On the Bump with Cole Thompson
Friday, August 03, 2012

Hey Gents fans, and welcome back to the final summer edition of “On the Bump.” To refresh your memory, I spent the summer in Kenai, Alaska, playing for the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League. The summer is officially over and I am writing this blog as I fly back to Dallas from Anchorage. In this blog, I will recap the highlights of July from my summer in Alaska.

When I last wrote the blog, we were in first place with a 10-6 record. Unfortunately, we finished in second place with a 21-19 record. The Anchorage Glacier Pilots won the league, while the Oilers, Anchorage Bucs, Fairbanks Goldpanners, Chugiak Chinooks, and Mat-Su Miners rounded out the standings. We were tied with the Pilots for first heading into the final two weeks, but they came to Kenai and took three out of four games in a crucial series that ultimately decided the league.

Now I will talk about some of the sites, events, and highlights of the month of July. I was fortunate to have my family come up for a week at the beginning of July and it was a blast. On their first day in Alaska we had the chance to fly in a tiny bush pilot plane to the top of Mt. McKinley, which is the tallest mountain in North America. It was a breathtaking view and we had the chance to land on a glacier in the mountains and get out and walk around.

A few days later, we had an off day and our family used the day off to go on a glacier viewing boat tour out of Whittier, Alaska. It was an unreal experience as well. We boated past otters, icebergs, sea lions, and enormous glaciers. We were fortunate to see a glacier calve. Calving is when a large part of the glacier breaks off and falls into the water. I never thought I would see that in my lifetime.

Although we had a game nearly every night, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. one day to go halibut fishing with my dad and brother. I made a great choice because the halibut fishing was amazing. We caught tons of halibut and we all got to keep two of the fish. The largest halibut we caught was 55 pounds and it was nearly 4 feet long. Also, halibut is one of the best tasting fish in the world, so it was a great bonus to be able to take the meat home. I think we sent home over 100 pounds of halibut just from that trip alone.

On the fourth of July, our team participated in the local parade in Kenai. The town’s support for our team was great and I fully believe that we had the best fan base in the Alaska Baseball League. They were the first ones to let you know you had a great game, but they were also the first ones to let you know if you needed to step up your performance. It was a great baseball atmosphere and I can’t thank our fans enough for their great support. The Board of Directors prepared a cookout for the team on the fourth and it was an amazing array of foods. We had deer burgers, bear sausage, deep fried halibut, smoked salmon, and other foods as well. I must say that deep fried halibut might be one of the best foods I have ever had.

It was also a great time around Kenai because we embarked on a six-game win streak right around that time as well. Another thing that I never thought would happen in Alaska was the opportunity to play against an old Centenary teammate. A Seattle area team travelled up to Alaska and played a 10-game exhibition schedule around the state. Keegan Acker, a teammate of mine from the 2010 Gents, played for this team. It was great to see him and catch up a little bit.

Perhaps the best part of July in Alaska is the fact that the red salmon begin their run in mid-July. Like I said in my last blog, the Kenai River is the salmon capital of the world. Millions (literally millions) of salmon run up the river every summer in order to lay their new eggs. I had an absolute blast fishing with my teammates. Since it never really got dark at night we would race to the river after our home games and begin to fish. One night we hit the jackpot. There were about 18 of our players fishing the river at midnight under the Alaskan sun and we nearly all caught our limit of three red salmon. Catching the fish is fun, but it is also a really cool reward to be able to send the salmon home to your family and say that they can eat salmon caught straight from the Kenai River.

Another incredible thing was that we saw a flash of the Northern Lights one morning around 3:00 a.m. after a night of fishing. It was not the green, yellow, and magical colors that you see in pictures, but they were solar flares that caused streaks of yellow to flash across the northern horizon. It was definitely a site that I will never forget.

My favorite city we visited was definitely Homer, Alaska. Homer is unique because it is the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. It is beautiful because the snow-capped mountains come right up to the edge of the Cook Inlet and the views are indescribable. Bald Eagles and otters frequent the Homer Spit. The Homer Spit is amazing, however it is pretty tough to describe. I can best describe it as a tiny strip of land that is about four miles long and extends into the bay. I highly suggest you search “Homer, Alaska” and the “Homer Spit” because I feel like my description does not do it justice.

July was also unique because we had our longest road trip of the summer, an eight-day quest in which we played four teams in three different cities. It was a long trip, but our team had great chemistry so it was a blast. However, the trip started off on an odd note. Our first night of the trip we saw a mouse scamper across the floor of our hotel. We could hear the mouse after that, but we never really saw it again. Needless to say, it was a sleepless night for my roommate and me.

