2014 Season Wrap Up

Another season of the Alaska Baseball League has now come and gone, and the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks are able to build upon their third year in the community.  Similar to the years past, the 2014 season shared the ups and downs with a strong finish throughout the month of July.

Chinooks vs Miners on Opening Night

Chinooks vs Miners on Opening Night

Finishing the year with a 13-25 record, it really was a tale of two different months.  The Fish finished the month of June at 4-14, but held a 9-11 record through July and carrying the role of the spoiler to several teams still in the hunt for an ABL championship.

In terms of the ABL, the landscape of the competition was a little different compared to years past.  This was the first year splitting into two divisions (American and National) that had the teams in each division become very familiar with each other.  Out of 38 games, 23 were played against division opponents the Mat-su Miners and Anchorage Glacier Pilots.  The Chinooks match ups with the Peninsula Oilers and Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks were then limited to only a handful of meetings.  The team made just one trip to the famous Bingo Hilton in Kenai that brings every team in close quarters and late-night games of mafia.  Fairbanks was also a destination for the Chinooks just once this year, but there was no baseball to be played with rain washing out both games slated with the Panners.

Of course throughout a memorable summer for all the players, there were numerous games that couldn’t be forgotten.  The Mat-su Miners were one team that really gave the Chinooks headaches all season.  Opening night at Loretta French Park saw the two teams play evenly over eight innings, and the Chinooks took a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning.  However, the “Rally in the Valley” claimed its first victim with a five run top of the ninth inning to win the opening contest of 2014.  Two other times the Miners shocked the Chinooks with walk-off wins at the Miners home in Palmer.  On July 9, it looked like the Fish had the Miners number despite several losses against the same squad.  However, Miners slugger Cameron Newell launched a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to erase another 3-1 deficit.  In the final meeting between the two clubs on July 26, the Chinooks played in their only extra-inning game.  The ‘Nooks took the lead in the top of the tenth, but the Miners got two to win 5-4.

Who could forget Geoff Murphy's stylish stirrups?

Who could forget Geoff Murphy’s stylish stirrups?

Close games became a theme throughout the year.  They were on the short side of the stick in many of these contests with a 1-7 record in one-run games and also lost 11 games by 3 runs or less.  Apart from twice by the Miners, the Chinooks were walked off by the Pilots and Oilers once as well.  Despite several tough losses that formulated over the late innings, the Fish were able to enjoy the spoils of some huge wins themselves.

On the longest day of the year came the biggest comeback of the season in the Summer Solstice Showdown at Mulcahy Field in Anchorage.  The Fish trailed from the beginning and 5-0 to the Glacier Pilots at one point.  They found four runs in each the eighth and ninth innings to eventually win 8-5.  Hits and runs kept coming and forced a couple of mishaps by the Pilots, but the Chinooks capitalized on each one as the two teams played into the morning hours of June 22.

The Chinooks gave their home crowd at Loretta French Park a lot of memories and tremendous team performances.  Anchorage’s other team, the Bucs, saw the Chinooks bats come to life late against them as well.  In a July 11 meeting and trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Chinooks turned to outfielder James Nevant.  Nevant had struggled at the plate at the time going just 4 for his last 35 at bats, but came through in the  clutch with a three-run, game-winning home run.  This sparked a five-game winning streak, the longest of the season and longest by the Chinooks since moving to Chugiak-Eagle River.

Eleven days later, the Chinooks biggest offensive day happened against the Bucs.  This was highlighted by a seven run third inning that featured eight straight base hits by the Fish.  With a superb start from Thomas Altimont, the Chinooks were well on their way to their most lopsided win of the year, winning 10-3.

Despite several stellar performances on the mound, the Chinooks pitching staff mustered two shutouts, both at home.  The first came on July 17 and was a true team effort.  Pitching coach Chris Beck took the strategy of limiting innings so all of the pitchers could throw in front of the scouts at the two showcase games in the days to follow.  Four different pitchers took the hill including Altimont, Ryan Harris, Kyle McDorman, and Shane Armstrong.  All four tossed at least two innings and only gave up a combined five hits by the Peninsula Oilers.  What turned out to be the final game of the season was July 27 at Loretta French with the Glacier Pilots.  Dan Przeniczny dazzled with a complete game shutout where he struck out seven hitters and surrendered only four hits.

Chinooks at Military Appreciation Night

Chinooks at Military Appreciation Night

Several special events resonated with everyone within the organization.  The most impressive was the show put on at Military Appreciation Night on June 18.  The Chinooks honored men and women from all branches of the military, and had trucks and Humvees on display behind the ballpark.  It was a memorable site with current and former military members standing with each Chinooks player during the National Anthem.  It was a team effort behind the scenes as several players got to meet with the veterans to make sure their information was correct for public address announcer Dave Stroh to recognize them all.

ABL All-Star weekend consisted of two showcase games on Friday and Saturday, followed by the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game on Sunday.  The Fish won both of their showcase games against the Oilers and Pilots.  Steven Pollex, the team leader in home runs in 2014, and Jackson Cramer represented the Chinooks in the HR Derby.  Pollex was knocked out early,but Cramer continued to put on a show at Mulcahy Field.  A competition-high five first round dingers catapulted Cramer to the finals where he came out on top as the first ever Chinook to win the contest.  Cramer and Pollex then joined Altimont, McDorman, Jon Popadics, and Billy Arendt in the All-Star Game that followed.

2014 Chinooks All-Stars Jon Popadics, Billy Arendt, Kyle McDorman, Jackson Cramer, Steven Pollex, and Thomas Altimont

2014 Chinooks All-Stars
Jon Popadics, Billy Arendt, Kyle McDorman, Jackson Cramer, Steven Pollex, and Thomas Altimont

Rain washed out the Chinooks final scheduled game of the season, but the team and booster club still met and mingled over a dinner full of grilled salmon, burgers, cake, and other carried in delights.  The occasion was a special one that had a legal stamp put on it to have the field that the Chinooks have played on each summer for the past three summer at Loretta French Park has been renamed Lee Jordan Field.  The Chinooks Booster Club president is an avid supporter of the team and has been a local baseball icon in Chugiak-Eagle River.  He formed the Knik Little League and mentored the first Alaskan baseball team to win in the Lower 48.  Jordan also played a pivotal role with the Chinooks settling in Chugiak-Eagle River after spending 12 years in Fairbanks.  The honor is just a fraction of the appreciation that he has in the community for his work to bring high-level baseball competition to the area.

As the season has come to a close and August begins, the players will scatter out all over the country to their hometowns and college campuses over the next month.  After three seasons in Chugiak-Eagle River, the Chinooks have built an excellent foundation to continue to improve, and coaches Jon Groth and Chris Beck look to return in 2015 with a team ready to compete for a championship to bring to the community.

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