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Rain washes away games in Kenai, but BP begins at Mulcahy

Bad news, rain washed away today's games at the Bill Miller Big Fish Wood Bat Tournament in Kenai.

The good news? The 20th annual BP Invitational begins today with a pair of early games - 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Mulcahy Stadium.

The marquee event of the Alaska Airlines Tournament Tour continues through the weekend, with five games on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Service reaches title game of wood bat tourney, opponent TBD

The Service Post 28 baseball team today reached the championship game of the Bill Miller Big Fish Wood Bat Tournament in Kenai with a 6-3 victory over host Post 20 at Oiler Park.

Then it started to rain and the second semifinal was pushed back a day.

Columbia Post 19 of Tennessee and the Strathmore Reds of Alberta, Canada, will square off at 9 a.m. Thursday morning at Oiler Park.

The winner will face Service in the title game at noon.

Service, Columbia [TN] win pool play at Bill Miller Wood Bat

Both Alaska teams more than held their own during the first day of the Bill Miller Big Fish Wood Bat Tournament in Kenai.

Service Post 28 won a game and tied another while Kenai Post 20 won a game during American Legion action.

Service beat the Strathmore Reds of Alberta, Canada, 2-1 after tying Team Avenue of California 4-4 earlier in the day. Service won the tiebreaker to be awarded the victory in the tournament standings.

Kenai beat Colchester, Vermont, 8-0.

Columbia Post 19 from Tennessee swept both of its games today, beating Vermont 3-2 and Kenai 11-2.

The Canadians opened the day with a 6-1 win over Team Avenue.

The Bill Miller Wood Bat Tournament continues Wednesday with three games:

9 AM Colchester [VT] vs. Team Avenue [CA]

12 PM Service vs. Kenai

3 PM Strathmore [CAN] vs. Columbia [TN]

The tournament concludes Thursday with three games, including a noon championship game between the winners of tomorrow's 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. semifinals.

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Team Avenue of California happy to be part of Alaska Airlines Tour

Drawing interest from players all over the country, the Team Avenue Baseball Academy didn’t have trouble filling its roster for a trip to The Last Frontier.

“You really don’t have to sell Alaska,” manager Thomari Story-Harden told me. “Our players were excited about the opportunity. They knew if it wasn’t for baseball they probably would never come.”

The same could be said about Alaska Airlines.

The title sponsor for the annual Alaska American Legion tournament series provided teams with discounted tickets to make the long journey north more cost effective. The Alaska Airlines Tournament Tour makes stops in Fairbanks, Wasilla, Kenai and Anchorage.

Team Avenue, which is stationed in California but features players from multiple states, won the tour’s second stop at the Todd Ryan Memorial Tournament in Wasilla, beating the host team 4-2 in Sunday’s championship game.

That made the team 4-0 in Alaska.

“We feel blessed to have this opportunity to come to Alaska and experience such hospitable players and coaches,” Story-Harden said. “Our players left it all on the field and we ended up winning every game. The other teams really made us work for what we accomplished.”

The players from Team Avenue met for the first time in Los Angeles to catch an Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage. They are from California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Mississippi and Massachusetts.

“We have to gel in a short amount of time,” Story-Harden said. “It’s always seems as if it was meant to be. The players play as if they have been playing together since they were 5 years old. Very impressive to watch.”

Team Avenue is one of four Outside teams participating in the Bill Miller Big Fish Wood Bat Tournament, which starts today in Kenai. The other visiting teams are the Strathmore Reds out of Alberta, Canada; Colchester, Vermont; and Columbia, Tennessee.

Columbia Post 19 was here two years ago.

Team Avenue already wants to come back.

“Alaska is the most beautiful place I have ever seen,” Story-Harden said. “We went out on a tour boat [Monday]. The glaciers and wildlife are breathtaking. I see why there are a lot of transplants from other states that move here. Our players have had a blast thus far. We hope to continue to experience Alaska’s greatness.”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Wasilla, Team Avenue in Todd Ryan title game Sunday

The Wasilla Post 35 baseball team has made it to the title game of its own tournament.

The Road Warriors punched their ticket with a 2-1 victory over Bartlett Post 29 in the semifinal of the Todd Ryan Memorial Tournament at McManus Field.

Wasilla will face the Team Avenue Baseball Academy of California. Team Avenue edged Colchester, Vermont, in a 1-0 thriller in the other semifinal.

Team Avenue is 3-0 in Alaska.

The Todd Ryan Tournament wraps up Sunday with three games:

12 PM Palmer vs. Bartlett

3 PM Colchester [VT] vs. East

6 PM Team Avenue [CA] vs. Wasilla [title game]

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Bartlett, Team Avenue on top after pool play at Todd Ryan

The rebirth of the Bartlett Post 29 baseball team continued today at the Todd Ryan Memorial Tournament in Wasilla.

The Bears beat Colchester, Vermont, 8-6 at McManus Field to win Pool B and improve to 11-8-1 on the American Legion season. Bartlett won the pool with three points; Vermont was second with two points and Palmer third with one point.

In Pool A, the Team Avenue Baseball Academy of California swept two Alaska teams today to finish with four points. Team Avenue beat East Post 34 11-5 and Wasilla Post 35 12-9.

It was only Wasilla’s third loss in 13 games this season. The Road Warriors – the tournament host – finished second after pool play with two points; East was third.

