Mother Nature hurled the first pitch of the Alaska Baseball League season.
It was a nasty curveball that jeopardized the Kenai Peninsula Oilers' opening day at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.
High winds ripped the roof off the park's grandstands May 31, but thanks to both physical and financial contributions from Peninsula residents, the Oilers will host the San Francisco Seals on Sunday as scheduled
"Had the community not stepped up and helped, playing Sunday would have been iffy," Oilers general manager James Clark said.
Clark was at the ballpark when it happened.
"I heard this noise like nails popping," he said.
The wind tore the roof straight up -- no trusses were bent.
"It was unbelievable," he said. "Nobody could get their phones out quick enough to video it."
Fortunately for the Oilers, the damage occurred early enough to allow adequate time for repairs and cleanup. Had it happened during the season, Clark said, the team would have lost at least a week of its schedule.
Though the grandstands will be without cover this season, Clark is upbeat when people ask about it.
"I just tell them they never knew we had a retractable roof until now," he said.
The Oilers-Seals game is one of three season-openers Sunday. In Anchorage, the Anchorage Bucs and Anchorage Glacier Pilots will play a doubleheader beginning at 2 p.m. at Mulcahy Stadium. In Chugiak, the Chugiak Chinooks will host the Mat-Su Miners at 5 p.m. at Loretta French Field.
New format, old tradition
Thanks to a new format, the ABL is bringing back an old and aptly named tradition.
The league will feature two divisions this season. The American Division will include the Oilers, Bucs and Fairbanks Goldpanners while the National Division will be made up of the Glacier Pilots, Chinooks and Miners.
Resurrecting a name from the past, the Top of the World Series will return as a best-of-3 series to determine the ABL champion. The division champion with the best league record will select the venue.
The two-division format will benefit the entire league, especially teams that have a slow start, said Clark, the league president.
"Everybody has a fighting chance," he said.
For those craving Bucs-Pilots rivalry games, don't worry, you'll still get your fix. The Bucs and Pilots play 11 games this season, including two doubleheaders.
"Any time you play the Bucs it's always good for the crowd," Pilots general manager Jon Dyson said.
Tony Cappuccilli is returning for his fourth season as field manager for the Bucs, while Darren Westergard is the new bench boss for the Pilots.
Alaskan in ABL
Recent Monroe graduate Scooter Bynum is playing for the Goldpanners this season in his hometown of Fairbanks.
Bynum, who was drafted Saturday by the Cincinnati Reds in the 18th round of the MLB draft, said he's excited for the challenge of competing against collegiate players.
"It's a fantastic opportunity," he said.
Training with high-caliber athletes will enhance his game heading into his first year at Arizona Western College, Bynum said.
"It will be a huge benefit," he said. "You get better by playing people that are better than you."
The Chinooks are beginning their third season in Chugiak and their first with a concession stand.
"We bought $1,200 worth of goodies to stock it," booster club president Lee Jordan said.
The Chinook Shack as well as two locker rooms are new this year for the Chinooks, formerly the AIA Fire. Last year, the dugouts at Loretta French Park were expanded.
Like the past two seasons, admission for games at the municipal park is free. Another constant from the last two years is coach Jon Groth, who's back for his third season.
Oh say can you count?
A woman who hopes to sing the national anthem in all 50 states will cross Alaska off her list Sunday.
Janine Stange wants to complete her goal by Sept. 14, which marks the anniversary of the day Francis Scott Key wrote the challenging tune.
Stange, who lives in Los Angeles, started her quest in 2012. Alaska is her 34th state.
Reach Mike Nesper at email@example.com or 257-4335.
ABL opening day
2 p.m. -- Anchorage Glacier Pilots at Anchorage Bucs (doubleheader)
Coral Seymour Memorial Park
2 p.m. -- San Francisco Seals at Kenai Peninsula Oilers
Loretta French Park
5 p.m. -- Mat-Su Miners at Chugiak Chinooks
By MIKE NESPER