Early in the summer of 2008, Sam Cunard remembers wondering if he needed to have a talk about personal responsibility with the Alaska Baseball League player he’d agreed to host.
After all, the college kid being let loose on Anchorage would be staying under Cunard’s roof and driving one of his cars.
“No sir, that’s all self-regulated,” Cunard remembers the player saying. “I’m going be in the big leagues. There’s going to be three days of scouts watching me play. If I wash out here, I don’t go to the bigs and I’m gonna be in the bigs.”
The response made a clear impression on Cunard — the player was ambitious and wasn’t going to jeopardize his opportunity with any youthful tomfoolery.
That player was Paul Goldschmidt, who played the 2008 season with the Anchorage Bucs. Goldschmidt was named National League Most Valuable Player on Thursday, adding to a stellar 12-year career that’s included seven all-star game selections.
The people who interacted with Goldschmidt during his summer in Alaska recall him as serious about baseball, a bit of a team clown and every bit the consummate hitter that has been his trademark as a professional.
In the subsequent years, they say he has been generous in donating signed items for Special Olympics and other local causes.
After starting his pro career with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt has played the last four seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. But he came to Anchorage from Texas State, where he was was still progressing as a hitter.
Ken Garland, who has been a broadcaster with the team for more than 25 seasons starting in 1982, remembers Goldschmidt already had a knack for the big hit.
“I do remember situations where you know, it was him coming to the plate and you were just kind of expecting that hit,” he said. “You’re expecting that that big RBI or just expecting him to get on base someway somehow. So that hasn’t changed.”
In 2022, Goldschmidt was in the Top 5 in the NL in home runs, RBI and batting average and was the runaway leader in the important OPS (on base + slugging) metric.
Current Bucs general manager Shawn Maltby was the general manager of the Peninsula Oilers when Goldschmidt played in the ABL. He could already see the swing developing that earned Goldschmidt five Silver Slugger awards.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “He’s not a home run guy. If your swing feels good and you’re doing everything right mechanically, the ball is going to leave the yard. He’s more of a gap-to-gap power guy and the ball leaves the yard so he’s doing something right. I’m not surprised by it one bit. He’s got such a nice compact swing.”
With the Bucs, he posted a .330 average and led the team with 3 home runs, 28 RBIs, 60 hits, 92 total bases and 20 doubles.
“You know a lot of kids come up to the to the league and because the wood bats or because they’re away from home, you know that they struggle a little bit,” Garland said. “But yeah with Goldschmidt, he hit the ground running. He never lost a beat throughout the entire season. He was always the guy.”
Cunard laughs as he recalls some of the more interesting details from the summer of 2008.
One of his most vivid memories from the summer was how Goldschmidt got around — driving a Suzuki Sidekick with “a dent in every corner and a cracked windshield.”
The hulking baseball player stuck out cruising around in the compact SUV.
“Paul Goldschmidt wasn’t a small individual,” Maltby said. “He was 6-3 or 6-4, 220 or 230 (pounds) when he was here.”
The humorous visual matched with Goldschmidt’s personality, according to Garland. While he was serious about baseball, he was much more laid back with teammates.
“He was the team clown,” he said. “He’s got a great sense of humor. I mean, you know, he always wanted to be interviewed. And it was always fun to interview him just because of his personality and his spontaneity, his humor.”
And when he wasn’t being interviewed, he was trying to crack up his teammates that were.
“He was just always always in the midst of something to keep the team loose,” Garland said.
Cunard’s daughter Maddie remembers him coming to support her at Little League games when she was the one of the few girls playing and sharing their favorite snack together — big bowls of cereal.
As the years passed since his time in Anchorage, Cunard has kept up with Goldschmidt. When Cunard started some fundraisers for Special Olympics at Mulcahy Stadium, Goldschmidt was quick to donate signed items.
“I did that for probably five years and Paul was very supportive,” Cunard said. “When it comes to Paul and fundraising, whenever there’s an event, I will text or email Paul and he’ll send me signed gloves, signed bats and signed balls.”
As he’s continued to thrive, his signed memorabilia has become even more valuable.
“The more success Paul had, the more it became, like kind of an event,” Cunard said.
That’s continued with other charities, including a scholarship fundraiser last year in Point Hope. When Maltby became GM of the Bucs, he said Goldschmidt continued to assist with fundraisers.
“He’s been extremely generous,” he said. “Anytime we’ve asked, he’s been more than happy to oblige. I mean you don’t always get that with a pro baseball player, or a pro athlete in general. We try not to take advantage of it but he’ll tell you firsthand, any time you need something, let me know.”
People within the Bucs organization and fans have been predictably proud of the career Goldschmidt has established, which has included multiple Gold Gloves as a first baseman as well.
“It’s just a new level, and it’s really come together for him,” Garland said of his 2022 season. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to see.”
Cunard said he believes Goldschmidt has remained the same committed person who drove around Anchorage in a beat-up Suzuki Sidekick nearly 15 years ago.
“It was a wonderful experience,” he said. “He was dedicated and focused ... and the generosity. You know, he’s a straight-up, nice guy. A decent individual who stayed out of trouble, followed his dream. And there you have it.”