On the Bump with Cole Thompson
Hey Gents fans and welcome back to a summer edition of “On the Bump.” I am playing summer ball in Kenai, Alaska, this summer for the Peninsula Oilers and I have been asked to write a few blogs this summer to describe my experiences in Alaska. I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I have enjoyed my first three weeks in the 49th state.
I flew out of Dallas on June 10th to head to Alaska. I knew it would be a great trip when Dirk Nowitzki (NBA superstar for the Dallas Mavericks) was standing a few people ahead of me in the security line at the airport.
It was a 6.5-hour flight from DFW to Anchorage, and I had a three-hour layover until my 15-minute flight from Anchorage to Kenai. The flight into Anchorage was breathtaking as we flew right over snow-capped mountains in Southeastern Alaska. The flight from Anchorage to Kenai was much different. The small propeller plane never really got that high off the ground and I was honestly glad that we landed in Kenai in one piece. It was a really cool 15-minute flight as we flew right over the Cook Inlet and I was able to see the mountains right on the other side of the water.
The General Manger of the Peninsula Oilers and my host family met me at the airport upon my arrival in Kenai. I am glad that I got a great host family, by the way. They drove me from the airport to their home in Soldotna, Alaska. I was excited about the idea of seeing wildlife in Alaska, but nothing prepared me for what I saw when we pulled up to the house. In the front yard there was a humongous moose and its young calf. I honestly thought the moose were statues for a second because of how big they were. The adult moose was bigger than a horse. It was pretty surreal to see moose within an hour of landing in Kenai. Another thing to remember is that it never really gets dark at night in Alaska. It was crazy to be awake at midnight and still be able to see clear as day outside. It has taken a little bit to adjust, but I am finally managing to sleep pretty well at night.
Our first game was the next day and it was also my first time to head to the Oilers ballpark. I was surprised by how nice everything was for the players. We received four jerseys, two hats, two long sleeve Oiler shirts, two short sleeve Oiler shirts, pitching jackets, pullovers, a jumpsuit with the Oilers logo, and our own locker. The locker room is great and I really appreciate all the effort and money the Oilers spend to treat their players well.
It was a little odd to join a team of 25 random players, but the team has grown together quickly. I had no problem making friends with my new teammates and they are all great guys. We started out the season 9-1, highlighted by a combined no-hitter in our second game. I was able to throw a scoreless inning in our no-hitter with two strikeouts.
After our 10th game, myself, two of my teammates, and their host parents went hiking about an hour east of Kenai. It was an amazing hike and we ended up going down to the Russian River Falls. We were able to see the salmon swimming upstream and leaping into the air as they continued to migrate. It was crazy to see it in real life because I had seen it before on TV several times. On the way back, the host mom we were with went a little bit ahead of the four of us on the hike. She also had their two dogs with her. She was about 50 yards ahead of us when she stopped dead in her tracks; a mother bear and her two cubs walked out onto the trail and proceeded to march up the same trail we were on. It was definitely exhilarating to know that we were so close to such dangerous animals.
Another highlight so far was our trip to Homer, Alaska. Six of my teammates and I went down to the southern tip of the Kenai Peninsula to run a baseball camp for the Homer Little League athletes. It was a great experience to share our knowledge with the kids. The Oilers are a big deal in southern Alaska, and it was really cool to realize that the kids looked up to us so much. Homer was also great because of the view. It is a town nestled in the mountains and right on the coastline. We saw about a hundred seals playing on the shore and we were able to tour the Homer Spit, a 4.5-mile long narrow piece of land that goes out into the bay. They dock the “Time Bandit” (boat from the TV show “Deadliest Catch”) in Homer, but it had left the harbor two days before our visit.
Our first road trip started in Anchorage. The three-hour drive from Kenai to Anchorage was unreal. The scenery was amazing as we drove through the mountains and north to Anchorage. The best part was driving along the Cook Inlet for about thirty minutes and seeing where the mountains touch the water. I would have to imagine that the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” was meant to describe Alaska. We stayed in dorms at the University of Alaska-Anchorage during our time there. It was actually a pretty sweet setup and it gave us an opportunity to get to know our teammates better.
Our first game in Anchorage was the craziest game I have ever been a part of. The game went 21 innings and lasted just shy of six hours. I was able to pitch a scoreless 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Unfortunately, we lost on a dropped third strike in the 21st inning. It was an experience that I will never forget. It set a record for the longest game in the Alaska Baseball League (ABL). That is incredible considering that the league has been around for 45 years. Ironically, the game started on June 20th and ended on June 21st, which is the summer solstice. It was only appropriate that we play the longest game in ABL history on the longest day of summer. By the way, it was still daylight at 12:45 a.m., when the game ended.
We are now in first place in the ABL with a 7-4 league play record and a 10-6 record overall. Recently on an off day, I had the opportunity to travel to Seward to hike to Exit Glacier. Seward was another small town with terrific scenery. It has been unreal so far in Alaska and I have loved every minute of it. My teammates are not only great people, but great baseball players as well. I really enjoy working out with them and watching the way they go about preparing for games. I have learned several things just by watching my teammates and talking about the game of baseball with them. We all motivate one another to work harder, get stronger, and better ourselves on the field. We actually had the opportunity to meet Karl “the Mailman” Malone at the gym in Kenai the other day. It was awesome to meet a member of the 1992 USA Olympic basketball “Dream Team” and a member of the NBA Hall of Fame. He comes up to Kenai to fish in the summer. The Kenai River is the “King Salmon Capital of the World” and people flock to the river in the summer to reap the benefits. I haven’t had the chance to go fishing yet, but that will definitely change in the next two weeks when the salmon really begin to run.
We are about to embark on a six-day road trip and I am excited to continue our early success. This will definitely be a summer that I never forget and I am extremely grateful that I have the opportunity to play baseball in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. I will stop by again in a couple of weeks to give another update on my time in Alaska. I hope everyone is having a great summer. Go Gents!