Sullivan Recognizes John Lohrke as “Alaskan of the Week”

WASHINGTON—On the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized John Lohrke, of Fairbanks, the general manager of the Fairbanks Goldpanners minor league baseball team, which has fielded over 211 players who’ve gone on to the major leagues since the team’s founding in 1960. John has been a longtime baseball fan as the son of Jack “Lucky” Lohrke, a World War II veteran who went on to play for the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies. John has long championed the teams that make up the Alaska Baseball League and the Goldpanners, which bring in aspiring college students from across the country. This Tuesday, on summer solstice, the Goldpanners will play their most famous “Midnight Sun” game, known to baseball fans across the globe. John was recognized as part of Sen. Sullivan’s series, “Alaskan of the Week.”

Tribute to John Lohrke

Madam President, I want to thank my colleague from Missouri. And I will just mention here in the Senate his leadership on so many issues are really going to be missed. Maybe he will reconsider his decision to leave this august body, which is going to be a lot less--a lot less of an institution that thinks hard about these difficult issues when he is gone. So I want to thank Senator Blunt for all he has done. He is a great friend of mine, so we are going to miss him.

It is Thursday, and once again it is an opportunity for me to talk about our Alaskan of the week.

Now, I know that our pages--the new pages, they are going to really realize this is probably one of the most exciting, interesting speeches of the week. Some of our friends in the media even like it because it is end of the week. I get to brag about Alaska and talk about someone who is doing something really great for our State, maybe their community, maybe the country, maybe the world, right?

We have all kinds who do this.

I always like to talk a little bit about what is going on in Alaska first.

So it is amazing how quickly the seasons go by because it is almost summer solstice in the State. That is when the Sun rarely sets across any part of Alaska and the State is filled with life, filled with energy. You can feel it when you come up. Hopefully, we get a lot of tourists this summer. I know we are going to get a lot. A lot of people want to get up to Alaska, particularly after the pandemic. You can feel it in the air when you are there, this sense of energy and excitement. 

So our tourists are there now. They are seeing spectacular scenery, wildlife, glaciers, our salmon-choked streams. They will be able to hike through thousands of miles of State and Federal parks, climb mountains, fly through the skies, and some are even there to watch baseball. Yes, baseball.

Now, maybe not the Braves, but still good baseball. Now, I know that is going to sound odd to some people. Now, wait a minute. Going up to Alaska to watch baseball probably isn't the first thing that comes to many people's minds when they think about Alaska. 

But diehard American baseball fans know that Alaska has played a fundamental role in America's pastime. They know how important Alaska summers are and have been for decades, taking young college students with raw but exceptional talent and growing them under the midnight Sun into seasoned professional Major League Baseball players.

This is the Alaska Baseball League, one of the premiere amateur collegiate summer baseball leagues that anybody plays anywhere in America. 

Let me give you just a few--and I mean a few--of those who have come up through the Alaska Baseball League. It has produced some of Major League Baseball's most well known All-Stars, including Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Tom Seaver, Dave Winfield, and Randy Johnson, just to name a few. 

The Alaska Baseball League is sometimes composed of five teams, sometimes six--two teams in Anchorage, one in Palmer, one in Chugiak-Eagle River, one in Kenai. 

And then there is a team, a very famous team, in Fairbanks--the oldest and most storied of them all--which I am going to focus on today. 

It is the Fairbanks Goldpanners; and the team's general manager, who is our Alaskan of the Week, John Lohrke, makes the baseball magic of Alaska happen. 

So, first, a few words about John's background. He was raised in a baseball family. His father, Jack Lohrke--Lucky Lohrke, as baseball fans might know him--was a World War II veteran who landed on Omaha Beach 6 days after D-day, fought his way across Europe, survived many near-death experiences in combat and even back home; hence the name ``Lucky.''

After the military, Jack played baseball as a third baseman for the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies.

After Jack Lohrke retired, his family moved to California, but, as I said, baseball is in the Lohrke family's blood. 

