INNISFAIL – This is the time of year when Murray Reay wears many hats.
He’s the president of the Innisfail Minor Ball Association (IMBA), and coach of the U18 AA Innisfail Hawks, a baseball squad that was the province’s third best Tier 1 team in 2019.
He is also vice-president of the five-member Community Facility Enhancement Association (CFEA) that has been working on the project to upgrade Diamond 7 behind the Arena, a project that will ultimately be the town’s premier baseball facility.
Last week was a big one for Reay. With the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly on the decline, the IMBA and its many boys and girls teams began their first season since 2019.
On June 15, Ray led his Innisfail Hawks team for its season opener against the Blackfalds/Lacombe-based Central Alberta Hounds at the ball field behind the Innisfail Aquatic Centre.
And it was a “wild one” for sure. With the 13-member home team once up by eight runs, the final score after seven back and forth innings came in at 17 to 15 for the visiting Hounds.
“It ended up being a wild finish,” said Reay. “For these kids not playing ball for two years it was a great game. Lots of good things were happening out in the field. Everybody is a little rusty. We saw lots of good things and the kids were having fun.”
As for the rest of the IMBA, Baseball Alberta announced last week that due to the province moving into Stage 2 of the COVID recovery plan game play would be permitted in all regions as of June 10.
He said the Central Alberta Baseball League (CABL), which is the house league for the IMBA in town and the surrounding area, started on June 14.
“All the CABL house league teams, as well as our softball teams, all started Monday (June 14),” said Reay, adding the girls and boys will be playing until Aug. 29 when the provincials are held.
“It has been a long time coming and you can tell the energy is up. They want to play ball. They are ready.”
Before the season opener for Reay’s U18 team, Reay was at the construction site of Diamond 7 behind the Arena where the old maligned ball field is going through a transformation that is expected to cost about $500,000, with half paid by the town and the rest covered by fundraising.
He said construction began on June 8, with a group of volunteers helping out by removing the old fence and backstop.
Last week, local contractor Howell's Excavating Ltd. was moving massive amounts of earth around Diamond 7 that will fix longstanding drainage problems, which too often rendered the field unusable.
“On a wet year this diamond couldn’t be used. It was under water all the time. That is the big concern here and that is why we are doing so much dirt work so we get the drainage right,” said Reay, adding the transformation project has been four years in the making.
“This will be our premier diamond for baseball. We are hoping to hold western and provincial championships here. Our U15 and U18s can play their games here, as well as the Merchants and Trappers.”
The CFEA was originally aiming to have the project finished this year but it’s now more likely the project won’t be completed until 2022.
“There are a few things that are not going to get done. With all the over inflated costs of materials it’s going to take a little longer than we expected,” he said. “The field will be complete but the fencing and dugouts might not be done.”
The sooner the project can be completed the better it will be for local minor baseball as there are now 13 teams competing for three ball fields, which is causing a “lot of pressure” on the diamonds as they are being overused, he said.
“It doesn’t help with the maintenance or the quality of them,” he said, noting there are now two usable baseball diamonds near the Arena, and one by the aquatic centre, along with four softball fields at both locations.
“Having this other diamond will take the pressure off the rest of the diamonds and give us more space to practice, and more space to play more games.”
For more information on the Innisfail Minor Ball Association go to the website at innisfailminorball.com