Baseball Under the Midnight Sun
It’s no news to Fairbanksans, but last Thursday night – well, really Friday morning – the Alaska Goldpanners, Fairbanks’s summer league baseball team, won the 107th Midnight Sun Baseball Game. WC was there. At least through eight innings.
This game has been going on for a long time. Longer than it has been since the Chicago Cubs won a World Series. Which is essentially forever. And, so far as anyone knows, it has always started about 10:30 PM, and always been played without artificial lights. That’s right, a baseball game centered on midnight and played in natural light.
Clunky, homely old Growden Field was packed for the game. The opposing team was the Everette, Washington Merchants. And from the beginning, the game was bizarre, even for a Panners game. In the top of the first inning, Everette sent its batters to the plate in wrong order. After #26 got a single and drove in a run, Panner Manager Jim Deitz ambled – Deitz always ambles, and it’s worth pointing out this belly crosses the foul line two full steps before the rest of him – Deitz ambled out to inform the umpire of Everette’s sin. The result was an automatic out for #26, and the run taken off the boards. In about 50 years of watching baseball, that’s a first for WC.
In the bottom of the fourth, a Panner batter hit a line drive that struck first base on the fly, bounded 20 feet in the air over the head of the surprised Everette first baseman, to score a hit and a run. WC has seen bad hops, but that one probably wins a prize.
In the sixth inning, very shortly after WC’s neighbor commented that batted balls never struck the lights, a foul ball off the bat of an Everette player did just exactly that, striking the lights along the left field light. The lights were off, of course, but it was another first for WC.
There were lots of walks, lots of errors and lots of managers jawing umpires about their calls. And the home plate umpire’s strike zone expanded throughout the game. WC was sitting right behind home plate. The umpire was not a small man. At least two full home plates wide, by WC’s estimate. If WC could see the ball strike the catcher’s mitt, you can be pretty sure it was out of the strike zone. By the seventh inning, the strike zone had also crept down to the batter’s ankles and up to the batter’s ears. If the ball didn’t actually hit the dirt or the batter, it was generally a strike, Perhaps it was the low light.
But the game was still fun. There were some fine plays, as well as some brutal errors. The low sun angle in the hour before sunset always makes throws from third or shortstop very tough to see and to field. Routine throws to first base were very exciting. The Everett third baseman made a brilliant catch of a Panner line drive, moving to his right, robbing the Panners of an extra-base hit.
So you had everything you could hope for in a Midnight Sun Game. Good plays, excitement, a lead that changed hands several times and a win. Here’s to 107 years <clink> and hopes for another 107 to follow.