Bucs, Pilots open with Sunday doubleheader

Jeremy Peters

A new tournament will bring the Alaska Baseball League season to a close this summer, a season that commences Sunday with a non-league doubleheader between the Anchorage Bucs and Anchorage Glacier Pilots at Mulcahy Stadium.

The tournament will occupy Mulcahy Stadium from July 29 to Aug. 4 and use round-robin play to advance two teams to a three-game series for the tournament title.

Bucs general manager Shawn Maltby and Pilots general manager Jon Dyson came up with the idea and hope it's a big enough hit to become permanent.

"Eventually, I'd like to see it become a postseason championship," Maltby said.

Five of the six teams from the wood-bat league plan to participate. The Peninsula Oilers opted out because of the expense involved with an Anchorage trip, Maltby said, so this season's league champion will continue to be determined by regular-season standings.

The Pilots won the pennant last season, topping a league that included a team from Chugiak for the first time.

The Chugiak Chinooks -- formerly the Athletes in Action Fire -- will continue to play home games at Loretta French Field, where improvements are in the works. New, larger dugouts should be ready for Monday's home opener, and a building with two locker rooms, an umpire room and concession stand is being built as well. Construction is scheduled to conclude by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the Fairbanks Goldpanners have a new field manager. Bryan Harris, an assistant coach at Santa Ana Community College, takes over for Jim Dietz, an ABL fixture since 1970 who won 585 games in three stints totalling 16 seasons with the Goldpanners. Dietz also managed the Pilots for two seasons from 1982-83.

This time of the season is a challenging one for ABL managers, because rosters are often in flux. Some players are still playing for their college teams and some are draft picks deciding whether to sign or not. The Bucs expect to have eight position players and 11 pitchers by Sunday. The Pilots hope to have 20 players.

"I think the guys are excited," Dyson said. "It's a new season for them, you can see it in their energy. It's a clean slate and new beginning, whether they had a good or bad college season."

Dyson hopes the sunny weather continues so fans will come check out the new crop of talent Sunday.

"It's always a fun time of year, because in the first part of the season, you never know quite what you're gonna get," he said.

Last season was one of the best showcases of talent Dyson said he has seen in a while. Braden Shipley, a pitcher with the Bucs, was drafted 15th overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in last week's Major League Baseball draft. Aaron Judge, a member of the 2011 Pilots, went to the New York Yankees as the 32nd overall pick.

The first round of the draft also featured a potential ABL player in Reece McGuire of Kentwood, Wash. The 18-year-old catcher, who was drafted 14th overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates, had expressed interest in the ABL, Dyson said.

"We certainly take it real serious, trying to get the best talent that we can," Dyson said. "We have a couple hundred guys contact us each year and we have to be pretty selective on who we allow to come up."

This summer's players will seek to follow the path of others who have made stops in Alaska before going on to successful professional careers, players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jered Weaver or Paul Goldschmidt. The allure of Alaska helps to sell the ABL to players who otherwise may not get an opportunity to visit.

"There's just something unique about Alaska that you just can't duplicate," Dyson said. "A lot of guys love to hunt and fish and they are just absolutely tickled."

Reach Jeremy Peters at jpeters@adn.com or 257-4335.