Collegiate Baseball

Most baseball players will do just about anything to stay out of a cold spell.

But there Austin Wooldridge and Kyle Brule were standing in the "Alaska at 40 Below" room at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska, taking in a chill like no other - without the extra clothing that is readily available mind you.

"We went in without parkas," Wooldridge said of the attraction that allows you to feel what an Alaskan winter is truly like. "I don't know how long it lasted but it wasn't very long. We got our picture and that was about it."

It was a long way from their neighborhood days in Ahwatukee Foothills, but the game of baseball has a way of bringing old faces in odd places together as lower-level players look for anywhere to get some innings of experience.

Wooldridge, a 2007 Mountain Pointe graduate, and Brule, a '07 Tempe Marcos de Niza grad, had company in Alaska as Jake Dziubczynski, an '09 Mountain Point graduate, and former Desert Vista assistant coach Randy Barber all ended up in Alaska this summer playing/working for the Fairbanks Goldpanners of the Alaska Baseball League.

"It was amazing how we all came together," said Barber, a Fairbanks native who started working in the Tempe Union High School District in 1984 and returns this spring as Tempe High's baseball coach after retiring from teaching and coaching three years ago.

"For four of us all from Ahwatukee being on one team was kind of hard to believe, but it worked out that way."

It turned out well for the Goldpanners as well as the three players because they helped the team to a second-place finish at 34-15 overall and 30-15 in league play with the season ending on July 31.

The ABL doesn't get the acclaim that the Cape Cod League does as far as the destination place for college's best players, but the Alaska league is pretty solid as well.

"The Alaska League used to be what the Cape Cod League is today in the '60s, '70s and '80s," said Barber, who served as the team's play-by-play announcer and assistant general manager. "I saw Dave Winfield, Tom Seaver and Graig Nettles when they came through. Today, it isn't that, but it is still a quality league that attracts a number of good players."

Brule, who went to Arizona State out of high school before transferring to Oklahoma Baptist, was the team's closer and appeared in 16 games and finished with a 4.35 ERA and eight saves.

Dziubczynski, a Central Arizona Community College sophomore, made nine appearances, eight starts, and compiled a 2-3 record with a 3.33 ERA.

"I threw pretty well against the best competition I've faced," Dziubczynski said. "It will really help with my confidence."

Wooldridge, who plays at University of Texas-Permian Basin, played catcher and first base and ranked sixth on the team with a .269 batting average with a home run and 10 RBIs in 22 games.

While getting more innings was important, the life experiences were just as fulfilling.

The players lived with host families, took in the Alaskan culture and adjusted to the fact that the sun was always shining.

"It was hard at first," said Wooldridge, who isn't a big seafood fan but went to salmon bakes, tried halibut and made the most of the lifetime experience. "Once you went to sleep you could fall asleep, but because the sun was always out you thought you should be up doing something."

They all had the chance to experience the 105th Midnight Sun Baseball Classic, a game that is like no other - played at midnight with no lights in the stadium.

With Fairbanks a mere 160 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the sun is just beginning to set in the north as the game gets under way and, at its conclusion some three hours later, the sun begins to rise again - also in the north.

It is a phenomenon ever so rare. And four guys from Ahwatukee Foothills took part in it this year.

"That was pretty cool," Wooldridge said. "There were four or five thousand fans and we played the Armed Forces team. The atmosphere was great. It was kind of weird to be playing at midnight and the sun was still up? It was pretty special and we ended up winning in 15 innings."



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