As much as the Peninsula Oilers have talked about remaking the organization with a mascot and a more fan-friendly atmosphere, there is a history the area's entrant in the Alaska Baseball League would love to cling to.
The Oilers have enjoyed much success on the baseball diamond over the years, winning National Baseball Congress World Series titles in 1977, 1993 and 1994.
The 1990s were particularly successful for the Oilers. In addition to two NBC titles, Peninsula made two other appearances in the NBC title game. The Oilers closed the decade by winning ABL crowns from 1998 to 2000.
In the last three seasons, though, the Oilers failed to win an ABL title or make a trip to the NBC World Series.
This year, the organization hired manager Aric Thomas, who played on the 1993 title team, with the hopes of dredging up some of that past success. His tenure starts tonight with a 7 p.m. game at Coral Seymour Memorial Park against the California Dons.
This is actually Thomas' second stint as the manager of the team. In September of 2000, he was named the club's manager. Then just six weeks before the 2001 season, Thomas had to resign because he was promoted by the University of Oklahoma.
"I was really disappointed," said Thomas, currently the coordinator of baseball operations at Oklahoma. "I love this place. The people are so great.
"I've been itching to get back here ever since."
Thomas wasn't the only one disappointed by his resignation in 2001. Mike Baxter, the Oilers manager of baseball operations at the time, said Thomas was everybody's first choice as the next manager.
Take a look at all the connections Thomas has to past Oilers' success and it's no wonder the organization was itching to get him in the third-base coach's box at Seymour Park.
For starters, Thomas, a native of Riverside, Calif., has been friends with Gary Adcock since childhood.
Adcock resigned as Oilers head coach in 2000 with the best winning percentage in the team's history. In his two-year tenure, he led the Oilers to two ABL titles and second- and fourth-place finishes in the NBC World Series.
Another connection to the Oilers past comes from Thomas' long association with Sunny Golloway, who also is on the Sooners' coaching staff. Thomas played for Golloway as an Oiler and as a Sooner.
Golloway managed the Oilers in 1993, 1994 and for part of the 1995 season. He won NBC World Series in 1993 and 1994 and had a winning percentage of .644, which is second to Adcock's .676 on the all-time list.
Thomas played outfield for Golloway and the Oilers during the 1993 season. He played a key part in the NBC championship game, going 2-for-5 and scoring four runs in Peninsula's 9-1 victory.
Of course, Thomas has more on his resume than connections to great Oilers managers of years past.
Thomas lettered in 1994 and 1995 as an outfielder for the Sooners. In those two seasons, Thomas played in two College World Series for Oklahoma, including the Sooners' 1994 national championship team.
He spent six years as a volunteer assistant at Oklahoma before being elevated to a full-time assistant at the conclusion of the 2001 season.
Thomas used both his own experience in the Alaska Baseball League and that of Adcock and Golloway in putting together this year's roster.
"The main thing we want is arms guys that can pitch and dominate on the mound," Thomas said. "With the wood bat and the park we play in here, there's not going to be a lot of runs scored if you pitch and play defense.
"Then all you have to do is score a few runs. We'll hit-and-run, play the bunting game and manufacture some runs."
That's the exact model Adcock used for success during his stint. His 2000 team had an ERA of 2.39 during the regular season and turned 43 double plays in 46 games. Meanwhile, the offense, led by current New York Met Danny Garcia, used small ball to score an average of 5.2 runs per game.
Oscar Serrato draws the start for the Oilers tonight and will look to get the pitching staff off on the right foot. Serrato played for the Oilers in 2002 and currently plays for Adcock at Cal Baptist.
Thomas, who just arrived in town on Tuesday, said just 12 of the 25 players on the roster will be available for today's game. Six of those players are from Cal State Fullerton and Florida State and are involved in the College World Series.
The other players are taking care of things like finals and should be arriving soon.
Some espouse the philosophy of staying away from players that are on teams that could have lengthy runs in the College World Series. Thomas does not like that philosophy.
"Our goal in the summer is the NBC tournament," Thomas said. "We may suffer earlier if we don't have them, but hopefully we'll make up for it at the end."
One type of player Thomas does believe in staying away from are those who will likely be drafted. The only player the Oilers lost to the draft is A.J. Shappi, who played for the team in 2002 and was drafted in the ninth round Monday by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Thomas said the Oilers also will likely lose pitcher Ricky Romero to Team USA.
The players have been busy so far, giving clinics in Homer and Seward on Wednesday. Two Oilers were not scheduled to arrive until the early morning hours today. Thomas said all the travel should not affect the game today.
"Once it gets close to game time, all of that will be forgotten," Thomas said. "I think the energy and intensity of playing the opener will carry through the tired bodies."
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