After delay, it's finally opening day
Ok, let’s try this again.
After suffering a rainout in their scheduled home opener on Tuesday, June 12, the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks will begin their tenure at Loretta French Park with a clash against the Mat-Su Miners at 7 p.m. Opening ceremonies for the historic game begin at 6:30 p.m.
Chinooks returner AJ Work couldn’t be happier to be moving into town.
“One of the reasons I came back was because I knew we’d have a home with a community behind us,” Work said last week, shortly after arriving in his summertime hometown. “Last year, we were away the whole time.”
The scheduled league season opener against the Bucs was called off midway through Thursday afternoon when club officials said the day’s constant downpour made conditions unplayable.
“That’s Alaska,” said general manager Chris Beck.
Beck said the game will be rescheduled for either later this month or late July.
Barring more rain, the Chinooks were to open their season on Wednesday, June 13, in Anchorage against the Bucs at Mulcahy Stadium. Check www.alaskastar.com for scores and updates.
The Chinooks, formerly the Athletes in Action Fire, had been based in Fairbanks. Last year, they played out of Anchorage but were essentially homeless.
The season was exhausting, said returner J.J. Turbin.
“We were on a bus the whole time,” he said. “It will be nice to have a home field.”
But Loretta French needed some work before the start of the ABL season. Luckily, the team is full of able-bodied college ballplayers.
The weekend before their season opener, the Chinooks were edging the infield, leveling the dirt along the base lines making some aesthetic improvements to the park.
No one minded the manual labor.
“When you work on something, you appreciate it more,” Work said. “We’re making this our true home field.”
Manager Jon Groth also manned a shovel.
“It comes with the territory,” Groth said. “You have to be half maintenance worker and half coach.”
Anchorage Parks and Recreation director John Rodda said part of the muni’s cooperative use agreement with the team states that the Chinooks must help with field maintenance and upkeep.
“They help take care of the ballpark,” Rodda said.
Rodda said improvements made to the park since last fall include paving around the outside of the field, adding enough bleachers to seat 240 spectators, installing a foul ball screen behind home plate, building a new press box and hooking up a weatherproof sound system.
“We took it from what was essentially a recreational field to a higher level baseball field for a higher level of play,” he said.
Rodda acknowledged that more can be done to get the facility more in line with larger ballparks in the ABL.
“There are longer term plans,” he said, noting that one amenity the park lacks is a permanent concession stand.
Rodda said he thinks having the Chinooks use the municipal grounds during the summer is an ideal way to get more people into the park.
“It’s great for the community and particularly the kids to get to see those athletes,” he said.
In its 2013 capital budget, the Alaska Legislature approved $400,000 for upgrades to the park, which is also home to Eagle River’s American Legion team — which also helps maintain the field.
Loretta French is unlike any other ABL park because it has no exterior fence around the stadium. Instead, fans can watch games as they roam around the field’s chain link fence.
The mountain views and scenic setting are another unique aspect to the park, and an advantage the Chinooks aren’t taking for granted about their new home.
“It’s a diamond in the rough,” Work said. “We’re just wiping away the dust.”
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727.