The tournament continues Saturday with three games:

12 PM East vs. Palmer

3 PM Wasilla vs. Bartlett

6 PM Colchester [VT]  vs. Team Avenue [CA]

The winners from the 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. games will meet for the championship Sunday night.

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage the the ALB Media Director.

Dimond Post 21 wins Midnight Sun tourney title in Fairbanks

Backed by solid pitching and timely hitting, Dimond Post 21 recorded a 4-0 mark in Fairbanks over the weekend to win the annual Midnight Sun Tournament.

Dimond swept both Fairbanks teams in four consecutive close games, winning twice by one run and once by two runs.

Dimond has won eight of nine games to begin the season.

Payton Lauwers earned MVP honors after hitting .357 in the tournament with two singles, two doubles and a three-run home run. He finished with six RBIs and a .438 on-base percentage.

In the team’s first game, Lauwers hit a game-tying home run and then eventually scored the winning game. In the final game his RBI base hit solidified a 6-2 win.

He was hardly the only all-star. Dimond was full of them during the tournament title run.

“Every single game could have gone either way so it made for exciting baseball coming down to the final couple innings,” Dimond assistant manager Cherie Remmer told me. “We had some very good pitching from a variety of players. We walked very few batters, which reduced the opportunity for cheap runs. We were able to take advantage of a few errors to manufacture runs and our bats woke up at key times to give us the win.”

The Midnight Sun Tournament is part of the Alaska Airlines Tournament Tour, which also includes stops in Wasilla, Kenai and Anchorage. The next tournament is the Todd Ryan Memorial at McManus Field, which runs July 3-6 in Wasilla.

Fairbanks Post 30 took second in the tournament and Fairbanks Post 11 placed third.

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Spink hits reset button, starts new scoreless streak

They say relievers must have a short memory in baseball because they pitch so often.

Conor Spink of Eagle River can relate.

Three days after having his career-high 26.2-inning consecutive scoreless streak snapped, the southpaw setup man with the Lincoln Saltdogs got to work on a new streak.

The 26-year-old threw goose eggs in back-to-back appearances this week, including a four-out hold in a 6-5 win over St. Paul in the American Association, an independent pro league in the Midwest.

Spink, of Chugiak High fame, lowered his ERA to 0.57 in 15.2 innings over 11 games this season. Opposing batters are hitting just .172 against the lefty. 

The last time he gave up an earned run was Aug. 6, 2013.

He didn’t give up another one until June 18, 2014.

For his pro career Spink has a 2.99 ERA in 76 relief appearances.

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

They don’t call Juneau the bears for nothing

An Alaska Legion Baseball game made national news this week after video footage showed a black bear visiting this weekend’s game featuring the West Post 1 and Juneau Post 25 in Juneau.

The bear showed up in left field in the fifth inning.

Here is the link: http://archipelagowebcasting.com, courtesy of Larry Johansen.

“Only in Alaska,” Johansen told me.

The clip has gone viral.

“I’m getting calls from ABC News, CNN, AP,” Johansen said. “It’s gone worldwide. ESPN wants to show it. Do the West kids know they are stars and might be on SportsCenter tonight?”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

Have arm, will travel; Nading now pitching in Japan

Chad Nading’s love for baseball has taken the Anchorage right-handed pitcher all over the country and now all the way to Japan, where he is playing for the Ishikawa Million Stars.

The 26-year-old has been with the team since March, used as a reliever in late-game situations. He’s happy he made the move and believes it was the right decision to extend his career.

“Before coming to Japan I was very nervous to make such a big decision at this point of my career, but once I landed I was greeted with open arms and became very comfortable,” he told me. “New country, new culture and new opportunities to succeed in the game I love, it’s more than I could ask for.” 

Nading, of East High fame, had pitched professionally in the minor leagues for a last few years, including a stint last year at extended spring training with the Boston Red Sox.

Last November he attended a two-day tryout for Japanese scouts in Fresno, Calif., where he threw well enough to get drafted by the Ishikawa Million Stars. Nading is probably the only Alaska baseball player to be drafted by the MLB and BCL in Japan. 

The 6-foot-5 Alaskan has changed his delivery, throwing more side arm as opposed to over the top like he used to.

“I have become comfortable and committed to it,” he said. “I have been doing well. I am as good as I can be to show the major leagues I can compete with the best here in Japan.”

The game is the same, but different.

The pitching mounds feature soft sand, rather than hard dirt. There is more small-ball strategy, with a bunt, hit and run or stolen base attempt each inning. They practice six hours, not two.

The hitters have a different approach.

“Japanese hitters aren’t trying to hit home runs every swing like American players,” he said. “They just look to make contact and force the defense to make plays.”

Japanese pitchers also throw a ton on the side.

“I have witnesses teammates throw up to 160-pitch bullpens back-to-back days, something you would never see in America,” he said. 

And the fans don’t boo or leave early.

“Every game sounds like the World Cup with cheering sections of trumpets and drums and people chanting every single pitch,” Nading said. “The Japanese live for baseball. Fans here don’t worry about beating traffic; they stick around to the last pitch and then for another hour afterwards to greet us with gifts and food and just to say ‘Good job.’”

This story was written by Van Williams, a freelance writer in Anchorage and the ALB Media Director.

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