FAIRBANKS GEARS UP FOR MIDNIGHT SUN GAME
This Friday, when the sun sets ever-so-briefly on Fairbanks, it will mark the 108th iteration of a time-honored Fairbanks baseball tradition: the W.G. & Eddie Stroecker Midnight Sun Baseball Game, hosted by the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks.
The eldest Alaska Baseball League team has hosted the game for over five decades – since 1960 – but the roots of the tradition stretch all the way back to 1906. Back then there wasn’t much to do in a frontier town like Fairbanks besides drinking at the local saloon, or playing ball. It seems appropriate, then, that a baseball game to settle a bet between two local bars would spark a tradition carrying on into its second century.
The 21st-century version of the game draws a standing-room-only crowd of thousands of spectators and the attention of baseball fans from around the world. On this day, all eyes will be on the ballpark that ESPN’s Jim Caple called “the spiritual pinnacle of baseball.”
In fact, the time-honored tradition has become so ingrained in the culture of the game, beyond the far north, that it’s received the baseball’s highest honor. Sean Timmons – a Fairbanks local who got the win in the 100th playing of the game, and never played a day in the big leagues – relinquished his cap and jersey to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, where they’ve been enshrined.
When the Goldpanners suit up for the 10:30pm game, they’ll be staring across the diamond at a team known as the Catholic All-Stars, an Outside club on a barnstorming trip through the ABL. The gates open at 9pm, but early entry tickets can get you into Growden Memorial Park at 8 and are available for $15 on the team’s website. Seating will be limited and the joint is sure to be packed, so get there early and bring your sunglasses.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
The Midnight Sun Game is an exhibition against a non-league opponent, but the game marks the first major milestone of the Alaska Baseball League season. By now the teams have had a chance to see most of their opponents, get some non-league tune-up games out of the way, and log a few matches that count.
As of Monday night, the Mat-Su Miners are in first place in the league with a 3-0 official record. After a poor showing against the Chinooks in their pre-season series, the Miners put the beat to the Goldpanners and have taken two from the Pilots in league play. As of their Monday-night victory, they’re outscoring opponents 14-3 in official ABL play. They’re looking to stay hot as they face off against the Oilers for a three-game road series in Kenai, starting tonight.
Right on their heels are the 2-0 Anchorage Bucs. The Black and Gold has been dominant early on; in pre-season play they posted a 6-1 record before launching into their regular schedule. They’ve got a home doubleheader against the Chinooks Friday, followed by a few games against the Miners and Pilots and then heading north to take on the Goldpanners.
The Goldpanners jumped out to a promising start to their ABL season, taking their first regular-season game against the Chinooks after bringing home victory in the Barona Bash tournament in California. But the Miners and the Bucs beat up on them by a combined score of 15-1 to take some of the wind out of their sails. The team wraps up a three-game series against the visiting San Francisco Seals tonight, followed by four games against the Catholic All-Stars, including the Midnight Sun Game on Friday.
The Chinooks find themselves in fourth place after a 1-3 start to the season. Opening on a tough-luck loss to the Goldpanners, they got pummeled bad by the Pilots on Friday but got their revenge by downing the elder Anchorage club on Saturday. However, the Bucs dealt them a 7-0 loss on Monday to keep them from breaking .500. They’ll be looking to heat up at home against the Pilots tonight and tomorrow before their doubleheader on the road with the red-hot Bucs on Friday night.
Tied with the Chugiak club in fourth are the Glacier Pilots, who bullied the fish in their league opener but finish Monday on a three-game skid. They’ve got two more against the Chinooks, tonight and tomorrow, before another one against the Bucs and, finally, hosting the Oilers for the Kenai club’s first road trip.
Speaking of the Oilers, they’re the only team who hasn’t had an official league game. The Kenai club, like the Miners and Bucs, is undefeated with a 0-0 league record, but they’ve put up a 6-1 exhibition record with some ridiculous offensive production. Their first real test will come against the first-place Miners as they host the valley club for a three-game homestand, and then a big road trip north to take on the rest of the league.
Love the concept of the Midnight Sun Game, but stuck in Anchorage? No worries. The Glacier Pilots have taken to a similar tradition for those of us in southcentral to enjoy with their third-annual Summer Solstice Showdown. This year they’ll take on their hometown rival Anchorage Bucs in a game that kicks off at 10pm on Saturday night at Mulcahy Stadium, and is destined to continue past the midnight hour. Of course, at a locale so near the equator (relatively speaking), artificial lights are likely, but the fun of late-night – or early morning, even — baseball is in store nonetheless.
I know I’ll be there on Saturday night! This is some of the best weather we’ve had in probably two or three summers, and who knows how long it will last? So get out there and take in some Alaska Baseball League action. I’ll see you at the park this week, and all season long. Check out my blog, 49thStateHardball.com, where I break down the league, its teams, and its players with profiles, scouting reports, photos and more.
FAIRBANKS GEARS UP FOR MIDNIGHT SUN GAME