Five years have passed since Juneau fielded an American Legion baseball team, but with generous contributions and community support, several 16- to 18-year-old ballplayers begin an 18-day road trip today to start off the 2001 Legion baseball season.
The Post 25 Midnight Suns start off the season with a doubleheader Saturday against the MVPs, an all-star team from King County in Seattle, and will continue playing games nearly every day in the Seattle-Tacoma area, ending with the seven-day St. Martin's Tournament in Lacey, Wash., on June 18-24.
It took a lot of fundraising to make it possible for the Midnight Suns to compete this year. Every player was responsible for raising $1,200, in addition to personally contributing a minimum of $200 each.
"We had a great response on fundraising," skipper Jim Ayers said. "We got a contribution from the previous Legion team that had funds left over and the out-pouring from the community has been terrific."
In addition to Ayers, the Midnight Suns will be coached by Bruce Scandling and Mark Hickey and have 30 games scheduled throughout the summer, culminating with the state tournament beginning Aug. 4 in Anchorage.
The coaching staff of Ayers, Scandling and Hickey is the same staff that nearly led many of the current Midnight Suns to the Senior Little League World Series two years ago. They have also coached the Crimson Bear baseball team to two straight Region V titles and a second-place finish in the inaugural state baseball tournament in 2000 and a fourth-place finish in this year's state tourney.
The Midnight Suns are comprised mostly of the Juneau-Douglas High School's state tournament baseball team. However, the lineup will be bolstered by Juneau graduate Garrett Schoenberger, who just finished his first year playing baseball at Arizona State University. Schoenberger will only be able to play in the team's first 10 games before leaving for summer ball at ASU. He hopes to return to the Midnight Suns for the state tournament.
"Garrett is not only a good ballplayer, but the other guys really respect him," Jim Ayers said.
Pitcher and outfielder Dylan Hickey will play sporadically when the team is in Washington. He is playing on a Connie Mack team this summer, just north of Seattle, and will be in the lineup when the schedule permits.
The Midnight Suns strong point looks to be pitching. Over half of the team members are listed as possible pitchers on the roster, including ace Will Nicholas. Hickey's contribution on the mound will be questionable, but a host of young hurlers like Bruno Del Olmo, Evan Scandling, Kalen Meek, Zach Kohan, Lopaka Pavitt, Nick Wolf, David Coogan, Bryson Buck and Bud Baun, will give Post 25 considerable depth on the mound.
"We got like nine guys who can pitch," Evan Scandling said. "We'll be playing nine innings most of the time except when we play double-headers and it should give us more chances to pitch. It'll be fun. We're a lot looser and its fun to be able to laugh during warm-ups."
Three quarters of the 'Fab Four' Crimson Bear infield of Joe Ayers, Kohan and Scandling will anchor the team's defense as well as Mike Rader and C.J. Corso in the outfield.
Sitka High School standout Steve Hartrich will also join the team, and his ability to play several positions will give the Midnight Suns more depth at both infield and outfield.
"We know that Juneau has some top-notch, talented players who can compete with the best, and we want to provide them that opportunity," Jim Ayers said. "American Legion is the best competition in the nation and even more competitive than high school."
The American Legion has fielded teams in Juneau periodically for the last twenty years under the leadership of Mike Franklin, Jerry Walkush, Bill McCauley, Glenn Frick, Tom Stadt and others and in the early 80s and 90s, local teams won state competitions.
"All of these guys are going to play plenty of baseball," Jim Ayers said. "A lot of our success will be because these guys are already road-tested. Some of these teams we will play have never been away from home before."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.