Someone who looks at the small town of Ketchikan Alaska for the first time would probably spot out a few specific characteristics to the city. One being the beautiful scenery it has to offer, another being the lively tourist industry, but most notably, the rain. The rain is what makes Ketchikan so unique compared to other places around the world. Ketchikan averages about 150 inches of rain a year. So this brings up the question. Why on earth, in a place that rains as much it does, would young men and women play baseball there? How someone ever thought of that playing baseball in Ketchikan’s type of climate was a good idea still confuses me. But clearly the the idea has stood the test of time. Organized baseball has been played in Ketchikan since May of 1903. Over 110 years has passed and the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd can still be heard in the first city.
Ketchikan’s’ primary baseball field today wouldn’t be what anyone would call sufficient in any part of the country, unless of course it is the only field you’ve ever known. Norman Walker field in today’s day in age, is one of the lower end fields in the entire state. But compared to what Ketchikan’s only baseball field was back in 1910, Norman Walker would be fit for the major leagues. In 1910, the only place large and suitable enough for a ball field was the mouth of Ketchikan Creek. So for a portion of the day, home plate would often have up to 14 feet of water over it. Each low tide was officially known as baseball time. Ketchikan had one team consisting of 15 men, which played teams from all around southeast such as Juneau or Metlakatla.
Lawrence Kubley, was a star player for Ketchikan for many years, and has had over 6 generations of family that have lived in the city. Lawrence Kubleys great grandson, Larry has lived in Ketchikan his entire life and owns the Sourdough Bar with his son Wally.
“I’ve been around the game since I was a child. Just about everyone in my family has played the game and our roots run deep into it,” Kubley said. “My great grandpa told me quite a few stories. Games would often be delayed up to twenty minutes trying to recover foul balls.”
Because of the unique field conditions, there were some unique ground rules. When balls were hit into the various piles of sawmill rubble and lumber it counted for a double. When balls were hit into the gradually filling estuary in left field, it was counted a homerun.
“Harriet Hunt had a little black dog named Toby that would go off into the water and retrieve balls that were hit there,” Kubley said. “It was by no means a regular baseball field, but the It was Ketchikan’s field and the town loved it. Everyone either watched or played.
My father, Wally, (Lawrence’s Son) was too young at the time to play on the tideflats, but he was able to be the batboy. It just goes to show, even though it wasn’t the best field, it brought the town together in way that nothing else could.”
Ketchikan has come a long way since the tide flat era. There are now up to 5 fields that Ketchikan baseball and softball players can play on during the season. Ketchikan has 5 leagues including tee-ball, coach pitch, minors, majors, and junior league. Ketchikan also has high school teams for both softball and baseball, along with American Legion Baseball and All-Star programs in the summer. Minors, Majors, Seniors, as well as high school and American Legion all play on the same field, that being Norman Walker Field. Walker Field is named after one of Ketchikan’s most beloved citizens. Walker was a pharmacist and owned his own drugstore. He also served time as Mayor of Ketchikan and as a Territorial Senator. Norman Walker field is unique compared to other fields in the world because of the fact that it is any entirely dirt field. Not the type of beautiful brown dirt that any other field plays on, but hard grey gravel that will require stitches when you slide. On the softball side, any league higher than minors play on Dudley Field.
Cade King is the president of Ketchikan Little League and has been a part of Ketchikan baseball and softball for years,
“Though Ketchikan’s conditions don’t seem the best for an outdoor sport like baseball, I truly believe Ketchikan is a Baseball town,” King said. “We have hundreds and hundreds of kids come out every year for softball and baseball. “
Ketchikan baseball fields, have been in need of an upgrade for quite some time, and it seems that time may finally be coming.
Trevor Sande, an entrepreneur who played and had a son play baseball on Ketchikan’s Fields, has been working on a project to completely change how Walker Field is designed.
“As the field sits right now, the fences constantly have to be taken down for soccer and football in the fall. The new design would eliminate the need for that. We would have enough room for two full size baseball fields, and a soccer/football field,” Sande said. “The biggest reason we haven’t been able to turf or put grass on the field is the constant change in sports being played on it. Once we designate areas for each sport, we can start making changes.”
Sande expects to be able to start on the field anywhere from 5 to 10 years from now.
Cade King is one of many excited for the changes coming to Walker Field.
“The field has been the same for decades and it is due for a remodel, I for one am exsatic. Though it is obviously a major project and will take some time,” King said. But for right now, the dirt will have to do, but at the same time I’m not sure if that’s the worst thing in the world. I know tons of people who have grown up on this field and love it to death. A new field would of course be better, but the memories on Walker field and on the tide flats will live on in Ketchikan’s history forever.”