CHUGIAK – Excitement. Anticipation. Expectations. Three words that characterize the opening of training camp in all sports and the 2015 season for the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks is no exception. Saturday marked the beginning of the summer experience for Chinooks baseball club complete with the first team meetings, practice, and the annual meet and greet barbecue.
As usual, there will be a mix of new and old faces around Loretta French Park for fourth season of Alaska Baseball League competition for the Fish. General Manager Chris Beck returns to Alaska for his 16th season at the helm of Athletes in Action Baseball’s team in Alaska. On the field, Beck was able to retain pitchers Shane Armstrong of Hillsdale College and Michael Fairchild of Azusa Pacific University.
“This summer I’m just looking to improve again, get my off-speed stuff better and overall just have a great time playing the game,” mentioned Fairchild following the first meetings as a team. “Alaska is a very unique experience in a lot of ways as far as baseball goes and the experience. I want to stick to my process and see how it works.”
Fairchild had 9 starts for the Chinooks last summer that aided him to a solid spring that saw him go 4-2 for the APU Cougars over 11 starts including 2 complete-game shutouts. Armstrong returns to Alaska after a 5-5 senior campaign with the Hillsdale Chargers with a four-hit shutout also on his résumé.
Apart from a mostly new roster, the blue and red will have a larger coaching staff including head coach Jordan Vierra. The name should ring familiar to some fans as he assisted former skipper Jon Groth in 2012, the Chinooks first season in Chugiak-Eagle River. He also spent time with Coach Groth as a player at Tyler Junior College before he moved on to UT-Tyler to finish his collegiate career and became a coach on their staff.
“I do understand I have very huge shoes to fill because Coach Groth is one of the biggest mentors I have had in my life,” says Vierra. “The fact that he isn’t able to come up here and Chris thought enough of me to offer me the position means the world to me.”
Vierra was also meeting these players for the first time as well but was quick to offer his optimism towards the group as a whole.
“This is a group that is going to come together really fast and be one of those groups that will be fun to be around all year. I’m excited to see what they will be able to do this summer,” states Vierra.
Once introductions and the first team meeting took place, the newest group to the Fish Family made their way to feast their eyes on one of the most pristine sights in all of the Alaska Baseball League, Lee Jordan Field at Loretta French Park. A variety of field maintenance was quickly addressed and 23 sponsor banners were fixed on the outfield fence.
After a brief throwing and hitting session, the team migrated across the street for a barbecue that allowed members of the Chugiak-Eagle River community, complete with the Chinooks Booster Club and host families of the players. Chris Beck made a brief address to thank everyone who makes this summer possible each and every year while the players introduced themselves to their biggest fans.
Looking at Loretta French Park now gives everyone the sense that the thought of baseball in Chugiak is a reality returning to Alaska. The Chinooks open up the season at home on Tuesday, June 9 with an exhibition game with the Matsu Miners beginning at 7 pm.