Norbrock Stadium will be jam-packed for Kamloops Minor Baseball Association opening-ceremony festivities on Saturday.
Registration numbers continue to grow, with 692 players signed up for the 2018 season, up from 628 in 2017 and about 560 in 2016.
“That’s a large increase again,” KMBA president Chris Balison said. “We’ve seen increases in almost all of our divisions and, in particular, in the grassroots (11-and-under and below) area.”
All-girls baseball programming, rare in Canada, is new to the KMBA. The organization offered a pilot winter program at the indoor facility on McArthur Island and its first spring season begins this weekend.
There will be girls-only training sessions on Friday nights and, for the first time in KMBA history, an all-female team, the under-eight tadpole squad, will compete in league play against the boys.
If there is enough interest in the Friday night training sessions, the KMBA may look to create all-girls divisions in the future, starting with grassroots age groups.
There are 82 female players signed up for KMBA programming in 2018. In recent years, there have been been about 40 or 50 girls playing on boys’ teams.
“After showcasing the girls’ division at Westerns [Western Canadian Baseball Championship] last year, we really came to see there is a significant amount of opportunity for high-performance girls’ baseball in the province,” Balison said.
“Whether through the softball aspect or with baseball itself, it’s an underserved part of the sport. We want to shine a spotlight on it.”
The Kamloops Minor Fastball Association has long offered girls’ programming. The organization’s president, Jessica Culbertson, said about 130 players registered last season.
Numbers are down this year, with about 90 players (about 90 per cent of them girls) signed up, but that figure is likely to increase as Culbertson is expecting a few latecomers.
“I know they [the KMBA] are pushing for girls,” Culberston said.
“I don’t know for sure if the new kids are not signing up because they are going to baseball, but the kids who have signed up over the years with us are coming back. We also compete with soccer and lacrosse.”
Culbertson is looking for more boys this year, especially those in the 10- to 12-year-old age group. Find the KMFA online at kamloopsminorfastball.com.
“Of course we would like to have more boys and girls,” she said. “We’re not quite where we were last year.”
The KMBA is taking at least one year off from hosting any provincial, western or national tournaments, but it will still host about 40 teams on both May Long and Canada Day weekends.
“Everything we do is on a volunteer basis,” Balison said. “We’re very cognizant of volunteer burnout.”
There are 152 volunteer coaches signed on for 2018, up from 131 last year.
The opening ceremony on Saturday will see more than 750 players, coaches and officials in uniform parade into Norbrock at 9 a.m.
Local dignitaries will take part and a surprise catcher from the Challenger Division, for athletes with cognitive and physical disabilities, will snag the ceremonial first pitch.