Each June 20, 21, 22, each equal in time as the longest day of the year (with a full 24 hours of daylight in the vast Tanana Valley), the Panners begin their widely acclaimed contest at 10:30 p.m. The game continues straight through the hour of midnight and often lasts as late as 2 a.m.
Never once has artificial lighting been used for this unique event, and never has the game been postponed or delayed because of darkness.
The "high noon at midnight" classic, as best can be determined, originated in Fairbanks in 1906. Every year since it has become a ritual to play the game on the solstice.
The tradition was adopted by the Panners in 1960, their first season of operation. Through 1962, the Panners met the North of the Range All-Stars but, since 1963, a different opponent - usually from out of state - has been invited each year to participate in the symbolic event.
“To be able to
represent the Great Lakes League and the Great Lakes region in the Midnight
Sun game is one of the greatest opportunities our organization will have
ever taken part in” - Jim DeSana, the Monarchs General Manager
Each games adds some new thrilling
chapter to the hundred-year-old tradition.
One of the Goldpanners' most dramatic classics ever came in
1991 when the Panners'
Brett Backlund drilled a bottom of the 9th inning home run to provide a come-from-behind win over the South Lake Tahoe, Ca, Stars.
2000 Midnight Sun Game, the Goldpanners defeated the
Santa Barbara Foresters in one of the most exciting midnight contests ever. Former Goldpanners Most Valuable Pitcher
Dan Grimm (71-72-73) was on hand to throw out the first pitch.
Each year since the turn of the century has seen the excitement
surrounding each game increase dramatically.
The 2000, 2001 and 2002 games were all won by the Goldpanners in their final at-bat.
With the 100th year of observation approaching, another grand chapter to
the lore surrounding the game was added through the emergence of Goldpanners
pitcher Sean Timmons. Timmons was the Midnight Sun Game winner in
both 2002 and 2004, his two wins tying him with three others for most wins in
Midnight Sun Game history. Sean also started and won in 2005 -
the 100th Midnight Sun Game - to become the all-time winningest pitcher in the
solstice classic's history. Accordingly, the Major League Baseball
Hall of Fame and Museum sought out Sean after the game for exhibit submissions.
Sean ended up donating his hat, jersey and glove to commemorate his historic
In 2006, the high drama continued as the Goldpanners captured the win in
their final at-bat yet again. The 2007 contest saw the Goldpanners' 14
year winning streak snapped by the Oceanside, CA, Waves. Waves
founder and manager Mike Studer, a Fairbanks native, led his club to a
convincing 6-1 win in front of over 4,000 fans.
One of the finest games in the 103 year history of the event was played
in 2008. Bill "Spaceman" Lee - a longtime major league pitcher and alum
from the 1966-67 Panners - returned to Fairbanks to avenge his loss in the 1967
Midnight Sun Game. Though 61 years old, Lee was able to stymie the
college-aged competition over six innings pitched. Through fantastic
defensive heroics, the Goldpanners were able to preserve the win for Lee, who
waited 41 years for redemption.
With over 4,900 fans in attendance in 2008,
Bill secured both the first and second largest crowds ever to witness a Midnight
Sun Game. In 1967, as Bill faced Kumagai-Gumi Japan, an all-time record
crowd of 5,200 was on hand to witness the Japanese victory.
The 2008 Goldpanners Team Baseball Card
Set commemorates his historic achievement.
In 2009 the Goldpanners were handed a rare
defeat at the hands of the Oceanside, CA, Waves - led by Fairbanksan Mike Studer.
The Waves are set to appear in Fairbanks again in 2011, giving the Goldpanners a
chance for some redemption of their own.
The 105th Midnight Sun Game, in 2010, was one of the finest in memory.
A 15-inning marathon between the Goldpanners and the U.S. Military "Heroes of
the Diamond" came down to some intense action and a critical injury.
The emotion released at the outcome had been pent up since the brilliant
pre-game show. Special dignitary was Norm Jenkins, a
longtime Goldpanners player host, and 100% disabled veteran of Korea and
Vietnam. Footage of this awe-inspiring event is available via
playing of the MSG will be remembered as one of the wildest in the
tradition's history. With the game knotted up in the 11th inning,
gale force winds combined with dark clouds and pounding rain -- causing the
umpires to postpone the game for the first time in its history. When play
resumed at 6:00 pm, the Goldpanners promptly scored the winning run, defeating
the Oceanside, CA, Waves.
On June 21, in 2014, the Goldpanners will
host their 55th solstice classic - over one-half of all 109 games played. As always, play will be stopped at the half-inning nearest midnight for the traditional singing of the Alaska Flag Song.