Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mat-Su Miners and the Alaska Baseball League

Outside Hermon Brothers Field

I recently completed a project on TCDB which entailed scanning and uploading all the images for the 2012 Mat-Su Miners team set.  Going through all this gave me the idea to do a write up of the Miners, the Alaska Baseball League, and highlight some players from the team set.  

I spent a year living in Palmer, Alaska (home of the Miners) for a year between 2011 and 2012. I previously worked in Alaska several years prior during one college summer for about 6 weeks.  I worked at a fish processing plant in a very remote location.  When I say remote, I'm talking about having to fly there in a small plane and land on the beach because there are no roads or airports.  While that was a unique experience, I wanted to get a more "authentic" Alaska experience.   After graduating from law school and taking the Bar, I drove up from Seattle to start my new adventure.

The Alaska Baseball League

The teams of the Alaska Baseball League

Previously unbeknownst to me, Alaska has a two-month summer league, called the Alaska Baseball League (ABL) with six teams spread across the state.  The rosters are made up of college baseball players and each season new players come up to play.  The ABL is a well-regarding league among the short-season leagues.  Past ABL players and current MLB all-stars include Paul Goldschmidt, Josh Donaldson, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jered Weaver. Other former ABL players include Barry Bonds, Aaron Boone, and Mark McGwire. Needless to say, some top talent makes a trip up to Alaska so the players are always worth watching. For a more in-depth look at the ABL, I highly recommend Grantland's (R.I.P.) piece on the ABL and the Midnight Sun Game.

Mat-Su Miners

Pioneer Peak sitting behind the field

Fortunately for me, the town I was living in had a baseball team of it's own: the Mat-Su Miners.  Representing the sprawling Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the Miners play at the picturesque Hermon Brothers Field.  Some of my fondest memories were sitting out in the sun, watching good baseball, and wondering how I ended up at such a wonderful place.  Like most baseball teams, the Miners had various promotional and giveaway nights.  As what appears to be an annual tradition, the team gives away a complete trading card set toward the end of the season.  I wasn't actively collecting at this time but I could never turn down free cards!  When I jointed TCDB, I was surprised to see the checklist on the site although there were no scans of the cards.  Fear not, I had the whole set and I got to work scanning the cards.  It's a surprisingly well put together set with full-color photos, including some action shots, a nice team colored design, logos, biographical information, and statistical highlights.  It's a full package set.  

The Players

The Miners did not play well in 2012, finishing in 6th place out of six teams. However, that does not mean that there were not good players on the team.


Clint Freeman went on a tear that year batting .379, which was highest in the league.  He racked up 55 hits, also a league high, and drove in 24 runs.  Freeman also pitched for the Miners but he was less impressive with a 6.08 ERA.  Bobby Boyd and Bill Cullen also hit well, each batting over .300.  Cullen also provided some fireworks hitting 8 home runs that year, which was second in the ABL.  Boyd stole 24 bases but he was outdone by his teammate Ian Miller who stole a league-best 36 bases.  Boyd and Miller are still playing professional baseball, with Miller even being drafted by the Seattle Mariners and currently playing AA ball.  I don't know what his prospects are to make the major leagues, but it would be really cool if he made it to the Majors so I could say I saw him play way back when!

While the Miners had offense, it was their pitching that struggled.  However, that is not to say that they didn't have a couple quality pitchers.  Jay Calhoun pitched very well going 3-0, including two complete games, all while maintaining a 1.37 ERA.  Pitching largely in a relief role, Jake Long had a very respectable 1.88 ERA.  He also managed to earn a couple saves.  Harvard man Peter Kaplan pitched in what seemed like every game.  None of these three pitchers appear to be playing baseball anymore.  

The last player I want to briefly mention is Ian Sagdal.  He was fun to watch as he always seemed to be having a good time on the field. Plus, there was the bonus that he also played for the Washington State Cougars.  Sagdal was drafted by the Nationals and is currently playing Single A baseball.

All-Star Game

The last Alaska baseball item I want to touch upon is the All-Star Game.  Since the players come up to Alaska to get exposure to MLB scouts, the ABL puts on an All-Star Game featuring the best players of the season.  Many MLB teams do indeed send scouts up to the game as I indicated above that the ABL has produced a lot of talent.  I kept the ticket stubs not only as a memento but because they were actually designed well and were not cheap looking ticket stubs.

That wraps up this trip down memory lane.  I haven't been following the Miners since I left Alaska but maybe I'll do a better job with that this summer. Either way, I'll always root for the Miners!

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