‘A Beacon of Hope, Fairbanks Baseball Shines Through Adversity’

The 115th annual ‘Midnight Sun Game’ took place in Fairbanks, Alaska on Saturday, June 20th.  Members of the MSBL affiliated Fairbanks Adult Amateur Baseball League, headed up by league president Christoph Falke, were the participants in this long-time traditional game by filling in at the last minute.

Laura Stickells is a reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper in Fairbanks.  She wrote an article about the game and also contributed pictures to the feature.  Below are some excerpts from her story published June 22nd.  Thank you, Christoph, for sending this along to us to share.

‘A Beacon of Hope, Fairbanks Baseball Shines Through Adversity’

By Laura Stickells, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

The Eielson Brewers defeated the BlackSpruce Pirates 15-13 in the 115th annual Midnight Sun Game, but no one in the bleachers or on the field seemed to care.  All that mattered was that at 10:00 pm on the summer solstice, two teams took the field at Growden Memorial Park and played a baseball game using only the light from the sun.  This year, that seemingly simple task was anything but.

Since the coronavirus shut down the sports world in March, getting two baseball teams on any field this summer has proven to be almost impossible.

At 7:00 pm Saturday, almost everyone had given up on the longstanding Fairbanks tradition, too.  But inertia from the previous 114 consecutive years honoring America’s pastime under Alaska’s midnight sun would prove indomitable.

The tradition originated as a bet between two local bars and the game has taken place every year since with the Alaska Goldpanners, the Fairbanks summer league team, becoming the host in 1960.

The Goldpanners were forced to cancel their 2020 season as a result of the coronavirus, forgoing their role in the tradition for the first time in 60 years.  And though the Fairbanks Adult Amateur Baseball League and the Alliance Youth Baseball League had rallied to play a seven inning All-Star game in its place, a major rainstorm rolled into Fairbanks on Friday, soaking the city for 24 hours.

Three hours before first pitch, the yellow artificial base paths were swamped, dugouts were flooded and the outfield was saturated.

The Alliance opted to pull the plug but Billy Robideau wasn’t going to let rain uproot 114 years of tradition.  “I just knew we could make it work,” Robideau said after the game.  FAABL president Christoph Falke didn’t need much convincing.  The two sent out a message to the MSBL league’s four teams, letting them know that despite the hours of rain and drizzle, the game was not cancelled and to come to the field to play.

A total of 25 players showed up.  “Everybody was excited to eat mosquitoes and keep the tradition going,” Falke said after the game, laughing as he spit out one of the bugs swarming the field.  “But really, that was the motivation.  Rain or shine, we’ve got to keep the tradition going.”

But despite the commitment from the players, cooperation from the field would be necessary to get the game started at 10:00 pm, per solstice tradition.  Players grabbed brooms and began attempting to sweep the field dry.  Others used wheelbarrows to remove the mud and bring in fresh dirt.  A small industrial pump made quick work of the massive puddles at the backstop and in the dugouts.

About 40 spectators had heard word of the cancelled-then-uncancelled tradition and were spread out in the seats.  Some families and friends were huddled under their umbrellas, others covering themselves with blankets, but most just sat out in the rain.

The small crowd indeed paled in comparison to that of a normal year.  The summer tradition Baseball America previously dubbed as one of the “12 Must-See Events for the Baseball Fan” typically draws over 3,000 spectators from across the country.

For Falke, hearing Willa Watts sing the national anthem made the pickup game feel like a real Midnight Sun Game and not just a baseball game played at midnight.

Falke’s statement carries some weight considering he spent the summers of 1994 and 1996 as a pitcher for the Goldpanners.  He was on the roster for the solstice game both seasons.  Falke made it to the mound this year, providing relief for the BlackSpruce Pirates in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. 

A double rainbow slowly emerged after the drizzle completely subsided in the bottom of the fifth inning.  A strikeout signaled the end of the game at 12:47 am.

Although the event looked nothing like the one the Goldpanners had put on the last 60 years, after watching outfielders fishing balls out of puddles and players swatting away hordes of mosquitoes the size of quarters, it was impossible to say the spirit of the event was anything but true.

“I think I need to let it sink in a little bit that we actually kept this game going,” Falke said before mosquitoes finally pushed him off the field.  “I’m so happy these other players showed up, even though they were at home and it was pouring down rain.”