Man Seeks to Tell Story of Alaska’s Glacier Pilots
Vince Guerrieri | On 28, May 2013
Robert Barr grew up in the shadow of Mulcahy Stadium in Alaska. He watched the Alaska Baseball League grow from a series of town teams to one of the best collegiate baseball leagues in the country.
And he’s trying to bring that story to a wider audience.
Barr, now living in Los Angeles and working in television and film, followed around the Anchorage Glacier Pilots in their 2001 season with the intention of putting together a documentary. What he ended up doing was following a team that included three future major leaguers – including former Indian Ben Francisco – as it won the National Baseball Congress World Series.
Barr’s goal is to create a web series and a documentary about the 2001 series, and then film a documentary on the Glacier Pilots, which were started as the second team in Alaska so the first team – the (Fairbanks) Goldpanners – would have someone to play.
Major League Baseball hasn’t done a lot with the Alaska League, which can claim Hall of Famers Tom Seaver (almost an Indian) and Dave Winfield (a former Indian) as alumni, but Barr’s found great response from those who played in the league.
“Everyone wants to see it,” he said.
But he’s looking for funds to complete the project, and is accepting donations through the site glacierpilotslegacy.com.
“I think it’s such a niche idea, people in Los Angeles can’t wrap their heads around it,” Barr said. “People think of Alaska, they think of polar bears and ice cubes.”
Barr’s parents, both teachers, came from the hills of West Virginia to the Last Frontier because they heard they could make better money. Their arrival almost coincided with the founding of the Goldpanners in 1960. The Goldpanners started out as a barnstorming team and were the runners-up in the 1962 NBC World Series, as well as the most popular non-professional team.
The Goldpanners started bringing in ringers – including a Marine Corps Reserve veteran named George Thomas Seaver, a Fresno native who earned a scholarship to the University of Southern California through his performance with the Goldpanners. The Glacier Pilots, founded in 1969, also started bringing in college students.
“Alaska really became a summer league for college kids,” Barr said.
The average age of the teams started going down, and within a decade, the league had six teams and had become a developmental wood-bat league for students who wanted to improve their game in the summer – away from the prying eyes of scouts, the media and anyone else who might be an impediment.
“It’s an amazing story about young men going after their dreams,” Barr said. “They’re willing to go all the way to Alaska.”
Barr wants to tell their story – but he wants to tell the stories of the people who left the lower 48, stayed with host families and traveled throughout Alaska for nothing but the game (to maintain the players’ college eligibility, the Alaska League doesn’t pay).
“What is it about baseball that people love so much that they’ll go to the ends of the earth to play it?”
Photo: Glacier Pilots Legacy Project