The grass is now indisputably greener on the other side of the fence at Tommy Forrest Ballpark.
After nearly a decade of reconstruction, the Yellowknife community fixture is ready for its grand reopening later this month.
The event will commemorate the culmination of Yellowknife Fastball League and Yellowknife Minor Fastball volunteers’ efforts, with the support of the City of Yellowknife and dozens of businesses. Collectively, they raised more than $700,000.
The park now boasts a grass outfield, dugout benches, backstop, maintenance building with storage space for teams and umpires, mural recognizing the history of fastball from artist Terry Pamplin, refreshment stand and playground.
The fence around the field is the only remaining piece from the original ballpark.
“It used to be a dust bowl out there,” said Steve Thomas, vice president of the Yellowknife Fastball League. “You’d have weeds in the outfield.”
Thomas recalled how local softball legend and Softball Canada Hall of Fame inductee Paul Gard reacted when he saw the new outfield.
“[Gard] had an old bottle of rum, and when he saw the grass go on, he was like, ‘You know, I’ve been waiting for I can’t remember how many years, but this is finally the time to have a sip.’ That’s how much it meant to the people that were here for such a long time.”
The team behind the project also reconditioned the infield using a product similar to one used by the MLB.
“Our infield is just 1,000-percent better than it used to be,” said Rob Johnson, coordinator of the Tommy Forrest field improvement project.
“My wife will tell you that I spent more time working on this ballpark than I did on our house,” Johnson quipped, “which is probably not a good thing. But ball has just kind-of always been in my blood, and I saw this as an opportunity.”
Johnson can recall the project’s humble beginnings, from a tweet joking about how adding grass to the field would benefit the nearby dog agility group, to the weekends he and teammates spent making small improvements and repairs out of their own pockets.
“You don’t live in a lot of communities in this country where somebody’s gonna say, ‘Hey, if you want to do this, have at ‘er,’ you know?
“It was always just an enjoyable thing to do. If you get a chance to work on a ballpark or improve ball as a ball community in any way, I thought that was fun.”
He’s particularly proud of the addition of a playground, which he called “a nice touch that we had talked about from the very beginning” to make the ballpark more family-friendly.
Ceremony on June 23
The ballpark is sprinkled with personal touches. A mural marks the vibrant history of the local women’s league and the scorekeeping booth is dedicated to Jimmy Polson, a scorekeeper and beloved fixture in Yellowknife’s softball community who recently passed away.
While Johnson and Thomas agree progress made on the field has exceeded all hopes, the work will never be done.
There are plans to install lights above one of the murals and a new roof on the refreshment stand.
“It was a privilege,” Johnson said of the project as a whole.
“I probably won’t be in the North my whole life, and to get the chance to be involved in something like this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
The grand reopening of Tommy Forrest Ball Park, co-hosted by the Yellowknife Fastball League and the Yellowknife Minor Fastball, will take place on Thursday, June 23 at 5:30pm.
Festivities will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Mayor of Yellowknife Rebecca Alty and Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly, an official “first pitch” on the new field, and both an adult all-star fastball game and youth game.