Garrett Schoenberger was thinking about playing in the Northwoods League in Wisconsin this summer when the call came.
The Kenai Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska League were offering a spot to Schoenberger, a 2000 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate who is playing college baseball for Arizona State University. Schoenberger, a catcher, jumped at the chance to join the Oilers.
"I thought it was the perfect opportunity," Schoenberger said in a phone interview. "I really wanted to come back to Alaska. I'm really confident about it. Even though it's not Juneau, I feel like I'm going home to play."
The Alaska League is a summer league of college all-stars that is considered one of the two best amateur summer leagues in the country. Last year, the Anchorage Glacier Pilots won their fifth straight National Baseball Congress World Series title and the Alaska League's 15th championship since 1969. The Oilers have won three NBC World Series titles (1975, 1991 and 1992).
Since pitcher Dave Dowling of the Alaska Goldpanners (Fairbanks) reached the major leagues in 1964, there have been nearly 600 players who played a summer or two in Alaska before going on to reach the majors. The Alaska League alumni list reads like a Who's Who of baseball, with players on the list such as Randy Johnson (Glacier Pilots), Barry Bonds (Goldpanners and Oilers), Bret Boone (Goldpanners), Dave Winfield (Goldpanners), Tom Seaver (Goldpanners) and Mark McGwire (Glacier Pilots), among others.
The Arizona Diamondbacks had seven former Alaska League players on their roster when they won the World Series last October.
The Alaska League is the next step in Schoenberger's development, a process that's seen him go from being the only walk-on player to make the team at ASU to being a member of the Sun Devils' 25-man traveling roster.
"He's kind of a self-made player," said Jay Sferra, an ASU assistant coach and the team's recruiting coordinator. "He's really a huge success story. He came to one of our camps with a bunch of other Juneau guys and he was the best player of the group. The next fall, he shows up on campus and made the team as a walk-on. It starts out with 50 to 70 guys, and we weeded it down to a dozen. Garrett was the only survivor."
A redshirt freshman, Schoenberger has seen little playing time this season for the Sun Devils. On Tuesday Schoenberger was a pinchhitter in ASU's 14-2 victory over the University of Portland (Ore.) and he got his first college hit, a line drive single up the middle on the first pitch he saw. Schoenberger is 1-for-4 this season in four games as a reserve.
"This experience will be a good one for him," Sferra said. "He'll get some ABs (at bats) and an opportunity to play. He'll be with a new group of guys. He's pretty pumped. Garrett is such a quality individual. He's such a program guy, by that I mean he'll do whatever you ask of him. The experience there and the type of kid he is, I think it will help him and the team."
"We're looking for him to be fighting for the job. He'll be competing for the everyday job," said Mike Baxter, the general manager of the Oilers. "He redshirted last year and didn't play much this year, so he will have to work hard. But we understand he can swing the stick a little bit."
Schoenberger said he doesn't mind working for his playing time. As a JDHS wrestler and baseball player, Schoenberger was known as one of the hardest workers on his teams. Schoenberger said he just got a 4.0 GPA this semester in his marketing major and was accepted into ASU's college of business.
"I've worked for everything I've had, but I'm making it," said Schoenberger.
Baxter said Schoenberger is one of three catchers the Oilers are bringing to Kenai this summer, but the only confirmed catcher is Oregon State's Paul Richie. Schoenberger will give the Oilers some extra roster flexibility since Alaska residents don't count against the Alaska League's roster limit.
By joining the Oilers, Schoenberger makes it five straight years a former Juneau-Douglas High School player has been on an Alaska League roster.
Wade Walter, a third baseman at Belmont University, briefly played with the Glacier Pilots last year before being sidelined by an ankle injury. Chad Bentz, a lefthanded pitcher now in the minor leagues, played for the Glacier Pilots in 2000. In 1999, four JDHS grads were in the Alaska League as Bentz and third baseman Rob Conway played for the Pilots while pitcher-first baseman Joel Cladouhos and outfielder Jason Bigelow played for the Mat-Su Miners. Bigelow also played for the Miners in 1998.
Walter could not be reached, but his father, Marv Walter, said Wade had been contacted by the Goldpanners about playing this summer. But Marv Walter said Wade was planning to join a summer league team near Belmont's campus in Nashville, Tenn.
Wade Walter, a junior in his first year with the Bruins, had started 43 of 44 games entering Tuesday's doubleheader and was hitting .333 with 47 hits in 141 at bats, 25 runs scored, 17 RBIs, seven doubles, two homers and was 4-for-5 in stolen bases.
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