Viola to lead class into Oilers Hall

Posted: Friday, February 18, 2011

Ask Frank Viola about his memories of playing for the Peninsula Oilers in the summer of 1980, and the stories quickly stray from baseball.

There were the dinners he ate in daylight with his host family, the O'Reillys, who lived a few doors down from teammates, and now longtime friends, Kurt Reid and Mark Meleski.

There were road trips to Palmer, where, as Viola remembered, "For the first time in my life, I saw salmon jumping."

And of course there was the day he nearly lost his part-time job at the lumberyard, when he drove a forklift's fork deep into the floor of an on-site building after the boss had asked him to move a stack of plywood.

"I remember all that stuff more than the baseball," the retired Major Leaguer said by phone from New York on Tuesday. "It was different, it was an adjustment. But it was a wonderful summer."

On Feb. 26, Viola will be inducted into the Peninsula Oilers Hall of Fame along with Steve Glaum, Rick Peters, Ron Malston and Max Swearingen at the 2011 Peninsula Oilers Gusher at the "Old Carrs" Kenai Mall. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

The Gusher returns for a second consecutive year after a decade-long absence, bringing with it the second class of Oilers Hall of Fame inductees -- all with longtime ties to the Oilers.

Last year's event saw eight former players and club supporters go into club lore.

Viola, a left-hander who pitched in the majors from 1982 to 1996, was a three-time All-Star and helped the Minnesota Twins win the World Series in 1987. He leads the class of 2011.

After one season with the Oilers, he posted a lifetime record of 176-150 in the majors to go with an ERA of 3.73 and 1,844 strikeouts. He earned the nickname "Sweet Music," a play on his last name, and was named the 1987 World Series MVP.

Today, the 50-year-old is a pitching coach for a minor league team in the New York Mets organization.

Although it's been 30 years since he threw a pitch on the central Kenai Peninsula, and he won't be in attendance for the Gusher because of obligations to the Mets, Viola remembers fondly his time as an Oiler.

"I wish I could be there," he said of attending the Gusher. "The attachment to Kenai is something I will always have."

Viola, then 20, lived with the late former Kenai Mayor Vincent O'Reilly during the summer of 1980. It was a time when the Alaska Baseball League boomed, and the East Willow, N.Y., native was an integral part of the Oilers team.

Joining the league, Viola remembered, was something he wanted to do before he graduated college.

"I had always heard about the talent up there, the tradition," Viola said. "The competition was second to none."

Viola's fellow inductees took different career paths, the Oilers connecting all of them.

Peters spent the 1975 and 1976 seasons with the Oilers and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 1977 amateur draft. Glaum, who pitched for the Oilers in 1976, holds the club's single-season record for complete games with 10.

Malston is a peninsula resident and belongs to the Oilers administrative and fundraising committees, according to the club's website. Swearingen, meanwhile, was the team's general manager during its early days. He died of a heart attack in the early 1980s.

They will all be recognized at the Gusher, and Glaum and Peters will both attend.

"It's a great group of guys," Oilers General Manager Shawn Maltby said. "It speaks to the tradition and history of this league."

Tickets cost $100 and include dinner for two and entry into a grand-prize drawing for $10,000.

To reserve a ticket, call 283-7133.

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