BY MICHELLE EASTTY
The inconceivably dramatic history of the city of Fairbanks has been shaped by a multitude of forgotten characters, including frontiersmen, gold panners, and all-around scoundrels. The names of those who have made the greatest impact are remembered with honor and pride. One such name is that of Eddie Stroecker, “The Grand Old Man.”
An adventurer who came to Alaska at the turn of the century, Stroecker brought with him a passion for the game of baseball that is remembered to this day. He played in the earliest organized “base ball” games in Fairbanks, and is remembered as the father of Fairbanks’ annual midnight sun baseball game.
“Baseball seemed to mean more to him than anything,” said Eddie’s son, Bill Stroecker, who has perpetuated the legacy by serving as the Alaska Goldpanners’ board president for 34 consecutive years.
It was October 1904 when Eddie Stroecker and some friends floated on a hand-built boat to what was then the booming gold camp called Fairbanks. Before that, he spent winters working in Valdez and summers mining in the Copper River Valley. It was his knack for baseball that landed him a much-needed job in Valdez in 1901. “There was a saloon owner in Valdez who envisioned himself to be a pretty good pitcher,” recalled Bill Stroecker, from a story his father had told him. “He would go out with two other guys, a catcher and a batter, and the three of them would play. Dad was sitting on the fence watching when the batter hit a high fly ball. Dad ran over to catch it and the saloon owner said, ‘Now that’s a baseball player!’ and gave Dad a job in the saloon.”
Eddie Stroecker was an intense player, and played the catcher position with ferocious determination. Often the team captain, he and whatever local team he could pull together challenged military and business teams in the gold rush days of the early 1900’s. Stroecker was admired throughout the North for his aggressive baserunning and a Dawson newspaper suggested that he would have the makings of a professional player in the Lower 48.
As best as can be determined, the annual Midnight Sun Baseball Classic started in 1906 as a Summer Solstice celebration. The game has always been held at midnight, and in its 95 years has never once been played under artificial lighting. This became a primary facet of game tradition in 1964 when Growden Memorial Park, home of the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks, became Alaska’s first outdoor stadium with lights.
Stroecker is reported to have played in Fairbanks’ very first organized baseball game, and he is credited with being the driving force behind the inauguration of the midnight game tradition.
His stellar play was a constant draw for the event. Playing for the Athletics in the 1910 classic, he had two hits, scored a run and stole four bases in his team’s 11-8 win. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner’s account of the game states that “to the work of Eddie Stroecker more than to any other one person, is the victory of the Athletics attributable, as he put life and confidence into his team and made use of his head at all times in playing his team.” His outstanding play continued for years, and his was a routine presence in the Midnight Sun Game lineup until 1918.
It has been almost a century since Eddie Stroecker and his teammates started the unrivaled tradition of Fairbanks’ Midnight Sun Game. Bill Stroecker’s subsequent leadership in Fairbanks baseball presents a 100 year dominion for the Stroecker duo that is almost unimaginable. This summer, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks will be honoring the Stroecker legacy in Fairbanks history by recognizing with esteem the distinction of these two great men.
2000 GOLDPANNERS YEARBOOK & STATISTICAL RECORD