ABL is coming to Chugiak

AIA Fire confirm move to Loretta French Park


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Loretta French Park in Peters Creek will be the home field of the soon-to-be renamed Athletes in Action Fire of the Alaska Baseball League. Club general manager Chris Beck confirmed the move from the team’s year-round offices in Ohio last week and said he’s leaving it up to the local community to come up with a new name for the squad.

STAR PHOTOS BY MATT TUNSETH

Jim Reeves thinks he’s got the perfect name for the newest team in the Alaska Baseball League.

“How about the ‘WolfStangs?’” Reeves quipped last week, suggesting a combination of the area’s two high school mascots, the Wolves and Mustangs. “I think I’ll put that one in there.”

While the team’s name is still up in the air, its home is not. Officials with the Athletes in Action Fire confirmed on Aug. 31 that the ABL team has agreed to move full-time to Loretta French Park in Peters Creek starting with the upcoming 2012 season.

“It’s a new era for us and for the league itself,” said AIA general manager Chris Beck.

Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce president Pete Mulcahy broke the news during the chamber’s luncheon on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at the Bear Mountain Grill in Eagle River.

“Athletes in Action are relocating to our hometown,” Mulcahy said.

The news was greeted with applause from a large chamber audience that had turned out for a speech by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich.

Athletes in Action is a national faith-based organization that fields amateur baseball teams in New York, Ohio, Alaska and Nicaragua.

AIA and the Anchorage Glacier Pilots played an exhibition “Chugiak Classic” game at Loretta French in July. At the time, Beck said one of the only hurdles to relocation was getting minor improvements made at the municipal park, which is normally used for American Legion baseball games.

Since then, Rodda said asphalt paving has been done around the park, which is located at Mile 19 of the Old Glenn Highway and features a distinctive 100-foot hill just beyond the left field fence and scenic mountain views on three sides. Rodda said future improvements are planned — including a flag pole, bleachers, better foul ball protection for fans, a PA system, batting cages and restrooms — and that the upgrades will be a priority for his department.

“We want to help them, and in turn it’s going to bring more activity to the park and it’s going to be a great environment for the youth of this community,” he said.

On the legislative end, Rep. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak/Mat-Su) has committed to working in Juneau to secure funds for Rodda’s department. Stoltze, who co-chairs the House Finance Committee, said he thinks the park is deserving of state funds because the complex has never had state help in the past.

“That’s probably a good candidate to get some help,” said Stoltze, who helped organize the July exhibition that Beck said helped convince him ABL games were possible at the field.

During his announcement to the chamber, Mulcahy credited both Stoltze and Rodda with working behind the scenes to make sure the facility will be up to ABL standards when play starts in June.

“Those two really, really made this happen,” Mulcahy said.

In turn, both men said many others helped turn the dream of a Chugiak ABL team into reality, including ABL general managers like the Pilots’ Jon Dyson, the Bucs’ Dennis Mattingly and the Mat-Su Miners’ Pete Christopher; Anchorage sports community leaders like Steve Nerland and Don Winchester; and Jim Reeves, who will head up field maintenance for the local American Legion baseball team that shares and helps maintain the park.

“A lot of people worked their butts off,” Stoltze said.

Mulcahy said plans are in the works to come up with a brand new name for the Fire, and chamber special events director Merry Braham said she’s already working on putting together a name-the-team contest.

Beck said he wants the local community to have a hand in creating part of the club’s new identity.

“I want to default to the people out there,” Beck said. “It’ll be their team.”

Other details have yet to be worked out, Beck said. He said players will be housed with host families in the immediate area, and Stoltze said he’s hopeful a booster club can help raise funds and possibly develop things like concessions.

Though surprising, the news was not entirely unexpected. Athletes in Action was previously based in Fairbanks, but left the Golden Heart City after the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks pulled out of the league to play an independent schedule.

With their Fairbanks connection severed, the Fire based themselves out of Anchorage in 2011, and openly discussed the possibility of either finding a new Alaska home or moving the team Outside.

In July, Beck said he was hopeful about the prospect of moving to Chugiak-Eagle River full time.

“I think it would be a great thing to have a home field and a home community,” Beck said following the game, a 7-4 Pilots win.

The five-team ABL now includes Athletes in Action, the Anchorage Bucs, Anchorage Glacier Pilots, Peninsula Oilers and Mat-Su Miners.

The Pilots’ Dyson said the obvious advantage to having another team in Southcentral Alaska will be savings on travel and housing.

“I think it’s going to benefit everybody in the league,” he said.

Beck said he thinks having a team in the Chugiak-Eagle River area will be good for fan interest as well.

“It’s a great opportunity to create some rivalries,” he said.

Mulcahy agreed, and said Chugiak-Eagle River will be anxious to prove it’s every bit the ABL town as Kenai, Anchorage or Palmer.

“The only difference is we’ll kick their butts,” he said.

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com

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