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Fueled by coffee and Red Bulls, Anchorage softball players celebrate solstice with a tournament

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: June 24
  • Published June 23

It’s 5 o’clock Sunday morning at Cartee Field, and the sun is rising over the mountains behind the Field 4 center field fence.

Samantha McMahill, a player for the STR8 Gap coed softball team, is nesting under a blanket in a camp chair behind the backstop. She has a drink in each hand – a 16-ounce Italian Red Bull and a 20-ounce mocha.

Out in the parking lot, near the Field 1 left field fence, a man is tucked into a sleeping bag under a canopy tent. He’s snoring softly.

McMahill is watching the second game of the day in the Anchorage Sports Association’s inaugural Summer Solstice tournament.

The first games were played at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, and McMahill has been either playing or watching the entire time.

“It’s a 24-hour tournament,” she said. “You’re supposed to stay awake for 24 hours.”

Hence the double-dose of caffeine.

Samantha McMahill has a Red Bull in one hand and a mocha in the other during the 5:10 a.m. game Sunday at Cartee Field. (Beth Bragg / ADN)

Eleven coed teams entered the tournament, inspired by the long-running Midnight Sun One-Pitch tournament played annually in Fairbanks. It ended late Sunday afternoon after near-continuous softball for a little more than 24 hours.

Saturday’s games wrapped up around 2 a.m. and gave way to a home run derby. After that came about 45 minutes of down time before games resumed at 4:10 a.m.

Team Fam's Yollie Alailefaleula leaps into the air along the first base line to celebrate her home run during the championship game. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Tournament co-director Chris Fulwider had the thousand-mile stare going early Sunday morning.

He’d been at Cartee Field since 2 p.m. Saturday. He played three games with the Eddie’s Sports Bar team on Saturday, won the home run derby overnight and was making sure things were going as planned as the sun peeked over the Chugach Mountain.

“I will be going to bed early. As soon as we are done,” he said, knowing that bedtime was still a good 12 hours away.

About 10 campers, at least twice as many canopy tents and dozens of camp chairs sat in the parking lot parallel to Pine Street.

Sasha Loyd and her daughter Jordis, 6, leave their campsite in the Cartee Field parking lot. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Among the teams camping out was Hell Yeah! Twenty team members were sharing three campers, and they’d been there since Friday, team manager Sasha Loyd said.

“We thought the tournament started then,” she said.

The team had already purchased $25 overnight camping passes for both nights, Loyd said, so they decided to stay both nights. On Friday night, “we did batting practice and all that stuff,” she said.

On Sunday, Loyd was operating on about three hours of sleep. Her team played games at 4:10 a.m., 8:10 a.m. and 9:40 a.m., and during a long break before its 1:20 p.m. game, Loyd looked and sounded remarkably chipper.

“We’re used to this,” she said. “We play a lot of tournaments -- Kenai, Seward, Wasilla -- and we always camp.”

The summer solstice was on Friday, but Saturday and Sunday provided plenty of daylight – Saturday’s official sunset was 11:42 p.m. and Sunday’s official sunrise was at 4:21 a.m.

Still, lights were needed for a couple of hours overnight. ASA rented two tall lights, the kind used to light up a construction site at night, and put them behind the Field 4 baselines. The lights were turned on for a midnight game, the home run derby, and the first two innings of the 4:10 a.m. game, Fulwider said.

Natural light colors the sky and artificial lights brighten the infield for a game that started a little after midnight Saturday. (Photo by Chris Fulwider)

It was the darkest during the three-round home run derby, which Fulwider won by hitting two balls over the 300-foot fence in the final round. Pitchers tossed meatballs to the batters, but seeing them wasn’t easy.

“It was still pretty tough,” Fulwider said, “but the lights definitely helped.”

By the time Sunday’s 5:10 a.m. game between Rae Rae’s and Aftershock started on Field 4, there was too much light – at least for batters and the home plate umpire. Home plate faces east, and the sunrise was happening right behind center field.

“You couldn’t see the pitches. You were swinging blind,” Rae Rae Espinoza said.

Espinoza is a player and the woman who runs Rae Rae’s, the Cartee Field concession stand. She sells hot dogs, pretzels, candy bars, breakfast burritos and more, plus lattes and other beverages.

“Red Bull was the go-to last night,” Espinoza said, “and coffee’s been the savior this morning.”

Rae Rae Espinoza serves a blue raspberry Red Bull Italian soda from her concession stand. (Bill Roth / ADN)

McMahill was among those pounding caffeine. She started with a 24-ounce iced vanilla latte she brought from work Saturday afternoon, followed by a 16-ounce vanilla latte from a midnight run to McDonald’s, then the 16-ounce Italian Red Bull and the 20-ounce mocha. For variety she tossed back some water and Gatorade

“I should probably eat something,” she said as she watched the game between Rae Rae’s and Aftershock. The blinding sunrise was in her eyes, too.

“Oh, that was soooo bright,” said Chantal Kincaid, who plays third base for Aftershock. “We’re all hitters, and so is Rae’s Rae’s, and you could just tell it was not a good hitting experience, and the ump couldn’t call good balls and strikes because the sun was in his eyes.”

The tournament awarded $500 to the champions of two double-elimination tournaments. Team Fam took the A bracket championship by coming through the losers bracket and beating AK Puffin’ twice -- 8-3, then 14-9 in the if-necessary game. In the B bracket title game, Eddie’s Sports Bar took an 18-3 win over Hell Yeah!

Team Fam celebrates its A bracket championship. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Aftershock walked away with no prizes, but deserves honorable mention for its name.

The team used to be called the Free Agents, but became the Aftershock following the Nov. 30 earthquake.

Several of the team’s players missed the 7.1-magnitude quake because they were at a softball tournament in Las Vegas. By the time they returned to Anchorage, they had a new name. The design on their T-shirts includes a big, spiderweb-like crack.

Outfielder Steven Lopez and third baseman Chantal Kincaid display a team Aftershock warmup shirt. (Bill Roth / ADN)

“If you look at the jackets, there’s a drawing of the broken road where that car got stuck,” said Aftershock outfielder Steven Lopez, who credited his brother Benny for the new name.

“We put a lot of thought into it.”

It was about 6:30 a.m. Sunday as Lopez spoke. He didn’t look tired at all.

Seven hours later, he did.

“I’m just beat,” he said. “I told my wife I have to be in bed by 8 o’clock.”

Puffin' third baseman Kaylie Bylsma places a tag on Team Fam's Michelle Strange during the A bracket championship game. (Bill Roth / ADN)

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