Hit the link below left
for information on
"The New Ball Game"
-- a TV special on
minor league baseball.
My extreme gratitude to my friend Al Bohn for his tremendous contributions towards making my tour of ballparks of the Alaska Baseball League a total success!!
In tribute to Al, click on the link towards the bottom of the left column of this page.
The Alaska Baseball League is one of the premier wooden-bat collegiate summer leagues in North America. These leagues provide a true minor league experience for both the players and the fans, and the talent level is considered the highest of the non-professional game. It would be quite competitive with many of the professional minor league baseball levels. Collegiate summer league baseball can be an important developmental step for a budding professional; the Alaska Baseball League has a great number of alumni who made it all the way to the Major Leagues, including Tom Seaver, Dave Winfield, Craig Nettles, Cal Eldred, Wally Joyner, J. D. Drew, John Olerud, Frank Viola, Bob Tewksbury, Jimy Williams, Dan Plesac, Bret Boone, Craig Counsel, Steve Traschel, Damon Buford, Barry Bonds, and the list goes on and on and on.
The Alaska Baseball League is comprised of the following teams:
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(1) Anchorage Glacier Pilots
(2) Kenai Peninsula Oilers
(3) Mat-Su Miners
(4) Anchorage Bucs
(5) Fairbanks Alaska Goldpanners
(6) Athletes In Action -- a touring team from Ohio using Fairbanks as their field base since the 2001 season
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Aside from the teams based in Anchorage and Fairbanks, the Mat-Su Miners (see photo at left, featuring magnificent Pioneer Peak in the direction beyond left field) are located in the town of Palmer, about an hour's drive northeast from Anchorage in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and the Kenai Peninsula Oilers play in the town of Kenai, which is several hours by car or less than a half hour by air south of Anchorage down the Kenai Peninsula.
Baseball fans attending the Alaska Baseball League games are some of the most impressively enthusiastic I have ever encountered in any of my baseball travels and at any talent level of our great national game. The home ballparks for these teams are generally somewhat rustic and well-worn, in some cases throwbacks which immediately bring to mind old-time, small-town minor league baseball in a most satisfyingly traditional way. I've seldom enjoyed a more soul-enriching celebration of the great game of the quadrature in any other setting as I did on my 2001 tour of this league.
The Alaskan baseball experience is somewhat unique as a direct result of the basic nature of the Alaskan summer. A 7:00 p.m. start is truly a day game, and hours of completely broad daylight prevail well after the end of the ballgame. Indeed, most of the Alaskan baseball season is composed of days which essentially have only mornings and afternoons, with the darkest part of the "night" having no more real meaning than simply the end of the afternoon and the start of the new morning. Two of the Alaska Baseball League ballparks do not have lights and they really are not missed. The stadiums which do feature lights might occasionally use them in later innings of late-season games during periods of cloudy or overcast skies; in Fairbanks I was advised that the stadium lights are typically used for a total of about five hours per year.
The game plan for my 2001 Alaska Baseball League ballparks tour included a home game for all five of the Alaskan teams. It also had me seeing each of the six league teams play at least once. My schedule was as follows:
TUESDAY, 6/19/01 --
Anchorage Glacier Pilots
vs. Athletes In Action
WEDNESDAY, 6/20/01 --
Mat-Su Miners vs.
Anchorage Glacier Pilots
THURSDAY, 6/21/01 --
Fairbanks Alaska Goldpanners
vs. North County Waves of the Western Semi-Pro Baseball Assn. (visiting from Oceanside, CA, in an interleague match-up)
FRIDAY, 6/22/01 --
Kenai Peninsula Oilers
vs. Mat-Su Miners
SATURDAY, 6/23/01 --
Anchorage Bucs vs.
Anchorage Glacier Pilots
In addition, my singular primary objective in conducting this ballpark tour during the latter part of June was specifically to attend the Fairbanks game on June 21st, the summer solstice and longest day of the year. This was the 96th annual Midnight Sun Baseball Classic, a genuine Alaskan original with the first pitch taking place at 10:30 p.m. and the game being played in its entirety without any artificial lighting. Dating back to 1906 (more than a half-century prior to Alaska's statehood) and originally based on a wager between two competing taverns, it continues as a terrific baseball event and a totally unique experience of our great pastime.
