Mention the name of San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds and most baseball fans will tell you Bonds is a certain Hall of Famer.
Bonds has compiled an impressive baseball resume, recording 613 career home runs, four MVP trophies - with a possible fifth on the way - and now maybe a championship ring, after the Giants crushed the Anaheim Angels 16-4 in Thursday's Game 5 of the World Series to take a 3-2 Series lead.
But most fans don't know Bonds had a brief and not-so-productive stop in Alaska.
While he was a student at Arizona State University, Bonds was invited to play for the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks during the summer of 1983. Because he had a summer-school commitment, Bonds didn't join the team until late in the season - just before the Goldpanners went to the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., one of the top amateur baseball tournaments in the country.
Bonds only had 18 official at-bats for the Goldpanners in 1983, recording four hits for a .222 batting average. Bonds only had one extra-base hit - a double - and he scored two runs, had two RBIs, walked three times and stole four bases in five attempts.
With his impressive Major League numbers, the Alaska League is just a footnote to a distinguished career for Bonds.
But nearly 600 eventual Major Leaguers share similar Alaska footnotes on their baseball resumes, including eight who played for the Giants this season and six who played for the Angels. In fact, there are two other former Goldpanners playing in the World Series who had much better numbers than Bonds when their careers took a detour to Alaska.
Tom Goodwin is a reserve outfielder for the Giants and a veteran of the 1987 Goldpanners. During his season in Alaska, Goodwin hit .324 with 72 runs scored, 37 RBIs, 48 stolen bases, nine doubles, three triples and one home run.
Adam Kennedy, a second baseman for the Angels and a 1995 Goldpanner, was the Alaska League player of the year when he ventured north. Then a shortstop and outfielder, Kennedy broke a 20-year-old team record for hitting with the Goldpanners as he posted a .432 batting average. Kennedy also finished with 63 runs scored, 38 RBIs, 25 stolen bases, 15 doubles, 11 triples and three homers.
Bonds, Goodwin and Kennedy just scratch the surface when it comes to former Alaska League players in the World Series.
The Giants are loaded with impact players having Alaska ties, as shortstop Rich Aurilia (1990 Kenai Peninsula Oilers), second baseman Jeff Kent (1987 Anchorage Bucs) and first baseman J.T. Snow (1987 Oilers and 1987 Anchorage Glacier Pilots) make up three-quarters of San Francisco's starting infield. Damon Minor (1994-95 Bucs) is a reserve first baseman for the Giants.
The Angels don't have as many marquee players with Alaska ties as the Giants.
Pitcher Aaron Sele (1988 Palouse Empire Cougars of Pullman, Wash., a team no longer associated with the Alaska League) is probably the best known, but Sele is still shaking off an arm injury from earlier this season. Relief pitcher Dennis Cook (1983-84 Oilers and 1983 Goldpanners) is in the World Series with his third team in six years, having won a championship with the Florida Marlins in 1997 and losing the title with the New York Mets in 2000. Mickey Callaway (1995 Oilers) is a relief pitcher for the Angels.
The Alaska League had humble beginnings, but the success of its program led to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., hosting an exhibit on the league this summer.
That made a dream come true for Alaska League founder Red Boucher, who was Alaska's lieutenant governor from 1971-74 and a member of the State House from 1984-90. Boucher, now 81, owned the Pan-Alaska Sporting Goods in Fairbanks and started importing college all-star players to Alaska during the 1960 summer.
"My project is to get Cooperstown to recognize Alaska baseball," Boucher said while videotaping his grandson, current Juneau-Douglas High School junior second baseman C.J. Keys, during a 2000 state Senior Division Little League tournament at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. "We deserve an exhibit in the Hall of Fame."
Boucher took his first team to Wichita in 1962, entering the NBC World Series as the 32nd and last seed before going on to finish in second place. Dave Dowling, a pitcher on the 1963 Goldpanner team, became the first Alaska Leaguer to reach the Major Leagues.
The Glacier Pilots formed in 1969 and went on to become the first Alaska team to win an NBC World Series title that same summer. This year saw the sixth all-Alaska League final in NBC World Series history, as the Goldpanners won their record sixth championship by beating the defending champion Glacier Pilots, who have won five NBC World Series titles. The Oilers have won three NBC titles and the Miners two championships, giving the Alaska League teams 16 NBC World Series championships since 1969.
Since Dowling reached "The Show" in 1963, the Alaska League-to-Major League alumni list has grown to include two members of the Baseball Hall of Fame (1964 Goldpanner pitcher Tom Seaver and 1971-72 Goldpanner pitcher-outfielder Dave Winfield) and several others who should eventually earn spots in Cooperstown (such as Bonds, 1982 Glacier Pilot pitcher-first baseman Mark McGwire and 1986 Glacier Pilot pitcher Randy Johnson).
But Boucher said the biggest reason he started importing the college all-stars to Alaska was to give local athletes a chance to learn from and play against some of the best amateur baseball players in the country.
Over the years, Juneau's had several players earn spots on Alaska League rosters, including current Arizona State University sophomore catcher Garrett Schoenberger who played with the Oilers this summer. Pitcher Chad Bentz and third baseman Rob Conway of Juneau both played in the minor leagues the past two summers after spending the 1999 season with the Glacier Pilots, while Cleveland Indians scout Tim Kissner of Juneau played outfield for the 1991-92 Glacier Pilots and helped coach the Pilots in 1998.
"Let's get Juneau an entry into the Alaska League," Boucher said in 2000. "With apologies to my former hometown of Fairbanks and my current hometown of Anchorage, Juneau's the best sports city in the state. It's all about creating opportunity."
Juneau Empire sports editor Charles Bingham has been attending Alaska League baseball games for more than 32 years and has covered the program for several newspapers around the state, as well as supplying regular packages of Alaska League notes to Baseball America magazine during the 1990s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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