2005: Fans flock to annual classic

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By ROBINSON DUFFY

The 100th anniversary Midnight Sun Baseball Game brought out thousands and thousands of die-hard baseball fans and sun worshippers Tuesday night.

But perhaps no fan made more of a sacrifice to be at the famous baseball game–the only game in the world to be played at midnight with no artificial lights–than Crieghton Beshears of Fairbanks.

“We made him take an extra long nap today,” the 3-year-old’s father, Rick Beshears, said.

The excitement of being at his first baseball game left Crieghton speechless as he held onto his father’s legs for support as the pair waited in line to get into Growden Memorial Park.

Other fans traveled from the farthest reaches of the globe to watch the Alaska Goldpanners take on the Strike Zone of Omaha, Neb., in the “high noon at midnight” baseball classic.

“This is a total cultural experience,” said Val Havas, who is on a three-week vacation from Australia with her husband, Andy.

The couple said they are more used to watching lively cricket matches, although they have seen a few baseball games here and there.

“Certainly nothing like this,” Andy Havas said. “And certainly not at midnight without lights.”

“I think more places should celebrate the solstice like this,” Carole Leonardis, of West Chester, Pa., said in her lilting New England accent. She’s been enjoying all of Fairbanks’ “pagan rituals,” she said.

Inside the ball park, the excited crowd–shoulder to shoulder–jostled for seats. Less than an hour after the doors opened, and a full two hours before the first pitch, real estate in the metal bleachers was a precious commodity in the park with more than 3,500 seats.

The whole place had a carnival atmosphere. Media from all over the country took in the sights. Fans basked in the glow of Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr, getting his autograph on their commemorative ball. In the seats along the third base line, people in a sea of fluorescent yellow sweatshirts chanted “Gold … Panners” to the delight of the crowd around them.

The 80 or so chanters, visitors from Michigan, came to Fairbanks as part of the Alaska Great Lakes Project. Dale Rosene, project director, has brought Michigan junior high students up to Alaska every year since the Valdez oil spill. They’ve been a yearly presence at the midnight game for some time now and see themselves as a good luck charm for the Goldpanners.

“We’ve been here since 1993 and we’ve never lost a game,” Rosene said.

Others’ luck had run out as far as getting a seat was concerned. Elliot Byrd, 19, from Vermont sat uncomfortably in the aisle with several of his friends who are in Fairbanks to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity.

A self-proclaimed baseball fanatic, Byrd said he didn’t mind not getting a seat. His only regret was forgetting to bring his sunglasses.

“Normally it would be pitch black where I come from, so I didn’t even think about it,” he said as he squinted into the sun hovering low over the baseball diamond.

To accommodate the massive crowds, park officials corralled fans in the deep corners of the outfield. Fairbanksan Kerry Turnbow, who was among the standing-room-only throng, was in awe of the sheer numbers in attendance, but not surprised.

“I mean it is the 100th anniversary,” he said.

Turnbow, a long-time fan of the Goldpanners, hasn’t been to a game in a while. But he couldn’t miss the centennial game, he said.

Of course he never imagined he would be standing on the field instead of sitting in the bleachers.

“I got here 45 minutes early, I thought that would be early enough.”

And would it be worth it, standing for the three hour game?

“I don’t know, this is the first game I’ve ever had to stand at,” he said. “If the game’s going fast it won’t be too bad. But if it’s a long one …,” he said shaking his head.

Others weren’t even going to consider standing into the wee hours of the morning.

“Next year we’re coming at 8,” said one disappointed fan on the wrong side of the fence long after all the seats were gone.

Of course, the less than optimal seating arrangements did make one thing a little easier. Most of the crowd was already standing when the Rev. Mary Ann Warden began to sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

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