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The sun's been shining on the Panners in recent years
By RICHARD LARSON
Now the Panners have turned the premier natural promotion in baseball into the ultimate home field advantage.
Through the first 14 years of playing under the midnight sun, the Panners were 7-7 and had played some of their worst baseball during the contest.
Since then, they have gone 24-3 in Midnight Sun Games, often winning in dramatic fashion.
The Panners have now won seven solstice contests in a row, by a combined score of 69-22, and will be looking for their eighth straight tonight when they face the Santa Barbara Foresters starting at 10:30 p.m. at Growden Memorial Park.
In 1991, Brett Backlund drilled a home run in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Panners to a 9-8 come-from-behind win over the South Lake Tahoe Stars. In 1998, the Panners score three runs in the bottom of the ninth to knock off the Kelowna Grizzlies 14-13.
The Panners cruised to a 7-1 win over the Oceanside Waves last year.
The Goldpanners weren't always so successful in the Midnight Sun Game, however.
In 1967 before the largest crowd in Growden Park history--5,200--the Panners lost 10-3 to Kumagi-Gumi of Japan, the only loss they suffered in an eight-game series between the clubs.
The Panners lost four of five Midnight Sun Games between 1969 and 1973, losing to the Ponchatoula Athletics in 1972 in their first national championship season and in 1973 to the Brigham Young University Cougars at the start of another national title run. The loss to BYU was the only game in a five-game series with the Cougars that the Panners didn't win.
Whether they have been winning or losing is irrelevant as far as attendance is been concerned. More than 3,500 fans regularly turn out for what the Goldpanners bill as the top natural promotion in baseball.
Baseball America calls it one of the top 12 baseball events in the nation, including the Midnight Sun Game among a list that features the College World Series, the Little League World Series and the New York Yankees playing the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
As each game starts the sun is dipping below the horizon in the northwest, and by the time the game is over the sky is brightening as the sun begins to rise in the northeast. The game is, and has always been, played without the aid of artificial lights.
The tradition of playing baseball throughout the night on the summer solstice apparently began in 1906 from a bet between a pair of bar teams on whether or not it could be done. They discovered it could be done, and it has been played every year since.
Ed Stroecker, father of current Alaska Goldpanners president William G. Stroecker, was a member of one of those early teams.
The Goldpanners took over the Midnight Sun Game tradition in 1960, defeating the Fairbanks Pioneers 11-1. The Panners have played 37 different teams in the 41-year history of the game.
The game has never been canceled because of darkness, although the 1984 game ended after seven innings. The Taiwan Olympic Team led the Goldpanners 2-1 in that game, but protested the dark conditions in the fifth inning and were told by the umpire the game wouldn't be halted until at least seven innings were complete, according to the Goldpanners' media guide.
At the end of seven innings, despite a brightening horizon, the Taiwanese team refused to take the field for the eighth inning and the Goldpanners were awarded a 9-0 forfeit win.
The 1968 and 1994 games were each delayed a day because of rain.
Dan Grimm, named the 1972 team's most valuable pitcher, will deliver tonight's ceremonial first pitch. Anchorage Daily News Sports Editor and author Lew Freedman will be on hand to sign copies of his new book, "Diamonds in the Rough," which chronicles the history of the Alaska Baseball League.
Fairbanks City Clerk Nancy DeLeon will sing Alaska's Flag at the end of the half-inning nearest midnight.
June 21, 2000, Daily News-Miner