The final part of our road trip was the longest drive of the summer, as we had to drive six hours from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Fairbanks is less than 200 miles from the Arctic Circle, so I hope that gives you an idea of how far north we ventured. The drive was unreal as the route took us directly through Denali National Park and past Mt. McKinley. The beauty of the area was striking and it was a blessing to get to see such a beautiful place so far from home.

I know you are wondering what we do on a bus for three to nine hours at a time, and the answer is very simple. We played tons of “mafia” on the bus. It is a tough game to explain, but ask most college baseball players and they will have an idea of what the game is. It is a great game because it takes a while to play each round and it makes the trip go by a lot faster. Also, it is a great way to interact with your teammates and the games can also get pretty heated. Ask any Oiler in ten years what they remember most about the bus rides and I guarantee every single one will say “mafia.”

Fairbanks was unique because the home stadium for the Goldpanners is officially the northernmost baseball stadium in the world. It is pretty cool to say that we had the opportunity to play there. Fairbanks was also fun because we had the chance to visit the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline and the North Pole. The Pipeline is an 800-mile long pipe that transports oil from the northern tip of Alaska in Prudhoe Bay, all the way down to the southern port of Valdez. It was sweet to see the Pipeline because it is crucial to our economy and it is quite historic. We also visited North Pole, Alaska while in Fairbanks. Yes, we visited Santa’s house in North Pole and we saw his reindeer. Yes, I sat in Santa’s lap and took a picture. I could not pass up on the opportunity to take a picture with the actual Santa Claus at the North Pole.

After our series in Fairbanks we had to bus ten hours back to Kenai. Lots of “mafia” was played, but a break was taken as we drove through Denali National Park and saw Mt. McKinley once again. It was surreal to see the mountain at 2:45 a.m. under the Alaskan light.

We finished up the year by winning our final game against the Anchorage Bucs on Sunday. It was a unique game because a new nickname for me was born. I threw a shutout inning of relief, and then I went and dressed up as Scoop, our fully costumed mascot. Apparently it was a big hit, because the next day the local newspaper referred to me as “Scoop” Thompson. I’m not sure if it will stick, but it was pretty funny to walk around as the mascot for two innings. On Monday, the Board of Directors held a banquet in honor of the host families and the players. It was very unique because each host family got up in front of the audience and shared their memories of the player they hosted with the rest of the crowd. Over the summer players created a special bond with their host families and it really is sad to leave at the end. My family was no exception as I had a great time with my host mom and her two sons. They were great to be around and also amazing for putting up with me all summer.

On Tuesday the team bussed us to Anchorage as they flew each player back to their respective hometowns. It is a bummer to leave your teammates as well because we all made great friends over the two months. We all said our goodbyes at the Anchorage Airport and then headed our separate ways. My teammate said it best when he described summer baseball being just like the ending of the movie “The Sandlot.” For those that don’t remember, the kids from the Sandlot grow up and fade out of the picture as the narrator describes what happened to each guy in the future. I feel that our situation is the same way because we were such a tight-knit group.

Ironically, I am joined on my flight out of Anchorage by summer teammate John Straka. It is ironic because he plays for North Dakota State, which was an old foe of Centenary’s when we were a member of the Summit League at the Division I level. We have shared our fair share of stories about our memories in the Summit League, and it was only fitting that we departed Alaska together.

On the whole, Alaska was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The Oilers were a first-class organization. From our General Manager, to our coaches, to our host families and fans, they did everything in the players’ best interest.  I could not have asked for a better situation and I was legitimately sad to leave. Most summer players are ready to head home around early July, but I loved every minute in Alaska. The views, sites, adventures, friends made, and quality of baseball were an once-in-a-lifetime experience. I will never forget my summer in Alaska and I was truly blessed to have the opportunity to go play baseball in such an exotic location. I really did have to take several stories out of this blog in order to not fully lose your attention. I could probably write a whole book about my time in Alaska, but I will stop here.

Thank you for reading the blog this year and following me on my adventure to Alaska. I am returning to Centenary for my senior year in the fall and I am very excited. We have a great opportunity to put a quality team out on the field and we also have the shot to compete for a conference championship in our new conference, the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. Expectations are high, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I will start my blog back up in January. I was voted to be Student-Athlete President for Centenary this year so I will probably be busy with that most of the fall when I am not in the classroom or at the field. Be sure to support and follow all of our athletic teams at Centenary throughout the fall and winter seasons! I am really excited for our new Athletic Director, Ronda Seagraves. I think our Athletic Department has an extremely bright future and I can’t wait to see how all of our teams do this year.

Until January, Go Gents!

Cole Thompson, No.10