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Where baseball burns bright

Del Oro's Lachemann fills summer void in Alaska as Goldpanners pitching coach
By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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The sun had just started to set as Bret Lachemann left his hotel late Sunday night for a 1 a.m. flight back to Northern California. “It’s finally getting a little dark,” he said. “I was just getting used to this.” The Del Oro High baseball coach spent the summer 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle, serving as pitching coach for the Fairbanks Goldpanners. The charter members of the six-team amateur Alaska Baseball League, the Goldpanners are a historical hotbed of college talent. Home run king Barry Bonds, three-time Cy Young Tom Seaver and 12-time all-star Dave Winfield top an impressive list of nearly 200 former Goldpanners who have continued on to Major League careers, a list that includes current Oakland Athletics Jason Giambi and Bobby Crosby. “The Alaska Baseball league has always been one of the premier leagues in the country,” Lachemann said. “There are some very good players here. This summer was the 50th anniversary of the Goldpanners, so it was kind of a big deal.” Placer High graduate Tim Gloyd, the veteran head coach at Yuba College who broke the College World Series stolen base record while playing with Pepperdine in 1979 and went on to play professionally for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Montreal Expos, managed the Goldpanners for the third straight year. Gloyd invited American River College’s Kevin Higgins to serve as his hitting coach for the summer. Lachemann and Higgins became friends while coaching at American River in 2005. “Tim said he was looking for a pitching coach,” Higgins said. “I had just talked to Bret a week before and he was looking to do something in the summer. He’s very knowledgeable and he really gets along well with kids. It was perfect.” Lachemann arrived on June 9, two days before the team’s season opener and less than two weeks before the famous Midnight Sun Game, played annually on the Summer Solstice — the longest day of the year. What began as a bar bet more than a century ago was originally played between small local and military teams before developing into a Fairbanks holiday. The Goldpanners hosted the Lake Erie Monarchs in the 104th Midnight Sun event on June 21. The game starts at 10:30 p.m. Alaska Standard Time and usually ends around 2 a.m. “They haven’t turned the lights on in Fairbanks in 50 years,” Lachemann said. “It’s cool. You feel like you’re on top of the world. I was out there coaching a little first base. It’s 12 a.m. and the sun doesn’t go down.” Lachemann was born into a baseball family. His father, Marcel, pitched for the Athletics before coaching stints with three MLB clubs as well as Team USA. Uncles Rene and Bill both played and currently coach professionally. Lachemann, who coached at Fullerton College, Sacramento City College, ARC and California State Polytechnic University-Pomona before leading the Golden Eagles for the past three springs, saw the summer in Fairbanks as an opportunity to fill a void. “It’s good to coach the college kids again, to see the College World Series kids from (Arizona State University), to see the level of dedication and how good the kids are,” Lachemann said. “I got a chance to deal with the college guys on an everyday basis. It was a great way to get that fix. It’s good for me because I’ve been coaching high school and I can go back and probably be a little tougher on our guys. You guys say you want to play college baseball? You gotta work your butt off.” The Goldpanners, who historically win nearly 70 percent of their games, finished a little below .500 this season after a sluggish 0-6 start. “It’s not all about wins and losses,” Lachemann said. “It’s kind of more of a developmental situation, playing day-to-day, working on improving their games. You’re not so much playing to win as you are to develop.” Lachemann is already hoping he’ll get to experience another summer of near-constant daylight in 2010. “I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was nice not being the head guy for a change, being able to relax a little bit and enjoy myself. I was the fun guy for a change. My family came up for three weeks and my kids had a blast. The people up there are very nice and you can’t beat that weather.”