Baseball in Alaska
The final score was the Roaring Gimlets 62 the Pig-Stickers 49. Yes, it was a baseball game! A game played on a December day in 1893 when the temperature was 38 degrees below zero. The diamond was on frozen ice, in a harbor near Herschel Island in the Arctic Ocean. The men off of the whaling ships, looking for a way to pass the time, formed the Herschel Island League and played through the long, cold months for the “Arctic Whalemen’s Pennant”.
The game of baseball has been played in Alaska and the Far North for over a century. History shows that baseball has been an important part of community life in Alaska. Communities played the National Pastime in winter, spring, summer and fall. Often the games were contested on some very uniquely constructed ball fields. One game has even become an annual event and is intentionally played into the early morning hours. And on a few occasions the Governor of Alaska has proven to be an ardent baseball fan and has thrown out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day.
In Nome, in June of 1908, a very unusual ball field was built. The Midnight League of the Arctic Circle, comprised of four teams, needed a playing field. The tundra behind Nome, overlooking Dry Creek, was chosen for the location. The men dug down to frozen ground then covered the ground with jute sacks, sand and gravel from the beach, and clay from the Nome River. The field was great until the rains came and turned it back into a swamp, cutting the season short. Women played baseball in Nome too. On February 13, 1914, the Thunderbolts beat the Lightening Strikers 10 to 2 in a 5 inning game. Their diamond was indoors at the Eagle Hall. Weather was not an issue!
On Thursday, June 21, 1906, in Fairbanks, the first annual summer solstice Midnight Sun Baseball game was played as the result of a bar bet. That year the California Bar “Drinks” defeated the Eagle Club “Smokes” 7 to 4. The game is played on the longest day of summer, beginning at about 10:30 p.m. and ending well after midnight. No artificial lights are used – the only light is from the midnight sun. In 2005 the Midnight Sun Baseball game celebrated 100 years with the Fairbanks Goldpanners defeating the Omaha (Nebraska) Strike Zone 3-1.
In Juneau, on Sunday, May 10th, 1925, the race for the 1925 City League pennant began at City Park. On a beautiful day with a record crowd watching, Governor Scott C. Bone threw out the ceremonial first pitch to open up the season. The American Legion behind the pitching of “Tip” O’Neel routed the Moose who used the MacSpadden twins on the mound. The final score was 17 to 8.
These are just a few events that are a reflection of Alaska’s rich baseball history. Played all over Alaska, baseball has brought and still brings communities together for friendly competition, fun, and entertainment.
The photographs in this online exhibit provide a glimpse into what baseball was like in Alaska over the past century. Hopefully the images will motivate you to grab your bat and ball, glove and spikes (or snowshoes if the conditions dictate) and get out there and add your experiences to Alaska’s unique and colorful baseball past. PLAY BALL!