Tradition-laden Alaska Goldpanners come to Everett

Alaska’s Cameron Leonard throws out Everett’s Evan Johnson at Everett Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Alaska’s Cameron Leonard throws out Everett’s Evan Johnson at Everett Memorial Stadium on Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

EVERETT — Tom Seaver, Dave Winfield, Bob Boone and Billy Beane.

Those are just a few of the players who have passed through the storied Alaska Goldpanners semi-pro baseball program on their way to the big leagues.

The Goldpanners close out a three-game series with the Everett Merchants at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Everett Memorial Stadium.

“They’ve got a lot of rich history and former major-league ball players that have gone through that program,” Merchants coach Harold Pyatte said. “It’s an opportunity for the fans to come out and see what caliber of baseball they play and we play.”

The Goldpanners, based in Fairbanks, Alaska, were founded in 1959 and first made a name for themselves with a second-place finish at the 1962 National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas.

Since then, 1,184 Major League Baseball draft picks — including former Mariners Harold Reynolds, Bret Boone, Brendan Ryan and Alvin Davis — have donned a Goldpanners uniform.

“It’s a lot of fun to kind of look back into the history of the organization, see who’s been a part of it, realize the big picture that you’re a part of, get to go to Growden Stadium and be a part of the traditions,” first-year Goldpanners coach Miles Kizer said.

One of the Goldpanners’ biggest traditions is the Midnight Sun Game, which has been played every year since 1906. The game, which starts at 10 p.m. and runs through the midnight hour, is held every year on June 21, the summer solstice. No lights are needed because Fairbanks receives 24 hours of daylight on that day.

“I honestly thought that that game was probably the coolest game that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Kizer, who spent a college season playing for the University of Washington. “In front of 3,500 people, it was incredible.”

The Merchants played in that game in 2015 and have traveled north to face the Goldpanners at other times, but this series marks the 59-year-old Alaska ballclub’s first trip to face the Merchants in Everett. They defeated the Merchants 6-2 in the series opener on Tuesday.

“A team like these guys to come down, the history they have, you hear about it growing up,” Merchants third baseman Max Whitt said. “(This series) is going to be awesome for us.”

The trip to Everett marks a homecoming for Goldpanners infielder Patrick Chung, who was a standout at Cascade High School and spent the past four years as a member of the Gonzaga University baseball team. On Tuesday, Chung made his first appearance at Everett Memorial Stadium since his final game as a senior in the 2014 4A state tournament.

“To get to play back at Everett Memorial, like the high school days, it’s going to be a blast,” Chung said before Tuesday’s game.

Chung is in his first year with the Goldpanners and is grateful for the opportunity to step on the same field as some of baseball’s all-time greats.

“It’s definitely a privilege. The first time driving to the stadium in Fairbanks I saw all those photos of Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Terry Francona,” Chung said. “Oh my gosh, it’s such a rich history.”

The teams were set to be a part of the Grand Forks International Baseball Tournament held in Grand Forks, British Columbia, this week, but flooding caused the tournament to be canceled.

The two teams, along with the Seattle Studs, decided to make the best of an unfortunate situation, and the Goldpanners altered their travel plans so they could make a seven-game swing through the Puget Sound area.

“(Changing the schedule) wasn’t all that difficult,” Kizer said. “It was a pretty smooth transition.”

The three-game slate gives the Merchants an opportunity to test themselves against the kind of team they can expect to see at National Baseball Congress tournament.

“Both teams have got a lot of talent, and (there’s) going to be some tough games,” Pyatte said. “It’s going to be competitive.”

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