The eight-starred Alaskan state flag serves as the centerfield backdrop at Fairbanks' Growden Memorial Park, home of the Goldpanners and the Midnight Sun Game -- Near midnight on each summer solstice, the game -- which begins at 10:30 p.m. with no use of artificial lights, and is the signature event of the Alaskan Baseball League -- is interrupted for a ceremony that includes the signing of the state song, <i>Alaska's Flag</i>. The song's last two lines are: <i>Alaska's flag--to Alaskans dear/ The simple flag of a last frontier.</i>
2 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
For the 102nd Midnight Sun Game, on June 21, 2007, the sun never revealed itself from behind a cloudy tapestry. The visiting Oceanside (Calif.) Waves beat the Goldpanners 6-1, with much of the game played under a dusky glow, just 60 miles from the Arctic circle. A sellout crowd of 4,000 filled Growden Park to witness the event. The Goldpanners are the ABL's first franchise, and have produced many of the college summer league's most famous alumni, including Tom Seaver, Dave Winfield and Barry Bonds.
3 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
Bill Stroecker, center, is the trumpetist for the Frigid-Aires, Growden's house band, which runs through a set of jazz standards prior to each Midnight Sun Game. Stroecker's father, Eddie, was the catcher in the very first Midnight Sun Game, in 1906, and Bill still serves as the president of the Goldpanners. Between Stroecker (who complained of "sticky valves" during his 2007 set), accordion player Rif Rafson, and bassist Karl Carlson, the Frigid-Aires have spent a combined 206 years in Alaska.
4 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
This is lodging, Alaska-style: A number of Goldpanners players, including Lewis-Clark State pitcher Kevin Camacho (pictured), spent their 2007 summer living in trailers next to Growden rather than with host families. Goldpanners GM Don Dennis purchased the trailer park, nicknamed the "Olympic Village," from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Company in 1986 and had it moved from Atigun Pass (300 miles to the north) to an asphalt lot adjacent to left field.
5 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
The primary means of transport for Goldpanners players who <i>did</i> have host families was of the two-wheel variety. Following the conclusion of the 102nd Midnight Sun Game, a pack of 'Panners, including Kent State shortstop Chris Tremblay (center) pedaled off into the Arctic glow -- still wearing full jerseys -- at nearly 2 a.m.
6 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
The greatest vista in the Alaskan League belongs to Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer, which is home to the Mat-Su Miners. The mountains of the Chugach Range -- including 6,500-foot Pioneer Peak -- loom in the distance as the visiting Anchorage Glacier Pilots (pictured) warm up before a June 2007 game. The Miners finished 24-11 last summer and tied for the ABL title with the Athletes in Action Fire, who are based in Fairbanks.
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Hermon Brothers Field is somewhat of a hidden gem, located off a dirt road adjacent to the Alaska State Fairgrounds. The field's entrance is marked only by a chain-link fence and this wooden sign. Miners fans park well beyond Hermon Brothers' centerfield fence and then make the long walk to the grandstand.
8 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
Alaskan League players typically share in the grounds-keeping duties at their parks, and at right, Michigan State pitcher Chris Cullen -- who had a 1.74 ERA for Mat-Su in 2007 -- waters Hermon Brothers Field before a June game. Some Miners players take day jobs with the team, doing everything from cleaning bathrooms to taking on laundry duty.
9 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
Mat-Su has the most down-home atmosphere in the ABL, and after games, players often congregate at the house of GM Pete Christopher, whose wife, Denise, serves up such delicacies as meatball subs and tuna melts. Front-yard whiffle-ball games, made possible by the near-perpetual light, tend to break out after dinner, with the Christophers' two sons in the lineup. Keith, now 17, takes a cut while at the spray-painted plate.
10 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
Mulcahey Field in Anchorage is home to both the Bucs and Glacier Pilots, who are shown squaring off on a June, 2007 evening. Sullivan Arena, the annual home of college basketball's Great Alaska Shootout, can be seen looming beyond the first-base line.
11 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
Anchorage Glacier Pilots players relax in front of their third-base dugout at Mulcahey Field before a June, 2007 game against the Anchorage Bucs. Although the Pilots finished in last place in 2007, their program has a strong history, having produced future MLB stars Randy Johnson and Mark McGwire, who were both playing for USC when they made their trips to the frontier.
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The Bucs imported two starting pitchers from Taiwan for the summer of 2007: Chu-Kuan Lee, the ace for National Taiwan College of Physical Education, and Cheng-Chang Lee (pictured), the ace from Taipei Physical Education College. They were referred to by coach Mike Garcia as "Lee 1" and "Lee 2," respectively.
13 of 16Luke Winn/SI
In Kenai, the Peninsula Oilers support their team with the profits from a bingo hall and pull-tab outlet that's nicknamed the "Bingo Hilton" -- because it also offers claustrophobic bunk-bed lodging for visiting teams through its back door. The sign inside reads, in part, ABSOLUTELY NO CLEATS ARE ALLOWED TO BE WORN IN THE HILTON AREA.
14 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
Nick Buss, an outfielder from USC who played for the Peninsula Oilers, prepares to swing at a pitch during a June 2007 game against the Anchorage Bucs. The Oilers occupy the ABL's southernmost outpost on the Kenai Peninsula, which is considered one of the world's best spots for salmon and halibut fishing.
15 of 16Luke Winn/SI
Tarps come in handy in volatile Alaskan weather, especially in Kenai, where Oilers players were enlisted in grounds-crew work after games at Coral Seymour Park. The Oilers, who count J.D. Drew, Mark Teahen and Doug Mientkiewicz among their list of MLB alums, finished tied for third in the 2007 ABL standings.
16 of 16Al Tielemans/SI
Long bus rides -- like the six-hour trek between Anchorage and Fairbanks, or the 3 1/2-hour trek between Anchorage and Kenai -- are part of the life in the ABL. Here, a Bucs player points the way home after a road game against the Oilers in June 2007.
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