Baseball Manitoba awards banquet is coming up, and Optimist Park volunteers are getting a spotlight for their ongoing efforts in St. James minor baseball.
St. James-Assiniboia Minor Baseball Association president Kristal Benton will receive an award for volunteer of the year on Nov. 19, while Optimist Park director Moe Gervais will be inducted into the honour society.
Benton has been volunteering with St. James baseball for the past eight years, acting as baseball convenor at Kirkfield Westwood Community Centre as well as her position as president. She began volunteering when her children got involved with baseball.
"It’s an honour to be nominated for it and an honour to have been chosen, to be recognized with the sport and promoting baseball in our community for kids, so I was very happy," Benton said of receiving her first award from Baseball Manitoba.
"I do it because I enjoy it… I think it’s a great sport and it’s important to give back to your community when opportunities are made available for you, when you’re able to do so," she said.
She and her fellow volunteers at Optimist Park have been working on developing and promoting AA leagues, in the hopes of encouraging kids who want to play competitively but don’t want to commit to AAA.
"It’s a higher level of ball than community level but it also isn’t that time commitment or financial commitment of AAA, which more committed players and families want to do," Benton said. "That’s one of the things we’ve done quite well and something I’m quite proud of."
Gervais has been volunteering for 14 years and, while he works full-time, he is still able to commit between 500 and 600 volunteers hours between April and October each year.
"Just the outdoors, the fresh air, I like seeing the kids playing on the nice diamonds," Gervais said of his motivation to take part. "I think it’s worth it… I was pretty surprised and shocked, I’m a low-key guy, I don’t do it for anything like that… so it was an honour getting (recognized)."
Optimist recently completed work on two additional diamonds at the complex, which will be used for the first time next season. Fundraising director Ken Kurtz said they are hoping to add another two and a parking lot, funds permitting. The first portion cost $360,000 and they estimate that the next phase will cost approximately $300,000.
"We had to generate some of our own money before we approached governments for money," Kurtz said. "It started when Jim Rondeau was the local MLA and he got on board and once he did, we were able to get the city to take a shine to the whole idea. This is city land."
Kurtz said he will be meeting with the new provincial government in the near future to discuss support for the park but says there are no guarantees.
"They’re quite new," he said. "I would hope within another two years (we’ll be done)."
The new diamonds are wheelchair accessible, however the bathrooms need renovating to be accessible.