"It's a good experience but it's just different," Boone said. "It's weird. I mean, it never gets dark. It's like every game is a day game but you're playing at night. The sun is still above your head at midnight."

Well, not quite. But Basch insists there was a game a couple years back that was delayed because the sun was shining in the first baseman's eyes – "And it was 11:45 p.m."

That's the way it is when you're the northernmost baseball team in the world. How far north? North Pole, Alaska is 10 miles to the south of Fairbanks. Of course, that's not the actual north pole – merely a town that named itself North Pole to generate a cottage Santa Claus industry. But still. We're talking way up there.

Midnight Sun game
Fans flock to the Midnight Sun game in Fairbanks every year.

Hey, there's even an Ice Museum smack in the middle of downtown.

Fairbanks is an insane town. The average winter temperature is 12 degrees below zero, and it's so cold that the temperature somehow actually increases with elevation. "I'm OK up until about 30 below," Goldpanners pitcher and Fairbanks native Sean Timmons said. "Once it gets to 35 or 50 below, then I start getting cold."

The record high, meanwhile, is 96.

On the other hand, homes are a lot cheaper than in San Francisco. Plus, each summer Mother Nature takes pity on Fairbanks and provides long days of what Cheff calls "the most ideal baseball weather in the world. In the East and the Midwest, they're baking in the heat and the humidity. But here it's perfect."

The weather certainly was perfect for Tuesday's centennial. Fairbanks received buckets of rain over the weekend, but the clouds parted and the sky was clear by early evening, with temperatures in the low 70s. It was such an idyllic night that even the mosquitoes stayed away.

The ballpark was so crowded that fans stole the bullpen bench and moved it to a standing-room-only section that had been hastily set up in foul territory down the left field line. Fans also sat on the dugout roofs, and the concession stands were so backed up that there was a long line to pay your money, another long line to get your hot dog, and yet another long line to go to the bathroom.

(But when you consider that the fans at the first Midnight Sun game arrived in Fairbanks by taking the train from Skagway to Whitehorse, then tramping to the Tanana River and boating upstream, the lines don't seem so bad.)

The field at Growdon Park is unusual, to say the least. The outfield is natural grass, but the infield is lime green artificial turf. The basepaths have been dyed a dusty yellow, but the dirt in the sliding pits is a dark chocolate. It's as if it were laid out by the same guy who designed the old Astros jerseys.

And yet, the way Basch sees it, this diamond is not only the geographic pinnacle of baseball, it's the spiritual pinnacle as well.

"I've been to Fenway Park. I've been to Yankee Stadium. I was at old Tiger Stadium. But there's nothing like this," he said. "I'm a purist. I love baseball for what it is. And nothing can compete with this. I know you're with ESPN and you've seen it all. Hey, I watch ESPN and nothing on ESPN can top this.

Continued...


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HERE COMES THE SUN