Article written by Sheldon Birnie from The Herald
The crack of the bat is ringing around northeast Winnipeg once again.
Earlier this month, Red River Valley Baseball welcomed players back to ball diamonds across northeast Winnipeg, East St. Paul, the RM of Springfield and East Selkirk.
“It’s in full swing,” said Dan Cox, president of Red River Valley Baseball (RRVB). “We have all age categories going from Rally Cap and Grand Slam up to 18U, all different levels, A ball to AAA.”
In 2020, RRVB made the difficult call to cancel the baseball season out of an abundance of caution.
“We had to make tough decisions,” Cox admitted. “Kudos to the associations that still ran. This year, we were going to do it if we had the opportunity. A lot of kids here were counting on it.”
Originally, the season was set to begin in May, but right before the first pitch could be thrown, provincial health orders mandated a shutdown of all amateur sport as the health-care system battled a third wave of COVID-19 outbreaks. At that time, 650 kids had registered to play ball from U7 to U18.
Dan Cox, president of Red River Valley Baseball, stands near the newly named Henri Constant Field in Transcona. Photo by Sheldon Birnie
A typical year, registration is closer to 700, Cox noted. When it began to look like a season could be had over the summer, RRVB contacted all the parents to see who would still be interested in playing.
“We got about 410 kids playing,” Cox said.
Fewer kids means fewer teams will take the field. “But the kids are getting out there. We still want to get them their 14 games for the fees they’ve paid.”
Games for younger kids will take place on weeknights. Only older, higher performance clubs may have Sunday evening games scheduled.
“We want people to enjoy their weekends away, and maybe come back to enjoy a game of baseball on Sunday night,” Cox said.
The season also started with a limit of 25 players total allowed to participate in a game, and only 25 spectators total in the stands.
That has now been expanded, as of July 17.
“That means it will be just like a normal baseball season,” Cox said.
Another change this season will be noted for those playing out of the former Transcona Stadium on Kildare Avenue. The field was recently officially renamed Henri Constant Field, in honour of a longtime volunteer who passed away in January. A sign bearing his name now hangs above the gate at the field he used to take care of.
“When I was a kid, myself and many kids growing up in Transcona owe him a lot for keeping baseball going in Transcona,” Cox said. “It feels great. It means a lot to our baseball community here.”
While Constant did not live to see the sign up, he was able to attend a ceremony held at the field in 2018 when the process began.
Cox thanked Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) and former councillor Russ Wyatt for their help in making it happen, and for funding from the land dedication reserve for the new signage. The field also received a major upgrade in 2018, with new fencing, infield fill, expanded dugouts and new bleachers.
“There will be baseball here almost every night, and all across the Red River Valley,” Cox said. “Now, you can get out and watch some baseball almost any night and cheer on some kids.”