Austin Peay's Nolan Monaghan (APSU photo)

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From The Land Of The Midnight Sun To The Fields Of Division I

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The history of D1 athletes from the state of Alaska is not a long one. There are a number of hockey players from the state, which you would expect since there are two Division I programs in the state at the Universities of Alaska-Fairbanks and Alaska-Anchorage. Oddly, there are a handful of famous Alaskan basketball stars who went on to big time college hoops in Kansas guard Mario Chalmers and Duke All-Americans Trajan Langdon and Carlos Boozer. There have even been some footballers, like Darryn Colledge, who played at Boise State and, even though he didn’t play Division I, Mark Schlereth starred at Idaho before going to a Hall of Fame NFL career as well.

But baseball? That’s not an Alaskan sport, is it? I mean, do they play with yellow baseballs so you can see them in the snow? Do they make warning tracks out of nail clippings from husky dogs that run the Iditarod?

Well the answer is yes, there IS baseball in our 49th state at the high school level. Admittedly, there is historically not a lot to lean on. But there is Curt Schilling, who was born in Anchorage. Everybody remembers his gutty effort in the World Series for the Red Sox. The state also boasts pitchers Daniel Schlereth (Mark’s son), Tony Barnette and Chad Bentz, who went on to play for Arizona, Arizona State and Long Beach State in the 2000s, respectively. Those four are part of 12 players in baseball history who were born in Alaska and went on to play in the Major Leagues. Ironically, only those three actually played at the Division I level in college. And only one of them, Bentz, stayed in the state to play high school ball before going to college.

In the shortened 2020 season, two such players from the Last Frontier were competing on the D1 level, Nolan Monaghan, a senior left-handed pitcher for Austin Peay who played his high school ball for Wasilla High, and Paul Steffensen, a junior outfielder for Tennessee Tech, who high schooled in Kenai. So yes, ironically, the only two Alaskans both travelled a long way to play for competing programs in the Ohio Valley Conference.

As you might expect, high school ball can be a little different up there. Especially, when you consider that Anchorage is on nearly the same latitude as Oslo, Norway and Reykjavik, Iceland.

“At the end of March is when we are pushing to get the field ready,” Monaghan says. “We are usually chipping away a couple inches of ice off home plate.”

Depending on when things start to heat up enough – you know, above 40 degrees or so – the practices could start in early April and games at the end of the month. The fields themselves can be a little hither and yon. Some have regular grass infields, some all dirt and the good news is that more and more Alaska fields are converting to field turf, which is much kinder to wetter and colder environments, allowing games to get played earlier than in past years.

“A lot more are transitioning to field turf, yeah,“ Monaghan says. “But there are still some really rough fields. There is one in Ketchikan that is made up of nothing but pea gravel and seashells… And I mean the entire field. To prepare that field for games they’d just put a truck on it and drag the whole field.”

 

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