South Africans get equipment boost from Thunder Bay Border Cats at Baseball World Cup

When one of the teams competing in this week's Under-18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay, Ont. found itself short of gear, two local sports organizations were quick to step up to the plate and help out.

High costs and lack of funding left South Africa short of equipment when they arrived in Thunder Bay

Ultimate Gymnastics head coach Cheronne Viljoen, left, Border Cats GM Dan Grant, centre, and Ultimate Gymnastics owner Greg Balec, right, with coaches and players from South Africa's Under-18 Baseball World Cup team. (Submitted)

When one of the teams competing in this week's Under-18 Baseball World Cup in Thunder Bay, Ont. found itself short of gear, two local sports organizations were quick to step up to the plate and help out.

The South African team was looking for a few extra bats when it arrived to compete in the international tournament, which is being hosted by Thunder Bay.

Gymnastics connection

The team didn't have any connections to Thunder Bay baseball clubs, but it did have a connection to Greg Balec, owner of Ultimate Gymnastics: the head coach at Ultimate Gymnastics, Cheronne Viljoen, is from South Africa.

So Balec reached out to Dan Grant, general manager of the Thunder Bay Border Cats, for assistance.

"We worked out a bit of a deal, and I gave South Africa a bunch of our game-used bats, our good-quality game-used bats, to use," Grant said. "Every team here deserves to have a world-class experience, and these kids have worked hard to make Team South Africa."

"It's been fun just to help out any way we can."

Lack of funding

Grant said he's talked to one of the South Africa coaches, and the team's bat shortage was due to a general lack of funding.

The team receives little support from the South African government, and are paying about $2,500 per player to compete in the Baseball World Cup.

"They had to pretty much fund this whole trip themselves," Grant said. "With breaking bats and stuff, they don't really have the funds to buy new bats."

Grant said game-used bats are normally stored by the Border Cats, and are often used for batting practice in subsequent seasons. Some players, however, do choose to use the older bats in games.

"They're still good quality," he said. "It's not like they're throways."

New bats, Grant said, tend to run in the $70-$80 range.

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