Legion Memorial Park facelift benefits from funding by Edmonton International Baseball Foundation

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The Edmonton International Baseball Foundation stepped up to the plate to assist with renovations to St. Albert’s Field of Dreams.

The EIBF presented the St. Albert Minor Baseball Association $35,000 after Baseball Alberta’s largest association with close to 900 players made its pitch for funding to assist with improvements to Legion Memorial Park.

“Two weeks ago we sat down with the board of directors of EIBF and basically gave them our vision here at SAMBA, which is to bring our facility back to what it needs to be to be on top. We started with the midget field this year, which we’ve been saving for years and years, and now we have three other fields, batting cages and all kinds of stuff that we want to upgrade,” said SAMBA president Kurtus Millar at Thursday’s cheque presentation by EIBF.

“It’s more than generous,” Millar said of the EIBA contribution to the project. “We really appreciate EIBA helping us out. It means more than we can say and we will work our hardest until we get the amount we need to complete our wish list or dream list as we call it.

“This money really gives us the big kick-start to get going and get these fields back in shape and improve the facility. Being the largest association in Alberta there is a lot of people watching and we want to make sure that we’re providing the best facilities overall for our kids.”

The EIBF is a not-for-profit organization formed in 1979 by Ron Hayter with the goal of bringing an international baseball event to Edmonton and the 1981 Intercontinental Cup was the first of seven major tournaments.

The EIBF’s mandate is enhancing the sport’s popularity and create opportunities for the youth of Edmonton, Alberta and Canada to play baseball.

The EIBF also awards four scholarships annually through Baseball Alberta to male and female players, sponsors the Bill Chmiliar Award of Merit, the top award in amateur baseball in the province, and as a working partner of Baseball Alberta since its inception provides grants for programming aimed at the grassroots.

“The EIBF has been huge in the baseball community and they received us with open arms which was unbelievable,” Millar said. “They’re not just helping associations such as us but baseball in Alberta which is quite amazing.”

EIBF president Wally Footz congratulated SAMBA for its role in promoting the development of life skills and sportsmanship through recreational and competitive baseball programs for youths.

“It’s a great organization. You’ve got a great facility. Over the years you’ve had many coaches and volunteers come and go and they are the pioneers that helped build this community in baseball that you have today and that’s what makes it so successful,” said Footz, an active umpire who was joined by Orest Babiuk, the EIBF rep on the Baseball Alberta board of directors, for the funding announcement.

SAMBA can now start rounding the bases after the detailed application for funding was assembled by Danielle Moffat, SAMBA’s grant proposal coordinator, and approved by EIBA.

SAMBA had reached first base with alterations to the midget diamond in the fall. The centrepiece of the Legion facility was the home base in 2017 for 12 house league, rep, junior and senior teams. Overall, SAMBA fielded close to 80 teams this year.

“We started finally renovating the midget field this year and the bill was a lot more than we expected but the fields are 40 years old now and they’re the busiest fields in Baseball Alberta. You literally cannot find an open day during the baseball season and the biggest problem was when it rained we were losing two, three days at a time,” Millar said. “We would like to go out to the community and ask businesses if they would like to sponsor that type of stuff, build the fund and then go to the government for a matching grant and then fix the other three fields, look at building some new batting cages and then just the regular stuff.

“The biggest thing is those fields need to be redone probably every five or six years where you remove the shale and add new shale and because it’s so busy we’ve never had that time. Our groundskeepers are basically just trying to keep up with the amount of playing time and we never really have time for renovations so now we’ve found an area in our season that we can start upgrading fields and we’re starting to slowly build that fund towards being able to financially get to that goal and the money from EIBF is more than generous.”

SAMBA will also address the issue of lighting up the entire Legion facility.

“We’ve been in dealings with Lumican and we’re going after a grant right now with them to change out the lights on the midget field so they’re more affordable. The cost is a fraction of what it is now. Then we want to add lights to bantam and peewee with three new scoreboards at those fields,” said Millar, a product of the SAMBA system who completed his third year as president. “My dream is once we get the fields back to our beautiful standard and with lights to go after a midget national championship or a men’s national championship, something like that.”

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Jeff Hansen

Jeff Hansen joined the St. Albert Gazette in 1991. He writes about sports, athletes and teams from St. Albert and area.