Oilers bask in sunlight, good fortune

Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2000

Want to know why the Oilers are having such a good season this year? Do what people have been doing for ages when looking for answers. Look to the sky.

Sunday afternoon and Monday night were conspicuously clear and sunny compared to the dark, wet and gloomy weather that hung over the peninsula for the past week or so.

"I feel like a groundhog," color man Bob Bird said Monday during the Oilers radio broadcast. "I'm scared of my shadow. I haven't seen it in 10 days."

Meteorologists have fronts and high-pressure systems to explain the weather, but the Oilers factor works just as good.

When the team's in town, the sun seems to be shining. This is a unit for which everything -- even grumpy Alaska weather -- cooperates.

From the beginning of June to July 13, when the Oilers completed the bulk of their home schedule, the Clarion recorded 1.09 inches of rain. The Oilers then took off to sunny Hawaii from July 14 to Saturday and in that short time Kenai got 2.24 inches of showers.

Sunday, the Oilers returned home under sunny skies and thumped the Mat-Su Miners 9-1 to clinch their third straight Alaska Baseball League crown. It is an unprecedented string of success for the club, which has been around since 1974.

It was just like almost every other day this season for the Oilers -- feel-good stories just seemed to work out. Hometown hero Chris Mabeus, in his probable last appearance at Coral Seymour Memorial Park, picked up the league-clinching victory.

But anyone who takes their lessons from life and not from a Meg Ryan romantic comedy knows things in life just don't magically work out. There are reasons for results.

Mike Baxter, the baseball operations manager for the Oilers, says there are a number of "links on the chain" that currently have the Oilers posing as the Lance Armstrong of the ABL.

For starters, there's the work that Baxter and Oilers manager Gary Adcock have done in putting together a team as complete as Renee Zellweger once Tom Cruise is back at her side in "Jerry Maguire."

This year, with over half of the ABL managers, including Adcock, coming from southern California, Baxter and Adcock took the unique step of recruiting some of the team from college programs that are not traditional top-25 powerhouses.

The Oilers roster is not dotted with players from places like Stanford, but it is better than those ABL rosters dotted with players from places like Stanford.

Adcock, now the pitching coach at Purdue University, used his increasing knowledge of the Midwest to get key players like Luke Simmons, Joe Hietpas and Tim McCabe from places like Illinois, Northwestern and West Virginia.

"We did our homework," Baxter said. "We did more homework than in the past to put this team together and that's not to say we haven't done a lot of homework in the past."

The two mixed players from nontraditional schools with players from programs like Rice University, which has supplied the Oilers with excellent talent, like Mario Ramos and Jeff Nichols, for years.

This year, leading hitter Hunter Brown and top winner David Humen both come from the Rice program.

The 2000 club also has area products in Mabeus and Jackson Coleman, the speedy outfielder built for the vast confines of Seymour Park. Baxter, who has been involved with the ABL since the 1970s, said this is the best contribution he can remember from two area players.

Of course, there's a reason Rice keeps sending players the Oilers' way. The organization is as inviting as the Caribbean in the midst of an Alaska winter.

"We have the best host family program of any team in the league," Baxter said.

Adds Adcock: "Kids are only going to play well if they're taken care of at home. In the four years I've been here, we've never had to send somebody home because he's homesick.

"When I go to bed at night, I'm worrying about the lineup, not off-the-field stuff. I don't think that's the case everywhere in the league."

Danny Garcia, an All-Alaska Baseball League player in 1999, came back to the peninsula this year even though he could have played with Team USA or in the Major League Baseball-sponsored Cape Cod League.

"I have no regrets," he said. "The people here have been great to me."

When Andy Perkins learned Monday that he had to leave the team Monday night due to a sore elbow, both the pitcher and host parent Bob Jameson looked as forlorn as lost puppy dogs.

"I can't believe how much this hurts," said Nikiski's Jameson, who, as the host parent of catcher Jim Anderson, got to know Perkins. "You prepare for this, but it's so sudden.

"It's almost like sending away a son."

Added Perkins: "I understand the situation with my arm, but I don't really want to go home yet."

With the players in place, Adcock had a short time to mold them into a team. The affable manager was quick to point out that he has only pitched one inning this year for the team and that all credit for success lies with the players.

But the 2000 Oilers are an extremely tight unit, and Mabeus isn't even sure they're as tight as the 1999 squad also formed by Adcock, the man who reads people as well as Peter Jennings reads news.

Adcock has comfortably taken his place in a line of successful Oilers managers that includes Mark Newman, now president of baseball operations for the New York Yankees, and Sunny Golloway, now the head coach at Oral Roberts University."

"Whatever Gary wants to do, whether it's be a head coach in college, go into the pros or stay a pitching coach, he's going to be a good one," Baxter said. "These guys are all used to being stars. That can make it hard to be the manager."

Throw in an active board of directors and numerous volunteer hours provided by the community and, suddenly, it's clear why things have "worked out" for the Oilers.

Oh yeah, and don't forget to splash on some sunshine now and then.

This column is the opinion of Jeff Helminiak, a reporter at the Peninsula Clarion. He can be reached at clarion@alaska.net.

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