The boys of summer have arrived in the great white north! The Alaska Baseball League is back in action and all six teams of the league have opened their seasons with a round of exhibition matches.
The two teams of Anchorage proper — the Bucs and the Glacier Pilots — kicked off their 2013 campaigns with a home/away doubleheader at Mulcahy Stadium on Sunday. The Bucs took both games of the twin bill. Game one featured a pitcher’s duel in which the Bucs one-hit the Pilots and came away with the 2-0 win. In the nightcap, Pilots outfielder Micah Green flexed his muscles with a two-run left-field homer. However, the Bucs were able to manufacture enough runs to put the game out of reach, winning by a final score of 6-3.
Things were quiet in Fairbanks on opening day, as the Goldpanners had assembled in California for the Barona Bash tournament. A record of two wins and a tie over the weekend was good enough to make the Panners the tourney champions.
Out in the valley, the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks opened their season on the road in Palmer against the Mat-Su Miners. As an exhibition match-up, the game was slated to go a shortened seven innings, but was forced to continue through a full nine frames to break a 4-4 tie. Chugiak’s Ryan Shackelford drove in the go-ahead run, and Devin Stanton shut the Miners down to seal the victory for the Chinooks by a final score of 6-4.
Finally, the Peninsula Oilers started their season off on the right foot with a warm-up match against the Anchorage Adult Baseball League All-Stars. The Kenai club rolled over their opponents to get their first win of the year by a final score of 8-0.
The ABL is an amateur summer league, playing by minor-league style rules (including wood bats), and attracts some of the best players in college baseball. Ball players from all over the U.S. and beyond come north to play against tough competition in front of pro scouts, stay fresh over the summer, and have a little fun in Alaska while they’re at it. Because the Alaska League is one of the oldest and most respected leagues of its kind, it attracts many players who will eventually go pro.
About 40 former ABL players were selected last week in the most recent MLB first-year player draft, or have since signed minor league contracts as free agents.
The 2013 draft class was led by two former Anchorage players: right-handed pitcher Braden Shipley of the Bucs and outfielder Aaron Judge of the Pilots, both selected in the first round. Shipley is a power pitcher taken by the Diamondbacks with the 15th overall pick, while Judge was sought after for his potent power bat and drafted by the Yankees #32 overall. Dozens of other former ABL players, from all of the league’s six teams, were sprinkled throughout the 40 rounds of the draft.
In addition to top prospects and college stars from around the country — many of them awe-struck by 20 hours of sunlight and mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds — the teams of the ABL recruit close to home. Each team is allowed to include on their active roster an allotment of additional players who hail from Alaska. This helps the teams cover for early-season attrition due to events such as the College World Series and the draft, and gives local players a chance to play in front of the scouts, who typically don’t come this far north except to cover the ABL. It was Dimond High alum and Pilots recruit Sagan Osbourne who broke up the Bucs’ no-hitter in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
The season will kick off in earnest this week, with all of the ABL teams in action in both league-sanctioned official games and exhibition matches.
With the hardware from the Barona Bash in hand, the Goldpanners will finish up their journey back to Fairbanks with a road trip through the Anchorage area for games against the Chinooks, Bucs and Miners. They’ll have a couple days off before their home opener on June 16th against the local Brewers club, followed by a three-game series against the visiting San Francisco Seals.
The Chinooks will try to repeat their success against the Miners with another trip to Hermon Brothers Field on Wednesday night, then host the Glacier Pilots on Friday and the American Legion All-Stars in an exhibition match on Saturday. They’ll start next week on the road with three games in Anchorage on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
The Bucs have a six-game homestand starting Wednesday against the Goldpanners. Then they’ll host two opponents visiting from down south over the next four games: the Catholic All-Stars on Thursday and Friday followed by the San Francisco Seals over the weekend. They’ll finish up with the Chinooks at home before visiting the Miners next Tuesday.
Since the Bucs are at home for most of the next week, that puts the Glacier Pilots with on the road for the bulk of that time frame. They’ll be off Thursday and Friday before taking on the Chinooks and Miners for two games each. On Monday they’ll be at home against the Chugiak squad; the rest of the week they’ll be on the road.
The Miners have a front-loaded home schedule since they’re planning to rebuild the playing surface at Hermon Brothers Field during the last two weeks of the season. That’s resulted in five home games over the next week for them. They’ll host the Chinooks on Wednesday, followed by the Panners on Thursday, the Pilots on Saturday and Monday, and finally the Bucs on Tuesday.
Down in Kenai, the Oilers are on a long homestand featuring four games against the San Fracisco Seals, ending Friday, followed by the Catholic All-Stars for the next four nights.
The summer is short in Alaska and you couldn’t ask for better baseball weather then we’ve had lately, so get out and support your teams. The ABL features high-caliber talent and the price is dirt cheap. In the mean time, to get the scoop on who’s who in the Alaska Baseball League, check out my blog, 49thstatehardball.com.