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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Hey Goldpanners, You’re 50

  •     Before the Dodge City Athletics defeated the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks 6-5 Monday night at Cavalier Field, the Dodge City Drovers first had to acknowledge history.    The Goldpanners, celebrating not only 50 years of Alaska state-hood, but also 50 years of baseball, ar...
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  •     Before the Dodge City Athletics defeated the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks 6-5 Monday night at Cavalier Field, the Dodge City Drovers first had to acknowledge history.
        The Goldpanners, celebrating not only 50 years of Alaska state-hood, but also 50 years of baseball, are embarking on the "Alaska 50 Tour" through Canada and the states, and on Monday, Dodge was on its list of destinations.
        Before the first pitch, the Drovers recognized Goldpanners general manager Don Dennis as an honorary member of their cattle-driving troop. Earlier in the day, Dennis also received an honorary deputy marshall certificate in the Long Branch Saloon at Boot Hill.
        Dennis, who has been the club's general manager for 43 years, said coming to Dodge was a no-brainer, seeing as how it gave him and the rest of the club a chance to reunite with an old friend.
        "The 50th anniversary trip is based on renewing old acquaintances basically," Dennis said. "It gave us the opportunity to come in here and renew acquaintance with Phil Stephenson and it allowed us to complete the circuit of the Jayhawk. We'll do Dodge, Liberal, Hays, El Dorado and Derby."
        Before heading to Wichita to play in the ceremonial opening game of the 75th anniversary celebration of the National Baseball Congress — an organization Alaska has enjoyed great success in — Alaska will take on all the teams within the Jayhawk League, including Dodge.
        A's general manager and Dodge City Community College head baseball coach Phil Stephenson played in the infield, outfield and batted in the designated-hitter slot for the Goldpanners during the summers of 1980 and 1981, while at Wichita State University playing for the Shockers.
        Stephenson helped lead Alaska to a NBC World Series championship in 1980 and played his way to a spot on the list of the top-50 Goldpanners of all-time.
        "It was quite an incredible group," Stephenson said of the championship-winning club. "And Don Dennis is the guy who obviously orchestrated all that and deserves a lot of the credit."
        In two years with the Goldpanners, Stephenson batted .312, while tallying 16 home runs, 68 RBIs and 37 stolen bases. Stephenson went on to play 14 years of professional baseball, including four years in the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres.
        Stephenson is just one of 197 former Goldpanners that have gone on to play in the majors, Dennis said.
        Stephenson landed in Fairbanks after his older brother, Gene, had a managerial position in Anchorage. Phil said he had little expectations as to what the summer in Alaska would be like.
        "We had no idea what to expect," Stephenson said. "We just knew we were going to play with good players and were playing against really good competition."
        Just like the A's, Stephenson and the rest of his teammates in Alaska had to stay with neighborhood families during the summer, and Stephenson can still remember the Woodkes — the family that brought him in.
    Page 2 of 2 -     "From the moment I stepped foot in their house, they made me feel like a member of their family," Stephenson said of the Woodkes.
        Back then, and even now, Stephenson admittedly had a vice for Dr. Pepper. He said when he arrived at the Fairbanks home of Sam and Ruth Woodke and their three sons, Ruth asked him if there was anything specific he would want or need during his stay. On Stephenson's short list was Dr. Pepper.
        The following morning, when Stephenson woke up for breakfast, Ruth greeted him by saying, "...Oh, and if you need any more Dr. Pepper, let me know." Stephenson walked out to the garage and saw four cases of his favorite soft drink.
        Many families in Dodge opened their doors to the Alaska players during their visit, even though some are already offering their homes to members of the A's ball club. The community even gave the players a home-cooked meal just outside the playing field after the game.
        Dennis said the people of Fairbanks have kept the Goldpanners afloat for 50 years, and they have truly made the team their own.
        Stephenson said he hopes the Goldpanners' visit to Dodge will have the same benefit for the A's.
        "I hope from the exposure standpoint, it'll allow us to continue to grow, advance and improve what we're trying to do here," he said. "I hope a team like this shows how much work, effort and commitment it truly takes. The people in Dodge City can see that it takes everyone to make it work."
        So to conclude the Alaska Goldpanners' first-ever trip to Dodge City, the A's won 6-5 on a walk-off RBI-single by third baseman Oscar Sigala.
        With all the history and success Stephenson has with the Goldpanners franchise, Dodge manager Jeremy Irlbeck said he now has one up on his boss.
        "I got something that they can never take away from me, and something not even Phil Stephenson's done — Phil Stephenson's never beat the Alaska Goldpanners," Irlbeck said. "That's pretty cool."

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