For one night each season, Coral Seymour Memorial Park becomes a field of dreams for members of the American Legion Post 20 Twins baseball team.
The Twins play host to the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League this evening in the teams' annual exhibition game. Game time is 7 p.m.
The game pits the Legion team of high school players against the Oilers, a squad made up of some of the top collegiate talent in the country.
"It's a fun game, in particular for our seniors," said Twins manager Lance Coz. "They anticipate playing against some potential professional stars. It's fun and it's a good opportunity to raise some money."
The Kenai Chrysler Center will be sponsoring the game for the fourth straight year, buying out the park to help the Twins with their operating expenses.
"It's a fun game, but we're still going to take it a little seriously," said Post 20's Joey Newby. "It's hard, though -- those guys are awesome."
Certainly, a fair number of bona fide Major League stars have played for the Oilers over the past 27 seasons, and for many of the Twins, this game could be their only brush with greatness.
Some Post 20 alumni have taken their game to the next level, though. Soldotna's Chris Mabeus and Jackson Coleman will suit up for the Oilers this summer. Coleman is in his second season with the Oilers, while Mabeus will be back for his third ABL campaign.
The difference in the way the two sides look at the game can best be summed up with Mabeus' reaction to a question regarding the game Wednesday.
"Is that tomorrow?" he asked, honestly looking for an answer.
However, when he was with the Twins, Mabeus remembers the anticipation of the game being a whole other animal.
"I used to look forward to that game the whole year," Mabeus said. "It's a great chance for Legion players to see how they'll do against top college pitching."
An interesting subplot could develop in the game if Mabeus pitches against Paul John Zobeck. When the two were little, they spent many hours playing whiffle ball in Zobeck's yard.
"Things could be a little different now that he throws 92 or 93 miles per hour," Zobeck said. "He couldn't do that with a whiffle ball."
When originally asked about the matchup, Mabeus jokingly said he intended on planting the ball in Zobeck's ear.
That plan quickly fell apart when Mabeus was reminded that he is marrying Paul John's sister, Ann, this summer.
"He'll just be another batter," said Mabeus, backing off his plan of chin music for his future brother-in-law. "It'll just be me and the catcher."
Joining Coleman and Mabeus on the Oilers 2000 roster is Sterling's Mike Smith.
A summer ago, Smith was the Twins' hottest pitcher as they headed into the Alaska American Legion State Championships. This year, he's just hoping to fill a role -- any role -- with the defending ABL champions.
"I'm more nervous than excited," Smith said. "It's hard to think I'm at that stage in my baseball career."
The last time Smith took the mound at Coral Seymour Memorial Park, he struck out 15 batters in a dominating win. Since then, he's pitched a season at Eastern Arizona Junior College, going 3-2 in eight starts for the Gila Monsters.
"The last time I pitched on this field, I did pretty darned good," Smith said. "If I get a chance with the Oilers, hopefully, I can do something good."
Smith may not travel with the team, but he's hoping that just by being around a group of experienced players, a little might rub off on him.
"I talked to my pitching coach (at Eastern Arizona), and he said just being around those guys who have been there and done it before is going to help me improve the mental aspect of my game," Smith said. "I have a great pitching coach down there, but he's pretty young. Up here, I'm hoping that the pitching coach will know a little more about mechanics."
Smith has been trying his own hand at being a pitching coach, helping out the Twins hurlers.
"It was weird the first couple of times I worked with guys I had played with the year before," Smith said.
The Twins pitching staff seems to have learned a thing or two from Smith over the past three weeks. Danny Bookey is leading the club with a 3-0 record and a 0.53 earned run average and Brad Burck is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA. Newby took a loss in his only start of the season against a tough Chugiak squad, but held the Mustangs to three earned runs in seven innings.
Mike Sauer has been swinging the hot bat for the Twins, hitting at a .577 clip with two doubles and 10 runs batted in. Zobeck has been batting .552 with four doubles and nine RBI, and Shaun Williams is hitting .429 with two doubles and four RBI.
Following Thursday's exhibition, the Twins hit the road for a weekend series against Service and East in Anchorage while the Oilers prepare for their season opener, Friday at 7 p.m. against the Oceanside, Calif., Waves.
Clarion sports reporter Jeff Helminiak contributed to this story.
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