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A real gem of a diamond

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PELLY CROSSING, Yukon - All that's missing are the cornfields behind the
outfield fence.

Tucked away just out of sight of the highway passing through town, a Yukon
village prides itself on its softball diamond. Pelly Crossing, population
269 within the Selkirk First Nation, boasts of a sporting facility that is
stunning for a community of this size.

More remarkable is the minimal use of the field. Save for a couple of
practices each week with the local kids, there are no competitive teams or
league schedules or even tournaments that require this park.

Director of Capital Works for the village, Greg Sims, said the
eight-year-old memorial field serves a purpose more than just sports. This
field, along with other landscaping throughout town, gives the citizens a
sense of self-respect.

"If you look at the downtowns of any cities, they have parks with flowers
and so this will be our showcase park," Sims said, adding that municipal
functions occur at the field.

There was never any underlying town philosophy of "build it and they will
come." While under-utilized for its original intent, Sims said the
community wanted the diamond and has been pleased with its upkeep.

Constructed using funds from both the Yukon government and the federal
department of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC), the grounds need a mere
$5,000 ($3,700 U.S.) a year during the five months of decent, grass-growing
weather the territory receives. Most of that money goes into wages for
students' summer jobs.

"This has made competition among other communities and it shows that you
can have a beautiful stadium with low maintenance costs," said Sims.

The head groundskeeper since day one has been Kevin McGinty. Except for
those diamonds in surrounding towns, which would not even be comparable,
he's never seen any other park except for those on television. He really
doesn't know what his town has and even downplays Pelly Crossing's
accomplishments.

McGinty is being modest. The diamond, between the lines, should be the envy
of many softball associations. The outfield grass is smooth and has a silky
feel. Within the infield, the gravel is packed down hard enough to reward
hard grounders with base hits yet offers true hops for fielders.

"There's nothing half-assed and if it isn't done right with the boys, we'll
do it over again," McGinty said about how he directs his crew. "It's a
sense of pride."

This drive for perfection shows. Litter is rarely found and the pristine
look extends to how the ballpark fits into its environment. The eight-foot
outfield wall connects with a smaller three-foot chain link fence to
encompass the field in a tidy manner. The paint job of the park, in a shade
of aquamarine, blends into its surroundings tastefully.

Across the street at the school, McGinty also meticulously cares for four
more acres of grass that can be used as either two smaller diamonds or one
larger soccer field. Again, without competitive leagues this area has
become one large, immaculately groomed open green space.

It's almost a shame the diamond isn't being used more, but factors against
Pelly Crossing such as population and location are difficult obstacles to
overcome. While these fields are as attractive to those in Whitehorse, the
city's diamonds are within an entire complex. Also Yukoners are more likely
to travel to the territorial capital because of shopping and entertainment
activities.

Executive director of Softball Yukon, George Arcand, said there has to be
more than just good diamonds to attract teams to travel.

"The difference there is there isn't a lot of hotel space," Arcand said,
pointing out at least there are campgrounds in Pelly to provide
accommodations.

The best bet might be to host a weekend youth tournament, but even then
there wouldn't be any guarantees.

"What it takes will be parents who will do the organizing," said Arcand.
"The responsibility usually falls on the recreation director in the smaller
community."

Doing a quick count of the people in town who could provide assistance,
Sims estimates the number might be only a couple dozen. Realistically, he
noted, by remaining relatively quiet the ballpark will continue to serve as
a testament to a small town's "Field of Dreams."