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He can still recount the conversation nearly two decades later. As he sat in the bleachers of Anchorage’s Mulcahy Stadium one summer with his father, Robert Barr complained about the absence of any major media coverage for the Alaska Baseball League. After all, this was an amateur league that saw the likes of Barry Bonds, Randy Johnson, and Dave Winfield take up its far-north diamonds before the joining the Big League. That’s when his father reminded him of his degree in broadcast journalism.
“It was his way of telling me, ‘Why don’t you do it? Why are you waiting for someone else to tell the story if you feel that passionately about it? ” Barr said.
And so he did. The Anchorage native and longtime fan of the Anchorage Glacier Pilots devoted a summer following around the 2001 team. The Anchorage club is one of six teams spread between Fairbanks and Kenai in the league originally founded in 1974. Little did Barr know, the players he was rubbing shoulders with in June would be national champions a little over two months later.
“What ended up happening that summer just blew me away,” Barr said. “It was lightning in a bottle.”
Barr will finally release a documentary series titled, “In Flight: Pilots!” on May 31 that chronicles the season and will be released on his YouTube channel.
Second-year head coach Bob Miller put together a roster of talented college players that included All-Pac 10 outfielders Rodney Allen and Ben Francisco. Miller recruited Matt Hopper out of Nebraska and Haas Pratt out of Miami–two programs coming off trips to the 2001 College World Series.
Beginning in early June, the team played 64 games in 72 days, but none were more important than those played at the National Baseball Congress World Series August 8-18 in Wichita, Kansas. After losing to the Hays Larks (Kansas) midway through the NBC World Series, the Glacier Pilots worked their way through the consolation bracket and faced the Larks in a rematch for the national championship. Despite trailing most of the game, the Glacier Pilots scored two runs in the eighth inning to defeat the Larks. It was the last time the Glacier Pilots won a national championship, and was their fifth in team history.
With no prior contact to teammates and the high volume of games, it can be a challenge for players to bond with one another. However, Anchorage native and 2001 member Jon Dyson said the team never had that problem.
“It felt like from day one that everybody was good friends with everybody and it just clicked,” Dyson said. “There were no real egos or personalities that drove people in different directions.”
Even Barr, wielding a camcorder in place of a glove, felt accepted on the team. While filming Glacier Pilots signing baseballs one day, he received a surprising interruption.
“The kids turned to me and said ‘Hey, man, can you sign it too?’ and I said, ‘I’m just the camera guy, I’m just telling the story,’ and the ballplayers turned to me and said, ‘No, man, go ahead and sign it, make his day.”
Patrick O’Toole, son of legendary Pilots manager Jack O’Toole, recalls a similar bond between teammates and the staff.
“Some of them were characters, some of them went on to careers, but I remember every one of them like it was yesterday,” O’Toole said.
Stranded on second
Barr’s original plan of releasing the documentary the following year quickly went out the window. Working upwards of 60 hours a week and starting a family handicapped any progress.
“I’m a father, I’ve got three kids, I’ve got to make sure they’ve got food on the table,” Barr said. “I just could not sacrifice the time or money to really sit down and tell the story straight like it needed to be told at that point in time.”
Barr never gave up though, and in 2010 he got a break.
“The economics had changed to where it became cheaper for me to really work on this story,” he said.
With free web-hosting and video sharing internet like YouTube, Barr could afford to devote himself full-time to the project set to release May 31 titled “In Flight: Pilots!”
O’Toole is grateful for Barr’s hard work on the project, and says it reflects the culture of the baseball program.
“I relate to Robert because like him we didn’t do it for the money it was just for the passion of the sport, the passion of the community, of helping these young players achieve their dreams.”
True North is a publication of the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Journalism and Public Communications. It has been published since 1995.