Our Alaskan of the Week, John, had an older brother, who was drafted by the Red Sox, and John himself got into the game administratively. As a college student at Santa Clara, he began helping his college team behind the scenes.

In 1980, the Santa Clara coach was going to Alaska to coach the North Pole Nicks. John thought that that sounded great and asked if he could come. He did, he fell in love with Alaska and stayed, like so many in our State. 

He managed the Nicks for 7 years, then was the president of another team, the Oilers, on Alaska's beautiful Kenai Peninsula; then it was back to the interior part of the State, where John stayed involved with baseball as a board member of the Goldpanners.

In 2016, he became president of the board, and now he is the general manager of the Goldpanners in Fairbanks, the person in charge of making it all happen. And what a responsibility and what a team and what a history and what a legacy of excellence John has been part of.

Since its founding in 1960, the Goldpanners have had over 211 players that have gone on to the major leagues. Isn't that remarkable--211 players? A pipeline into the major leagues from Fairbanks, AK. Who knew? And that doesn't include the countless others who went on to be coaches or general managers or scouts. 

The current Cleveland Guardians manager played for the Goldpanners. The current pitching coach for the Red Sox is also a Goldpanner alumnus. As I mentioned, the Goldpanners are one of the premier pipelines into the major leagues. 

One of the highlights of the season in Alaska, something that is happening very soon--actually, this Tuesday--is when the Goldpanners play their most famous game. It is the Midnight Sun game, and it is played every summer on the summer solstice. 

The tradition of the Midnight Sun game in Fairbanks goes way, way back. The first one of these games was played in 1906. Americans have been playing midnight baseball in Alaska well over 100 years, and now this game is famous--worldwide. It is a must-do bucket list game for baseball enthusiasts all across America. Thousands of people, many of whom come from across the globe, will gather for this game this Tuesday, as they do every summer in Fairbanks. 

Now, this game is a culmination of a dizzying array of activities that occur in Fairbanks. Right now, parties, street festivals, a famed Midnight Sun Run. Fairbanks--a great city. My wife was born and raised there--is known for its spirit, generosity, and on the summer solstice weekend, that spirit explodes. I will be heading there tomorrow. I am going to partake in some of these festivities, including taking in a Goldpanners game and maybe, as I usually do, join the many runners in the Midnight Sun Run, where I have been known to bring up the rear of all the runners. We will see what happens.

But for Tuesday night's Midnight Sun game this year, the Goldpanners will be playing the San Diego Waves. The game starts at 10 p.m. in Growden Park and goes until the wee hours. 

With Fairbanks just 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the Sun just begins to set in the north a little bit as the game gets underway but never fully goes down under the horizon, and as the game ends, the Sun is actually starting to rise again. 

As one sports writer put it: ``It is the stuff that baseball dreams are made of.''

And it is never dark. And throughout its century-long history, artificial lights have never been used ever--not once. 

John Lohrke, our Alaskan of the Week, understands how important that particular game is to the larger culture of baseball, not just to Fairbanks and the interior. He understands how important the Goldpanners team is for all of Alaska, for Fairbanks, but for baseball writ large. 

Since starting in as a manager, he has put more money into the stadium to spruce it up. There are a lot of pictures of some of the great alumni there that I mentioned earlier in my remarks. He is constantly in touch with members of the business community who help sponsor and support the team. 

He is in charge of getting housing for the 24-member team and the coaches, many of whom are talented athletes who come up to Alaska from the lower 48 for the summer. 

He is in charge of transportation needs. He is in charge of the vendors and ticket sales and the beer garden. He is in charge of making all of this run smoothly for Fairbanks, for the team he loves, and for the love of baseball. 

``I love Fairbanks,'' he said. ``And I love baseball. It's in my blood,'' and this is where it happens.

So thanks to all the Goldpanner players and the community that supports the team. Thank you, John, for all you do to make it happen to bring us together to keep baseball alive. Congratulations for being our Alaskan of the Week. 

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