Dating back to the late 1950s, Moller Field in Sitka has served as one of the premier baseball fields in Southeast Alaska. Yet it hardly looked the part.
The outfield had grass, but 25-year Sitka coach Jim Way used words like “horrible” and “marsh” when describing it. The infield was rock hard -- literally, it was silt sand shipped in from Juneau.
“You enjoyed the game but you spent as much time picking rocks out of your knees and elbows,” cracked Rep. Bill Thomas of Haines.
A bad hop could mean a black eye, or worse.
“Frankly, it was a third-class baseball field,” said Sen. Bert Stedman of Sitka. “Some of us thought it was appalling.”
So he stepped up the plate and hit a home run with the development of new Moller Field, the only all-turf field in Alaska.
Stedman was the MVP of the multimillion-dollar project, identifying the need for a new turf field, driving home the point with other legislative leaders and securing the funding through the capital budget.
“We can’t really put into words what he’s done for us,” said Ed Conway, head coach of the 3-time state champion Sitka High School baseball team. “He drives by that field all the time. He had known that field had been past its prime for 10, maybe 15 years. Luckily he understands that field was a real important piece of Sitka’s history and was able to find that funding for it, and we can’t thank him enough.”
New Moller Field was unveiled on Alaska Day at a ceremony attended by several hundred locals and hosted by the nonprofit Alliance for the Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska. Stedman and Thomas headlined a group of 26 people who threw out ceremonial pitches to high school players in white, red and royal blue uniforms.
It rained on and off most of Thursday, but during the hour-long ceremony the Sitka High School pep band chased away the clouds and a community basked in the glory that is new Moller Field. The day brought out everything that is right with this small, seaside town.
It was enough to make a man’s man like rugged Jim Way tear up.
“When you step out there, especially at night when the lights are on, it’s a whole different world,” said Way, who has two sons that play baseball. “This is something everybody wants to check out. It’s incredible.”
For the people around here, new Moller Field is straight out of Hollywood.
“It’s like walking on a cloud,” Conway said. “It’s unbelievable. We can’t believe this is happening. It’s like a dream.”
Thomas stopped by the field the night before the ceremony with a friend. The lights were out and so were the stars.
“Is this heaven?” he asked his buddy.
“No, it’s Sitka.”
This story first appeared on the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame's blog. Van Williams is a 20-year local sports writer and the former sports editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.