June 19, 1992
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
By RICHARD GRIFFIS
Some three months had passed, yet friends of Brett Backlund loved hearing the story about the 1991 Midnight Sun Baseball Game, almost as much as the University of Iowa senior enjoyed reliving it.
“I had envisioned last year would be my last one and I’d go out with a bang,” said Backlund, who drilled a two-out 3-1 pitch over the left field fence in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Alaska Goldpanners a 9-8 victory over the Lake Tahoe Stars last year.
“It was a real exciting story,” Backlund admitted.
It was also a story Backlund had no intention of following up with a sequel. It has just worked out that way.
The Alaska Goldpanners will host the Victor Valley Mets in the 86th Midnight Sun Baseball Game, beginning at 10 p.m. Saturday at Growden Park. The game marks the summer solstice and is played without the aid of artificial light.
“This game is known all around the country and it’s really exciting to be a part of it,” Backlund said.
Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Backlund had hopes of playing on a minor league team this summer. But when the Pirates lowballed him with an offer of only $4,000 to sign with their club, he said “thanks, but no thanks.”
So, at least for the time being, Backlund is back in the land of the Midnight Sun.
“It gets kind of frustrating because a lot of people who are inexperienced get more money,” said Backlund, who posted an 11-1 record with a 2.04 earned run average for the Hawkeyes this spring. “Now they’ve signed their first-round pick, so things will probably start to come together a little more.”
The Pirates first-round pick was catcher Jason Kendall, a Torrance, Calif., high schooler who was supposed to play for the Goldpanners this summer. Kendall reportedly received a signing bonus of $336,000.
Pittsburgh management apparently figures that since Backlund has used up his college eligibility, he is out of options and will eventually have to sign for whatever they offer.
However, Backlund still has nearly $10,000 in scholarship money left and said he will return to Iowa if he can’t reach an agreement with the Pirates.
In the meantime, Backlund’s looking forward to another season with the Goldpanners.
“Right now, I’m trying to get back into shape and back into form,” Backlund said.
Goldpanners manager Jim Dietz said before the season started that he would only use Backlund as a pitcher, because he didn’t want to risk ruining a possible professional career.
That pledge lasted less than one game as Backlund saw action in left field in his first game with the team.
“I’m just trying to help the team,” Backlund said. “Basically, I feel lucky to have an opportunity to come up here and play. It could be risky, but I’ve done it my whole career.”