Generally speaking, pleasant summer weather was enjoyed during this baseball tour, and shorts and t-shirt were the dress code for almost the entire time I spent in the 49th State. In Fairbanks it even got up to the mid-80's the day I was there for the Midnight Sun Game, perfect weather to enjoy the Midnight Sun Festival downtown. On the other hand, in Kenai we were glad to have jeans and a jacket, and even then we tended to move around the grandstand during the game so as to stay in the sun.
Alaska Baseball League games are broadcast over local radio. The six league teams play a balanced regular season schedule among themselves and also entertain interleague exhibition and tournament games with visiting teams that travel up from other areas. The Midnight Sun Game has generally featured an out-of-league visiting team to participate in this classic baseball experience. Concessions are very reasonably-priced at these ballparks (including $2 beers in Fairbanks -- 12 oz cans of Fosters, Miller or Rainier), although the souveniers were priced rather conventionally.
After my visit, at the end of the 2001 season, the Anchorage Glacier Pilots advanced to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, KS. In the final championship game on August 18, 2001, Anchorage took the title by winning 2 to 1 over the Hays Larks, a member of the Jayhawk League in Kansas. It was the Glacier Pilots' fifth NBC World Championship and their first since 1991.
The 97th playing of the Midnight Sun Game took place starting at 10:30 p.m. local time on June 21, 2002. Fairbanks won the game 2 to 1 over the Ukiah Victory Dons, a touring/travel team from California.
The Anchorage Glacier Pilots and the Fairbanks Alaska Goldpanners finished as co-champions of the Alaska Baseball League's 2002 campaign. Both teams earned tournament spots at the NBC World Championship tournament in Wichita and ended up facing each other in the final game on August 11, 2002. Fairbanks beat 2001 champ Anchorage by the score of 8-3 to win their sixth NBC title. No other team has won as many as six NBC titles.
The 2003 Midnight Sun Game was played on Friday, June 20, with Fairbanks hosting the returning Ukiah Victory Dons; the game commenced at 10:30 p.m. local time and Fairbanks won the contest by the score of 3-1.
In the 2003 post-season, both Athletes In Action and the Fairbanks Alaska Goldpanners advanced deep into the NBC World Series in Wichita. Coincidently the 'Panners and AIA were both finally eliminated late in the Series by the two teams who advanced to the final championship game.
The 2004 Midnight Sun Game took place Monday, June 21, at 10:30 p.m. ADT. In a change over past years when touring teams from outside of Alaska have been the visiting principal, the 2004 game featured the 'Panners hosting the ABL's own Kenai Penninsula Oilers. The Panners won the contest by the score of 9-1. The 100th playing of the Midnight Sun Game will take place on Tuesday, June 21, 2005, at 10:30 p.m. ADT.
The Anchorage Bucs and the Mat-Su Miners both earned berths in the 2004 NBC World Series tournament with the Miners advancing all the way to the title game which took place in Wichita on August 14, 2004. The Miners lost by the score of 7-0 to the Aloha Knights, a team from Portland, OR, and a member of the Pacific International League. Mat-Su's designated hitter Scott Simon was the World Series MVP; he and three other Miners players were named to the All-Tournament Team.
THE LEFT SIDE OF THIS PAGE
The Alaska Baseball League is very popular in Alaska but it doesn't get much publicity in the rest of the country. The upper link in the left column of this page takes you to a Web Resource Page that may be of assistance to people outside Alaska who wish to follow the league, its teams and individual ballplayers.
The next five links shown at left will bring you to my feature pages on the ballparks of the Alaska Baseball League teams. The next two links shown there document my experience at the 2001 Midnight Sun Game. There are also links to the home page of my main website, "The Gibbs Ballparks Page", and to my own links page.
I was not able to get back to Alaska to attend the 100th playing of the Midnight Sun Game in 2005 or, for the 100th anniversary game in 2006. I will make it back up there though and next time I'd like to see about a side trip up to the Arctic Circle while I'm as far north as Fairbanks.
A WORD ABOUT THE PHOTOS
All of my original photos on these pages are shown approximately one-quarter size. If you are using Netscape you can right-click and view-image to get a good look at the full-size images.
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This page last updated 12/22/07