Ready to play ball
When Lee Jordan looks at Chugiak’s Loretta French Field, he doesn’t see a diamond buried under two feet of snow, but a field of Alaska Baseball League dreams.
Jordan, a Chugiak-Eagle River icon who founded the Chugiak-Eagle River Star newspaper in 1971 and briefly served as the town’s mayor, now serves as president of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks Booster Club. The club, which was formed earlier this winter, is in the process of raising money for the team’s inaugural ABL campaign, which begins in June.
“Right now we’re trying to get everything organized and ready for the season,” Jordan said during an interview Feb. 14 at the Star’s Eagle River office.
Jordan and Chinooks general manger Chris Beck made the rounds around Chugiak-Eagle River this week in order to give local supporters an update on where things stand with the team formerly known as the Athletes in Action Fire. Beck’s itinerary included stops at the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber and Rotary clubs, as well as meetings with the booster club and the Eagle River Parks and Recreation Department.
The community’s reception to the new team, Jordan said, has been very favorable.
“The amount of interest and enthusiasm is surprising,” Jordan said.
Based in Ohio, the Athletes in Action organization is responsible for running the team and recruiting players, Beck said. Players must raise their own money to help defray the team’s travel and other costs, but the booster club must still come up with about $50,000 to cover the rest.
Jordan said the booster club has already raised a significant portion of that by selling outfield stadium signs and advertising in the club’s programs. The booster club is also offering season tickets and other advertising opportunities.
“I’m confident we’re going to get there,” Jordan said.
Jordan said the nonprofit booster club was formed solely with the intent of helping the Chinooks succeed in Chugiak-Eagle River.
“Nobody’s getting any money out of this,” he said. “It all goes into the program.”
Athletes in Action is different from other ABL organizations in that it’s a faith-based squad whose players must adhere to a specific set of guidelines, Beck said — guidelines that include attending daily “discipleship” Bible study meetings and helping out with community service projects.
“Our program is about developing the whole athlete,” Beck said. “The physical, the emotional and the spiritual.”
Beck said the team spends a lot of its off time working in the local community on public service.
“We’ll just jump in and help out,” he said.
Aside from the funding issue, both men said the biggest challenge facing the team right now is housing.
“Housing is a big need,” Jordan said.
So far, Beck said, four host families have been located to take in players from early June through the beginning of August. The team needs at least 10 more families, and the booster club is also looking for two homes or apartments for Beck and the team’s head coach, John Groth. Both men plan to bring their wives and three kids each.
Beck said the volunteer host families will need to provide two meals and a bed for each player. Some families also provide transportation, though that’s not mandatory. Mainly, Beck said he’s looking for folks who just want to help out the program for the summer.
“It’s not a lot in return, because they’re giving a lot to the kids,” he said.
Jordan said he’s hopeful people will roll out the welcome mat because they want to have a positive impact on the community and its fledgling baseball team.
“My goal in all this is to make the players so happy that they’re going to go back and tell their friends in college, ‘You need to go play in Chugiak-Eagle River,” he said.
Anyone interested in providing housing for the team can contact Jordan at 688-9068.
Beck said he’s excited about getting settled into the team’s new hometown. When Athletes in Action was based in Fairbanks, he said, road trips could take between seven and 10 hours. Being located in Southcentral, he said, will make a world of difference both in travel costs and hometown support.
“When we were in Fairbanks, we were always the ‘other’ team,” he said.
Beck — who finally got to see snow on the ground during his first wintertime Alaska visit — said he was blown away by the amount of support he’s seen thus far from the Chugiak-Eagle River community.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “It’s a small town but a big atmosphere.”
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org