Legion practice

Ketchikan’s Terik Brown, left, forces out teammate Tyler Slick on Tuesday evening during a baseball practice at Walker Field. Both Brown and Slick will be seniors at Ketchikan High School this fall. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

The scoreboard at Walker Field read 8-4 on Thursday night, in favor of the visiting team.

But truth be told, Ketchikan both lost — and won — on Thursday. Who was on the home team or visiting team didn’t matter for the Ketchikan High School baseball players.

It was just fun to be out on the ball field and play a game again — even if that game was a scrimmage against fellow teammates.

“I didn’t think (scrimmaging) would be this fun, but yeah. It’s pretty fun,” Terik Brown said. “... Since we didn’t really get a season, I guess playing is just the fun part.”

Brown is one of many Kayhi ball players that missed out on their season this spring due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. This past season would’ve been an opportunity for him and his junior class teammates to build leadership skills with the underclassmen moving forward.

This fall will be Brown’s senior year.

“It feels good to be out with the boys again,” he added.

After the high school season was canceled, the Alaska American Legion Baseball organization opted to have its summer season played 100% up north. And that meant Ketchikan would get anywhere between one-third and half of the games played in a typical season, with no home games, essentially pricing Ketchikan out of an American Legion season, as well.

“Between the cost of travel, plane tickets, and the reality that we’d be basically paying twice as much for half the games, if that, including no home games, and everybody’s finances being what they are, we weren’t in a position to go out and ask the community for anything,” Ketchikan baseball coach Andy Berntson said. “So we all just made the decision that it’s more responsible to try to get done what we could at home.”

So for the past few weeks, Ketchikan High School baseball players have been practicing and scrimmaging against each other — every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Thursday night was the squad’s second scrimmage.

“We had a pretty clean game that (first scrimmage), which was pretty surprising considering where we’re at in development on the year,” Ketchikan baseball coach Johnny Milner said. “But the kids have been great. ... With it not being high school ball or legion, we weren’t sure how serious they’d take it. But it’s been a pleasant surprise. They come to the park with a lot of energy.”

And Thursday was no different.

Complete with walk-up theme music and tunes played between innings, and a grill with food cooking for a postgame barbeque, it felt more like a Ketchikan Kings baseball game than an intersquad scrimmage.

They even played John Denver’s “Country Road” during the pregame warmup — a popular choice continued on from previous Kings’ teams.

“These kids have just been salivating wanting to play, so this works out great,” Berntson said. “It’s definitely way better than nothing.”

Both teams shared the same dugout. But to abide by COVID-19 precautions, every player is required to provide their own batting helmet, or have one assigned to them. And temperature checks, as well as questionaires about any previous ailments, are done before each day’s practice. Even bats are sanitized. It’s a sign of the times.

Equipment was lined up inside the third base dugout, and around the outside bleachers, too.

That aspect of pregame is similar to the Ketchikan Little League season. The Senior League recently finished its Little League season on Monday, and many of those players jumped right into Thursday’s scrimmage without missing a beat.

Dylan Nedzwecky, who will be a junior at Kayhi this fall, played in Monday’s Senior League championship.

“(This) is faster paced with them,” he said. “But I kind of just got more work (during Little League season), and lucky that I had the opportunity to play.”

Nedzwecky was lucky to play baseball this summer. Not everyone in town could say that.

“(This) makes it somewhat normal for some of us who didn’t get to play Little League,” Brown said.

While Berntson, Milner and assistant coach Derek McGarrigan will focus more on instructional coaching the next few weeks, the players are taking this opportunity to form relationships between upper and underclassmen.

Assuming there is high school baseball in 2021, that team chemistry can only help moving forward.

“We kind of got to get used to the underclassmen,” Brown said. “Thomas (Kroscavage) is the youngest in the group. ... So him coming out here with all of us, and getting reps with us, is really important for his future in high school and this baseball program.”

That’s the stuff coaches can’t teach — one of baseball’s intangibles — the camaraderie among its players.

Under the Ketchikan sun on Thursday, baseball was played at Walker Field. And for a few hours life outside the lines didn’t matter.

Baseball brought life back to “fun” again.

One team — regardless of playing for the “home” or “visiting” squads — everyone was in the game together.

“I think these kids are just so hungry for any competition, or anything out here,” Milner said. “The chatter is good; they’ve made it almost game-like. So it’s pretty awesome.”