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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Alaska and back

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The city of Palmer, Alaska — just 45 minutes north of Anchorage — sits closer to Russia than Texas. Other than the main road, there is not much to do in the town besides the occasional baseball game at Hermon Brothers Field, home of the Matsu Miners.
This summer, three Texas A&M baseball players made the long flight to “The Last Frontier” for a two-month long trip of a lifetime.
Sophomore pitchers Tyler Stubblefield and Ryan Hendrix and senior catcher Mitchell Nau were chosen by Miners head coach Ben Taylor to play for his team in the Alaskan Baseball League, ABL.
After getting the okay from A&M head coach Rob Childress, the trio got on a plane and headed north.
Local families house the players in the ABL. Hendrix and Nau stayed together with a true wilderness man and district attorney named Chad McGrady.
“My host dad had a two-seater airplane, so he flew me over the mountain range and into the wilderness,” Nau said. “He kind of just dropped me off on the side of a river and gave me a pistol and a fishing pole and said, ‘Hey, here’s how you fish for these. Why don’t you just hang out here? I’m going to go back up and do something.’ I’m in the middle of nowhere. He gave me a SAT phone and a pistol. So I started fishing, but I kept looking back behind me expecting to see a bear. It looked exactly like National Geographic.”
Nau, who describes himself as an outdoorsman, passed his test with nature. He caught a 30-pound King Salmon, which was on the grill only an hour later.
“It was surreal being out there by myself,” Nau said. “It was like, ‘I’m in it. I’m in nature. This is as good as it gets.’”
Nau was not the only one to have a close encounter with some Alaskan animals.
“We were cooking at a house one time and these three moose walked out while we were cooking,” Stubblefield said. “Two babies and a mom. They’re not scared of you. They don’t care.”
One night, Stubblefield and Hendrix camped in the woods overnight.
“We made a fire and roasted marshmallows,” Stubblefield said. “There was just a fire, our tent and this huge pond. You could see Mount McKinley in the background even though it was 300 miles away.”
As the three reminisced together, each complained about the mosquitos. Nau held up his fingers in a circle the size of a quarter and said that was the average size.
“Some people call them the state bird of Alaska,” Nau said. “They will bite you right through your clothing.”
“Texas mosquitos are nothing compared to them,” Stubblefield said.
Alaska is three hours behind their friends and family in Texas, so communication sometimes proved to be difficult. Their games often ended well after midnight central time so they were not able to talk to their parents after the games. However, they said they adapted and learned how to navigate the time difference.
“It’s something that I felt like I really needed to do,” Nau said. “Even just to say that I lived in Alaska for two months.”
All three said the home-cooked food was fantastic, particularly rhubarb, a traditional dessert made from the rhubarb plant. They had fish they caught just hours before from nearby streams. Still, there were some drawbacks.
“No Mexican food,” Stubblefield said. “That sucked.”
One of the scariest moments from the trip occurred on the Miners seven-hour bus ride to play some games in Fairbanks, Alaska.
“Half of the ride up there we were on unpaved roads,” Nau said. “And that’s, like, the highway. It’s like being on I-10 and it being unpaved.”
“I’m talking, 10 yards to your right, it’s a thousand-foot drop off,” Stubblefield said.
The team took a field trip to a glacier just outside of Palmer.
“Being on the glacier was special,” Hendrix said. “You couldn’t really walk anywhere because you would just trip and fall, but that water coming off of the glacier was amazing. You could drink it and it was so good.”
As for the actual baseball, the Miners finished first in their division and second overall. Nau batted .230 and hit four home runs in the crisp Alaskan air. Hendrix threw 40 innings — second most on the team behind Stubblefield — and finished with an earned run average of 3.15.
Stubblefield dominated the league, leading all players with a 1.06 ERA over 42.2 innings pitched. He was named the ABL Pitcher of the Year and the league’s Top Pro Prospect.
Both Hendrix and Stubblefield were named to the ABL All-Star team after the season.
The three Aggies arrived back in Texas on Aug. 1 full of hope and a fresh perspective.
The Aggies had their first practice of the fall on Monday in 95-degree heat under the beating sun — quite a wake-up call for these three players who spent their summer playing America’s Pastime in paradise.
(From left to right) sophomore Ryan Hendrix, junior Mitchell Nau and sophomore Tyler Stubblefield spent two months in Palmer, Alaska, playing for the Matsu Miners.
Photo by Jonathan Sheen
Pictures provided.

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