When you speak of Alaskan baseball, you generally correct yourselfquickly and say, "What did I just say? ALASKAN baseball? Why on earthwould I say something as random as that? Alaskan baseball, that’s soweird. Bartender; another shot, sir!"
But they do have baseball in ‘Laska. In fact, they have a lot of it.And they get crowds. Well, compared to the Eugene Emeralds, anyway.
Why does this matter? Because I just touched base with ex-Canadianssidearm bullpen man, Zak "The Snake" Basch, who has taken a spot asAssistant GM with the Anchorage Bucs in the Alaskan League.
Basch had been MVP of the league previously, bamboozling all comerswith his 81mph scorchers coming at hitters from an angle somewherearound the where the second baseman stands, setting the all-time single-season relief record(0.62ERA in 43.2IP), and joining some elite Hall of Fame company in theprocess. He then got drafted by the Red Sox, traded to the A’s, whodidn’t seem to know what to do with him, and subsequently let go with asmall-sample, nasty stat line.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Zak ventured back to Alaska to catch upon old buddies, do a little radio, and then found himself in a frontoffice job with the Anchorage Bucs, which is kind of like puttingKirstie Alley in charge of a Jack in the Box - fun times!
Zak got into the news recently, when none other than the LA Timeswrote about the team approaching PokerShare.com, after the company hadoffered $100k for the naming rights to a small American town, andsuggesting they put their money somewhere a little more constructive -like the Bucs bank account. This wasn’t the first time The Snake hadfound himself in the news, so I decided to contact the Snakester and see how life in the Great White Northwest is treating him.
1. Every season, thousands ofball fans go on baseball pilgrimages - rookie ball, spring training,minor league bus trips, fantasy camp - what’s Alaskan ball got thatthose people really need to know about?
The Midnight Sun Game in Fairbanks, without a doubt. It is a mustsee. Every year on Summer Solstice (which is like a state holiday uphere), the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks play a game at 10:30 pmwithout the aid of artificial light. That’s’ right. No lights, and thegame starts at 10:30 pm. I would go into detail, but you really have tosee it to believe it. The atmosphere is like nothing else any baseballfan has seen. I have played in two and witnessed another, and eachexperience was unlike the others in so many ways. And, 2006 is the100th Anniversary of the first ever MSG, which was played as a bar betbetween two local pubs in 1906.
2. People on the mainland view Alaska as this snow-covered NorthernExposure land of misfits, eskimos, moose and drunks. Tell me how wrongI am.
You’re not wrong. And it’s "Lower 48," not "mainland." Hawaiianscall it the mainland. Alaskans call it the Lower 48. But seriously, itis a land of misfits. I mean, who in their right mind moves to Alaska?People who are either running from something or chasing something. Butthese misfits share a sort of comraderie or patriotism that mostAmericans have only read about. It’s sort of like everyone’s in ittogether. Seriously, there used to be a law here that it was illegalNOT to pick up hitchhikers.
3. When you’re watching the Bucs roll over some weak ass team from god knows where, do you ever get the urge to warm up?
No. The only time I get the urge to warm up is when it’s 2-1 in theninth against a bitter rival. Then I get the itch. But it passes quick.I was only throwing 81 in my "prime," so I don’t even want to thinkabout what I’d be throwing now.
4. Is life as a sidearmer easier or tougher than life as a fireballer.It strikes me that it’d be pretty hard to get good coaching when you’rethrowing unorthodox stuff in the minors, and similarly, that it wouldbe easier to get ‘typecast’ as a mop-up or one-out lefty guy, while thebig
guns get all the chances.
It was just different. I definitely had advantages that otherplayers didn’t have, but I had disadvantages as well. People mightargue that the only reason I got a chance was because I threw sidearm,which is a farce, but it is a common perception. I definitely gottypecast, but the bottom line is that if you get guys out they’ll keepyou around, and I didn’t. So they didn’t.
5. PokerShare.com - what’s the deal you’re trying to grab with them?
I made the mistake of calling their PR firm to try to get a sponsorfor a new scoreboard at our field. As PR people, they blew it up into abig news story. We just want a new scoreboard. We don’t care ifpokershare.com buys it, or the State of Alaska buys it, or if NAPA AutoParts buys it. We know we can’t afford it, and we’re looking for help.We just happened to approach a very aggressive PR firm, and they ranwith it.
6. Is that the kind of thing you have to clear with the league first,or are you open to basically find funding for the team however you can?
The league has no control over how individual teams fundthemselves. Every team in the league is non-profit, 501c3, so we try toplay that up to get funding. The only roadblocks we run into are fromthe Municipality of Anchorage, since our Stadium sits on theirproperty. That can be a bit of a nightmare at times. But we love themanyway (make sure to put that last line in there, in case they readthis, haha)
7. The Cape Cod league is always considered the gold standard in summerball - is the Alaska League closing the gap, or are the powers that bepretty content with it being known as an irreverent second option?
You’ve got it backwards. In the 70s, the Alaska League was the goldstandard, and it has taken these last 30 years for the Cape Cod Leagueto close the gap. It’s kind of like when the media hops on the AL Eastbandwagon, and the Chicago White Sox roll through the playoffs. Itmakes you rethink the power of the AL Central. Maybe those games withthe Tigers were meaningful after all.
Really, how does one decide which league is the best? You play eachother, which is something the Bucs have been trying for years. We haveeven offered to pay for a Cape team, or even a Cape All-Star Team, toplay us. They want no part of it. So, to answer your question, I thinkI can speak on behalf of the entire Alaska Baseball League when I saythat we resent the perception that the Cape Cod League is the goldstandard in summer ball. Let’s decide it on the field.
8. You’ve played ball in the Boston system, and you played in theOakland system. If you could get another season in the minors (assumingyou wanted to), who would you want to be playing for?
The Tigers. I have been a Tigers fan my whole life, and it hasalways been my dream to play for them. But alas, it is not going tohappen.
9. Obviously people who want a career in baseball have to spend a lotof years climbing the ladder, whereas you basically walked right intoit - was this something you wanted to do, or something that just foundyou?
First of all, I would argue that most people would consider myposition as a very low rung on this baseball ladder. To answer thequestion, though, this is something that found me. I guess I could getphilosophical and say something like I just followed my path and thisis where it took me, but that would be a little too New-Agey for mytaste. However, if you knew the road that I took to get here, you wouldknow that it’s nothing I could have dreamed of creating for myself. SoI guess you could say it found me, but I was an easy mark.
10. Is it true that chicks dig the long ball? And if so, what does asidearmer do to combat such things when, say, on a road trip throughSpokane?
Please. Chicks dig out of shape, pus-throwing, hairy, bald20-something closers that throw 80 mph. Lucky for me, I happen to beone, so I never had any problems with the ladies. Especially inSpokane. All of the classy ladies live in Spokane, didn’t you know? AndYakima.
Oh, I know…
Note: Photo credit: Alaska Goldpanners.