundell Park.

Brodie didn’t only throw a strike with the ceremonial first pitch, but also celebrated along with local baseball officials the opening of a new indoor training centre and upgrades to the park thanks to $340,000 in combined financial support from the federal and municipal governments and fundraising by Richmond City Baseball.

“This (coincides with) the city’s sport for life strategy,” said Brodie. “We want to see people of all ages have the opportunity to be active and healthy by engaging in sport.”

Incoming Richmond City Baseball president Keith Dawson said the grants—applications were initiated in 2012 by past-president Trevor Rennie—”gives us a facility we’ll now be able to use year-round.”

It was in 2012 that the City of Richmond committed to complete “significant” drainage work at Blundell. Rennie was then able to leverage their commitment through the federal government’s Western Economic Diversification Corp. The feds approved a grant matching the city’s and Richmond City Baseball’s contribution. The city then stepped up with some additional funds and construction expertise. Under Dawson’s leadership, Richmond City Baseball is now outfitting the training facility with netting, cover, lights and other upgrades. The association is also actively pursuing further sponsorship opportunities to help increase the quality of finishing.

“I would really like to acknowledge Coun. Bill McNulty’s efforts, parks manager Dave Semple’s support, and the ongoing expertise and management of the project by Gregg Wheeler and Marcus Liu at parks and rec,” said Rennie.

The addition of an indoor training centre aligns Richmond with most other community baseball associations in the Lower Mainland. Dawson said it will allow for more programming as well as give players the opportunity to improve their skills regardless of the time of year.

Overall, 20 new players have already joined Richmond City Baseball this season, bringing the total number of registered players to 470.

“We’ve been doing a lot of other skill development and more winter training the last several seasons and I believe we’re seeing those skills transferred to the field,” said Dawson. “Coaches are saying the players are better prepared to play at the higher levels, whether that’s Bantam, Midget or even now with our new junior men’s team.”

“We’ve had a huge increase at our youngest age groups, now known as 6U and 7U, and this should help keep their interest up,” he said. “We’ve also gone to what’s known as Rally Cap, which is designed to keep kids moving all the time. Instead of a five- or six-inning game, we play two three-inning games. While each game is going on, they share the field with a third team which practices in the outfield. It’s believed the kids develop more skills this way because they’re not just standing in the outfield picking up sand.”

Progress in the Rally Cap program is recognized by the changing colour of the baseball caps worn by the players. Quebec was the first province to introduce the program three years ago. The number of players registrations in Quebec continue to be positive, said Dawson.

The loss of Latrace Field at Minoru Park for this season—because of major renovations at Minoru Park, including the construction of a new pool and seniors’ centre—means all levels of baseball will be using Blundell Park. It also means the lone tournament on the Richmond City Baseball calendar this season is the annual wood bat classic over the Victoria Day long weekend. But Dawson said he hopes with the improvements at Blundell Park and the re-opening of Latrace Field next year as a multi-use artificially-turfed facility, the association will be in line to host more invitationals and perhaps provincial and national championships as soon as the 2015 campaign.

“Ultimately we’d like to find a way to do more sport hosting and continue to improve the quality of our fields. I’d also love to see Blundell have lights so we can host early-season tournaments,” he said.

Meantime, Dawson is excited Richmond’s boys of summer are out playing ball. He’s eager to see all the players enjoy the game, whether they’re playing house or rep ball. In terms of rep, Dawson is optimistic the Bantam AAA team skipped by Ryan Klenman will again be strong, while the Peewee AAA team under the guidance of Scott Lunny and the Midget AAAs managed by first-year skipper Cam Frick could potentially challenge for provincial supremacy.

“The Midgets have a good group of returning players and I think they’ll be highly competitive,” said Dawson. “And the Peewees are basically a second-year team that as Mosquitos placed third in the A Division and fourth at AAA.”

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