Friday night July 24 before a record setting crowd of 1,286 rabid fans, the Mat-Su Miners took on the Chugiak (Eagle River) Chinooks in an Alaska Baseball League game. Played at Herman Brothers Field near Palmer, Alaska, it was my first-ever baseball game in Alaska.
The Alaska Baseball League is made up of six teams located in Anchorage (2 teams), Fairbanks, Palmer, Chugiak/Eagle River, and Kenai. The ABL website explains a bit more about the league and the players in it. Like other Summer collegiate baseball leagues, the Alaska Baseball League is dedicated and designed to provide minor league level competition for NCAA players that wish to continue on into professional baseball. The Alaska Baseball League operates in a similar manner to a Minor League team: playing nightly in stadiums before fans, using wood bats and minor league specification equipment, and experiencing road trips between games. Like all other summer collegiate players, they are unpaid in order to maintain their NCAA eligibility, and live with host families in the same manner as Single A or Independent League players. While serving as a crucial player development team, the Alaska Baseball League has continued to push the boundaries of Summer Collegiate Baseball, including foreign players, winning many league national and international titles and bringing their own brand of baseball across the world.
Having watched more than 400 minor league games in 89 different stadiums in the Lower 48 States ranging from Rookie League to AAA levels, it’s safe to say that the level of play and the skills shown in the Alaska Baseball League are on par with any High A or AA level team I’ve ever watched. The game between the Miners and the Chinooks that night was no different.
There aren't many baseball fields anywhere that have a backdrop like this. Image courtesy of the Mat-Su Miners
Played against a backdrop of fantastic mountain scenery and curiously with no lights surrounding the stadium, all games are played in the evening. Mother Nature provides all of the lighting.
The ticket window at Herman Brothers Field leaves a little bit to the be desired. But with tickets only $4.00 who can complain. Image courtesy of the Mat-Su Miners
Herman Brothers Field is about the same quality as some Short Season stadiums I have visited (Jamestown New York immediately comes to mind). The ticket window at the edge of the field and the concessions area needs a little improvement. That is especially true of the concessions area where teaching people working there how to take down a food order correctly would be a great improvement! If you want to buy any Miners gear you only have to duck behind home plate and wait your turn in line to pick up what you need at the well-stocked team store.
There is no need for artificial lighting at Herman Brothers Field in Palmer, Alaska. Image courtesy of the Mat-Su Miners
The one part of the concessions area that does not need improvement is the beer sales section. As we quickly learned in Alaska, that state is home to some wicked good beer and the selection available at the Miners game was no different.
Although available only at one small pub in Talkeetna on the road north to Denali National Park, Ice Axe Ale is one of many uber high quality beers brewed in Alaska.
We sat in the bleachers on the third base side looking almost directly into the sun. We had no choice because there were no seats available on the first base side by the time we went there. My daughter Jennifer, son-in-law Ryan and grandson Garrett attended with us. It was Garrett’s first baseball game but at 16 months old I have a hunch he won’t remember.
The cost of a ticket was $4.00 unless you’re a senior or a child (sometimes I think they are the same thing) and then it’s only $2.00.
It was a hard-fought game and the Miners won as they had been doing all season and it was a ton of fun to watch. I had been admonished not to heckle but I sneaked in a few jabs at the umpire when my daughter wasn’t within hearing distance. High latitude heckling could become addictive.
The Alaska Baseball League is not something to take lightly. Some of its alumni include Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Chris Chambliss, Dave Winfield and Frank Viola to name just a few.
The game we saw was during the end of the season and when that season was complete the Miners played the Anchorage Bucs for the league championship in a best of three series. Unfortunately for the Miners the Bucs took them 2 games to 1 but I’m sure it was not for lack of trying. However as every dedicated Chicago Cubs fan knows, there’s always next year. If I return to Palmer any time soon during baseball season I won’t pass up a chance to watch excellent baseball in the evening on a field where there are no light switches.