The Peninsula Oilers will look to continuity and familiarity to breed success as they chase their first Alaska Baseball League title since 2011.
Kyle Brown returns for his third season with the Oilers, the second as head coach. The Mat-Su Miners currently rule the ABL, sitting on three straight titles.
Brown said a big factor in the Miners’ dominance comes from Pete Christopher, the general manager since 2002.
“The Miners have a great thing going,” said Brown, who comes to the Oilers from Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California. “I really respect their organization. They get a lot of top-quality talent and do a great job coaching it. A three-peat is a three-peat.”
Brown has assembled a team and staff loaded with knowledge about how the ABL works and about how Brown works.
Ryan Doran also returns for a third year as coach. The assistant at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, will coach pitchers.
Larry McCann, who served as interim coach for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, joins the staff and will coach hitting, infielders and serve as the third base coach. McCann, who also is in charge of field maintenance while the Oilers are home, folds right in with the staff because he also is an assistant at Mt. SAC.
Rolando Sanchez, an assistant at Clark University in Dubuque, Iowa, will be in his second year as an Oilers assistant. He will coach hitting, work with the catchers and serve as third base coach.
The experience the coaching staff has accumulated in the ABL has instructed in the construction of the team.
Brown said more left-handed bats have been added this season since lefties do so well in Kenai’s Coral Seymour Memorial Park as well as Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer, home of the Miners; and Lee Jordan Field, home of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks.
The Oilers head coach also made sure he has plenty of southpaws on the mound, and also plenty of two-way players that can bolster depth on the mound when needed. The Oilers had 11 pitchers at the first practice of the season and should have 16 or 17 when it’s all said and done.
“We’re flush with arms,” Brown said. “When you play a 44-game condensed schedule, a lot of guys will be rotating in and out.”
In his second year as head coach, Brown also has seen results from a growing network of college contacts.
“We’re getting more Division I and Division II guys, or junior college guys that will be transferring to DI or DII schools,” Brown said.
This team also is older than last year’s team, which finished 23-21 and lost to the Anchorage Bucs in the first round of the playoffs.
“I loved the kids last year and seeing how they developed,” Brown said. “I looked at how my guys did in college this year and it was great seeing them help their teams win more games.”
The Oilers have plenty of players that should make the adjustment to Alaska and Brown seamless, starting with Soldotna graduate Joey Becher and Kenai Central graduate Paul Steffensen.
Becher, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-hander, just completed his redshirt sophomore season at Southwestern with Brown. He returns to the Oilers and obviously knows the area well.
Steffensen completed his sophomore season by playing in the title game of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Baseball Championship on June 1. Although Steffensen’s Mesa (Arizona) Community College lost, Brown is excited to see what the speedy outfielder brings to the table.
Steffensen has signed to play Division I baseball with Tennessee Tech in Crookeville, Tennessee.
Bringing still more familiarity is second baseman Victor Carlino, who just completed his junior season at Long Beach State in California. Carlino, who is from San Diego, played for Brown for two years at Southwestern College.
“He’s a great guy,” Carlino said of Brown. “He’s really committed to doing things the right way. He’s also really personable. He’s great to play for.”
This is Carlino’s third time in Alaska because he has grandparents that spend the summer in Kasilof. When he was younger, Carlino actually attended an Oilers game at Seymour Park.
“I always said I wanted to come and play here,” Carlino said. “Now I have the chance to do it.”
After spending last summer in the Northwoods League, Carlino said he jumped at the chance to come to Alaska.
“You get to enjoy some things you don’t get in the Lower 48, like the scenery,” he said. “It was gorgeous just getting up here. And the fishing is amazing, obviously.
“But it’s also really good baseball, so I’ll bet a lot of at-bats and get better.”
Carlino would love to play professional baseball, but he also knows the experiences created in the amateur game have value.
“Obviously, the ultimate goal is to win it all up here, but we also want to leave better than we came in,” Carlino said. “I’m looking forward to meeting a bunch of guys from around the country and creating some new friendships.”
In addition to Becher, the Oilers return John Mackay, Calvin Farris and Bryan Woo from last year’s squad.
“The fact that so many of these guys have played for me will really help the team understand my temperament and goals,” Brown said.
Mackay, a redshirt junior from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, hit .176 for the team last season as a catcher. Woo, a freshman at Cal Poly SLO, went 2-3 with a 5.92 ERA last season. Farris, a Brown University sophomore, was 2-1 with two saves and a 2.28 ERA last season.
At the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Jake Adams, a freshman right-handed pitcher from Kansas.
Adams said his team had great starters and a reliable bullpen, so he didn’t get as many innings as he would have liked.
“In the fall, when we got our summer assignments, I saw I’d be spending the summer in Alaska and I was excited,” he said. “I’ve never been farther north than Kansas or Colorado.”
In addition to fishing, hiking and maybe seeing a few bears, Adams will work on things like throwing all his pitches in different counts, and staying in the strike zone and competing.
“So far, so good,” he said. “I know a few of the guys already and they put together a good ball team. I’m looking forward to the season.”
Brown, along with American Legion Twins head coach Robb Quelland and several Legion players, spent several marathon days getting the field ready during the first weekend of June, but the excitement of the season kept him looking fresh.
“I love coming up here to Alaska to coach baseball,” he said. “I love this ballpark and I love playing in Kenai. The fans really appreciate baseball here and the beer garden really gets into the game.
“I always look forward to coming back.”