Barto: Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks continue changing players’ lives



Fourteen wins and 25 losses does not make the type of record the Chinooks wanted to post in the Alaska Baseball League this past summer, nor is it the type of record they expected, especially after a pretty successful start to the season.

It’s hardly anything to write about, yet here I am tapping away at the Olivetti keys to boast yet again that this past season was indeed a successful one for the young men from Chugiak-Eagle River. 

Prior to the summer of 2023 my experience with the team was as a fan, a member of the Booster Club Board and, for four seasons, the president of that Board. Chinooks baseball became a passion bordering on obsession, and it consumed my summers.

When it appeared that our family was moving out of Alaska last year, I stepped down from the board, and when it became clear that we were going to stay, I went into vapor lock thinking I might not be a part of what had become part of my being.

So I asked first-year field manager Tim Cole if I could be in the dugout as an assistant coach. “The Other Tim,” as he became known, knighted me as Coach Intern, and I was given the chance to see what went on in the dugout, hit some pre-game fungoes, and be a part of the team’s unique game day discipleship classes.

Members of the team gather in prayer. In photo above, members smile after being baptized.

I learned more about the game than I had forgotten since I first picked up a baseball bat 55 years ago, and I admit I’d forgotten a bunch; but it was the discipleship part of it all that provided the most indelible takeaways. 

The Chinooks’ game days begin with a visit to the Alaska Club gym in Eagle River, followed by a drive out to The Crossing, a church in Chugiak where players and staff hunker down for a couple hours of testimony and deep Bible dives. This is where the primary mission of this Athletes-In-Action sponsored team really takes place: Guiding young men to be helpful teammates, loyal sons, and devoted future husbands and fathers; in short, good Christian men. 

A favorite line of Coach Cole’s this summer was that we men are meant to do hard things. Life is not easy, and being a follower of Christ is particularly not easy, especially in today’s society. Whether it’s playing baseball, graduating from college, building a business, or raising a family, life is fraught with challenges. Being a believer does not make those challenges a cake walk, but having a solid foundation in faith makes the journey easier and the reward all the more worthy.

Each discipleship session begins – like almost all Chinooks’ activities begin and end – with prayer. Then a player or staff member is given the opportunity to present his Triple Hs to the team. “Triple H” stands for Heart, Heroes, and Hardships. Where does the man’s heart lie? Who in his life has he elevated to hero status? What hardships has he faced, or is he facing? 

This format provides the opportunity for the players to open up, to provide their Christian walk while disclosing their transgressions and challenges, and honoring those people who helped them along the way. And let me tell you, this was one of the most remarkable experiences I have had the opportunity to witness. Without disclosing identities in this article, I can tell you that we heard tales of substance abuse, sexual addiction, spiritual doubt, parental neglect, family discord, suicidal ideations, and the generally loathsome behaviors that are found among most of America’s youthful population.

Hearing this was surprising, often shocking, especially since these are highly skilled college athletes who seem to have it all together and are either already Christ followers or seek to be, but it all just reaffirmed the fact that we are all flawed people, sinners who fall short of the glory of God. And the guys embraced every bit of it. After each Triple H testimony, most of which included tears of either joy or embarrassment or both, players and coaches all lined up to shake hands, hug the confessor, and – quite often – told that guy that he was loved.

Mind you, these are male athletes between 18 and 23. They are hard-working, masculine athletes who thrive on competition, and they were saying to their peers, “I love you.”  

Don’t get me wrong. They’re still baseball players – knuckleheads who joke around continuously and razz each other mercilessly – but they embraced each other’s faults and, through it all, bonded closer than just about any group of young men can, topped only by those who serve together in combat.

They became close, had one of the best summers they will ever have, despite the low winning percentage; and it was something special to witness. 

Author Tim Barto hitting some “fungoes” during pre-game.

During the last week of the season, word was put out that anyone who wanted to be baptized would have that opportunity. Three young men said they would like to take the plunge, one of them a coach barely older than the players under his charge. So, one morning we all gathered at Mirror Lake in Chugiak to watch Easton, Austin, and Noah publicly commit their faith in Jesus and demonstrate it by being dunked into its chilly waters.

After the three of them completed the ceremony, and the requisite hugs were administered, a fourth young man, Kevin, trudged into the water and declared his desire to join his brothers in Christ and make it a foursome of baptized baseballers.

While society’s squeaky wheels bemoan toxic masculinity, it is heartening to see thoroughly masculine men committing to being good men without compromising their masculinity. Confessing one’s sins to his teammates and opponents – yes, these guys provide their testimonies to the other teams as well – is not weakness.

It’s a strength, and it takes courage. It is, in fact, a hard thing to do, just as Coach Cole preached.


Tim Barto was a part of the Chinooks’ 2023 coaching staff. With baseball season now over, he can pay more attention to his full-time job as vice president of the faith-based advocacy organization, Alaska Family Council. 


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