Midnight Sun shines bright in Fairbanks

Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Jun 24, 2011

Midnight Sun shines bright in Fairbanks

 

By VAN WILLIAMS

 

Have glove, will travel.

That’s life for a Fairbanks American Legion Post 11/30/57 baseball player.

The country’s northern most post is forced to travel more than any other team in Alaska, but this weekend the boys are home to host the Midnight Sun Invitational.

“It’s nice to have a tournament,” said Fairbanks coach Brad Wixon. “It’s special because we got that 24 hours of daylight.”

It’s also nice to finally have a home-field advantage at venerable Growden Memorial Park, one of the oldest and most historic ballparks in Alaska.

However the team probably spends more time on the bus than on base.

“We spend more than half the season in Anchorage,” Wixon said.

Not this weekend, though.

This year’s Fairbanks squad is poised for a successful showing, thanks to a veteran team loaded with sluggers.

“I got a lot of seniors this season that are doing really well,” said Wixon, who coaches along with Mark Wade. “We really worked on the weight training through an off-season program to help with our bats.”

That’s not all.

“I got four or five really good pitchers. The defense is solid,” he said. “If our boys bring their game to the field I think we can hang with any of the Anchorage teams.”

The roots of American Legion baseball in Fairbanks can be traced all the way back to the 1960s and 1970s, back when it was the only competitive league before high school baseball was formed in the early 1990s.

“American Legion baseball played a major part in our community and with the development of our kids playing baseball,” said former longtime Fairbanks coach Billy Smith.

Smith was one of the original Fairbanks high school coaches and he helped get the Midnight Sun Invitational off the ground in the late 1990s.

The tournament is a home run.

“Since its inception we’ve had teams from as far as Rhode Island as well as teams from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Oregon,” Smith said.

The history of Post 11/30/57 dates back to the Rufus Johnson days, when Smith said the legendary coach led Fairbanks to a state title in 1972.

“We haven’t won it since then,” Smith said.

“He was the coach here for many years. He’s an Air Force guy and moved here. His son played for the Goldpanners and was drafted out of here. Rufus Johnson is a big name.”

Andrew Wixon is hoping to be a big name, too.

The 20-year-old pitcher and son of the Fairbanks American Legion coach just graduated from junior college to NCAA Division I University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, making his old man proud.

“I spent many years on my knees catching him,” Brad Wixon said with a laugh. “It’s been a long haul and we’ve put in lots of hours … besides loving coaching and all the boys on my team, I really enjoy going out to the ball field with my sons and spending many hours.”

Andrew Wixon is also crushing it in the classroom, earning a 3.0 in each of his first two years of JC. He is serving as an example for other Fairbanks baseball players who want to graduate to the next level.

That’s why the boys didn’t mind driving down to Anchorage for the 18th annual Bill Lierman Coaches Clinic, where they were exposed to some of the best college coaches in the country.

“I got a lot of good boys on my team and I think the Coaches Clinic has helped them get to junior college baseball,” Wixon said, “so they have a chance to move up to Division I or Division II.”