Aug. 5, 2002

Notre Dame Baseball Summer Diaries (J.P. Gagne, Entry #2; Fairbanks, Alaska)

Dear Irish Fans,

It has been a while since I last wrote a diary, so there are a lot of things I could cover, but I will try to hit the high points of my summer in Alaska.

Well, it ended up being a great season for the Alaska Goldpanners, one of their best in recent years. We ended up co-champions of the Alaska Baseball League and will receive the number 1 seed in the National Baseball Congress World Series this coming week (in Wichita).

My season was very interesting. I started out with four hard-luck losses, with my team not giving me any run support for the first 33 innings I pitched. Once I arrived, I think my team only lost seven more games and I started five of them. I finally got a win in the league tournament, so I am 1-4 going into the World Series. In the end, I feel that I am a better pitcher and was able to improve many areas of my pitching.

Although the baseball experience was very positive for me, the other aspects of a summer in Alaska were even more enjoyable. The highlight of my summer was taking a ride in an Ultra-Lite Plane. For those of you who have never heard of these, it is basically a small cockpit that looks sort of like a motorcycle seat and it has a propeller behind it and it is attached to a hang glider. I am not sure if that does it justice but it is very small, but a lot of fun.

The flight guide, who was not a small guy, sat in front of me and we communicated over headphones because the motor is so loud. The plane gets up to 80 mph and has the freedom to fly wherever it wants. In fact, the guide flies it 450 miles to Anchorage. So he flew us out over the flats of Fairbanks and saw about 50 moose and a few bears. If he saw a really big moose, he would fly the plane down about 10 feet off the ground and try to spook them.

The coolest part of the flight was flying up the Chena River at 70 mph only five feet above the water. I thought for sure our wheels were going to catch the water and we would crash. It was quite a thrill and something I would recommend everyone to try. Here is a web site that has some good pictures of what the plane looks like:

I also had a chance to do some great fishing. When we were in Anchorage for the league tournament last weekend, I went down to Ship Creek, in the heart of downtown Anchorage and fished for salmon. I caught about four or five kings and a few silvers. They put up good fights and it was a lot of fun. A few of the Kings were about 20-30 pounds, however we weren’t allowed to keep the Kings at this particular creek for some reason.

My host family had a boat and a waverunner, so we spent some time on one of the local lakes and I got to play around with the waverunner. On one occasion, I spotted a moose swimming out into the middle of the lake and was able to drive the waverunner right up next to it. The moose was a little bit intimidated by me even though he weighed six or seven hundred pounds more than me. He knew better than to mess with me, or something.

There also were a lot of beavers on the lakes and rivers in the area. If you think the squirrels are big at Notre Dame, all the beavers in Alaska are huge and furry. The other things that I am going to remember about Alaska are sight seeing, glaciers, the beautiful sunsets, and the never ending days. I don’t think it ever got completely dark in Fairbanks, and it made the whole summer seem like one really long day.

I am looking forward to the NBC World Series in Wichita. Ryan Kalita, Javi Sanchez and Tyler Jones will be there with the Hays Larks and it will be nice to see them again (I pitched for Hays in last year’s NBC championship game, vs. the Alaska Glacier Pilots). The Larks are the No. 2 seed and we are No. 1, so maybe we will meet in the championship.

I am also really looking forward to going back to school, I can’t wait for fall practice to start again.

Well, I will let you know how things go in Wichita, and hopefully in my next dairy entry I will be able to tell you what it was like to win the World Series.

Talk to you soon and Go Irish,

J.P. Gagne