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Glacier Pilots historic 2001 season remembered in new documentary series

By Dave Leval 7:42 AM January 4, 2016
ANCHORAGE –

In 2001, Anchorage’s Glacier Pilots baseball team provided fans with a season to remember.

The team not only won the Alaska Baseball League title that year, but also the national championship in Wichita, KS.

Jeff Francis played on that winning team and remembers that incredible year.

“I wanted to to go away somewhere to play summer baseball, the opportunity came up to go to Anchorage, [which] seemed like a good opportunity. [It] turned out good for me,” said Francis.

Following that season, he was drafted by Colorado in the first round of the 2002 Major League draft.

The story of that magical season is featured in the new online documentary, “In Flight Pilots,” produced by Anchorage native Robert Barr.

“I couldn’t understand why the national media was ignoring all the great baseball stories that happened in Alaska, all the great college players that played,” Barr said.

He decided to tell the story of the impact of the game on his home town, and in doing so ended up with more than 50 hours of recordings.

What had originally been planned as a one hour documentary about the 2001 team became something more.

Barr expanded his project to what is likely a 14 hour series to tell the history of the Glacier Pilots and the Alaska Baseball League.

That includes players who made their way to Anchorage, including former major league slugger Mark McGwire.

“Number one thing on my mind was being a pitcher,” the former All-Star with the Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals said in an interview clip.

But, McGwire quickly learned that wouldn’t happen with the Glacier Pilots.

“I wound up pitching, I think, a third of an inning. I believe I gave up three or four runs,” McGwire told Barr in an interview. “[They] took me out, put me at first base… next day asked me if i’d like to play first every day.”

Most of the players who played in the 2001 season came to Alaska while on break from college.

The series also recalls how the players spent their free time during their first visit to the Last Frontier.

“I was not much of a fisherman, the guys did a lot of salmon fishing, yeah, especially when we went to Kenai,” said McGwire.

“That team, they were just such a great bunch of guys. They were always optimistic, they were always energetic,” Barr told KTVA.

He says he wants to make it easier for Alaskans to relive one of the greatest chapters in Alaska sports history.

The series is set to debut on May 31, 2016.

Barr is looking for old Glacier Pilots photos and video — submit yours and find out more about the project at www.glacierpilotslegacy.com.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Mark McGwire’s name. The article has been corrected.

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