FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The Alaska Goldpanners have officially canceled their 2020 season due to logistical challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Midnight Sun Goldpanners baseball game 2019 (Amanda Becker/KTVF)
The amateur summer baseball team, composed of collegiate players from across the country, will not take the diamond this season for the first time since its inception in 1960. After weeks of monitoring state authority and health mandates, the Goldpanners have decided to cancel the season, which was set to begin June 9, citing the safety of fans, players and staff.
As leagues across the world cancel or suspend seasons, the Alaska Goldpanners felt they had little choice.
"The decision was pretty much made for us," Goldpanners General Manager John Lohrke said. "We can't gather crowds at the ballpark; we couldn't have a Midnight Sun Game. At this point everyone, players, coaches, umpires, would all have to quarantine for two weeks once they hit town."
"It's just tough. We know at some point these restrictions will be lifted, but we don't know for sure when so it is hard for us to plan a season on that basis." Lohrke added.
The Goldpanners, hosts of the storied Midnight Sun Baseball Game, were set to compete in its 61st season with former Goldpanner Phil Stephenson taking over as head coach.
The cancelation of the season could break the streak of one of baseball's most famed traditions. The annual Midnight Sun Game, which originated in Fairbanks as a friendly bet between local bars in 1906 as the legend goes, would have seen its 115th game this year. The tradition, which the Goldpanners took over in 1960 and sees up to 5,000 fans from across the world each year, begins at 10 p.m. on solstice day and is played without the use of artificial lights.
"The organization is going to put together a committee to explore all the options of what we want to do. We surely wouldn't want to see the streak broken, but we know it wouldn't be a game that involved the Goldpanners," Lohrke said, who has been involved with the organization for the past four years. "We would love to be able to facilitate some type of game to keep the tradition alive, but what would we be allowed to, whether or not that would have any fans associated with it, is something we are going to explore and see what we are able to accomplish, if at all."
Other operational concerns that would have made the season very difficult to begin, include having families host the players on the roster, who travel from various parts of the country.
While the Panners won't be donning their red and blue threads on the field, the organization is looking at other options for entertainment later in the summer.
"We'll try, we'll see how much the restrictions remain in place and what we are allowed to do, but if we can get into August or so and some of those things are lifted, we would like to have a concert at the ballpark to put on for the community. We'll explore a lot of things this summer to stay involved in the community and do our part."
Lohrke continued to speak about how the community has lifted the organization over the past several years, where the Goldpanners have been on an upward trajectory in both their on-field and off-field product.
"It has meant everything, they are the backbone of our success. It is what has allowed us to do so many of the things we've done. We hope we have certainly repaid them with a good product on the field, we sure are thankful for what they have done."
The Goldpanners went 34-13 on the field in 2019 and placed fifth in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas.