PALMER — The connection between a father and son surrounding the game of baseball is as old as the game itself, which was born in the United States nearly 200 years ago. Fathers and sons are drawn to ballfields around the world, sharing the knowledge and infatuation with the game that has affected young men for centuries. In the seminal moment of the quintessential baseball movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner emotionally asks his father, “You want to have a catch?”
In the Alaska Baseball League, Ben and Coby Boulware have created a bond between father, son, and the game of baseball that has never been seen before. Ben and Coby Boulware are the first father and son to both wear the Mat-Su Miners green and gold, and play at Hermon Brothers Field.
Ben Boulware played for the Miners in 1992 as a highly touted prospect after being drafted by the Montreal Expos out of high school. Ben’s son Coby joined the Mat-Su Miners family midway through the summer, and has been turning heads on diamonds statewide while swiping bags.
“I’m a dirtbag,” said Coby Boulware.
Coby says that he is a dirtbag with pride. A ‘dirtbag’ in baseball terminology is a player who may not display their talent in the most aesthetically pleasing manner, but gets the job done nonetheless. Often ending the game with dirt on their jersey, a dirtbag is a complement when describing a baseball player. Coby learned his hard nosed, all out, dirtbag style of play from his father. While the Alaska Baseball League offers players from around the country the opportunity to face elite level talent in hopes of improving their draft stock to major league teams, the community surrounding Hermon Brothers Field is equally as appealing. Ben was ecstatic when he received word that Coby had an opportunity to play at his old stomping grounds.
“I’ve been teasing Pete and Denise [Christopher] like, five years ago, Coby’s coming to play for you, and I was giggling and laughing. As an alumni guy to have it here, there’s nothing more special,” said Ben Boulware.
Ben grew up as a talented baseball player, blessed with blazing speed. Standing at ‘five-foot nothing,’ as he says, Ben Boulware used his skills in the outfield as an up-and-coming prospect at the University of California Poly-San Louis Obispo. It was not until he played at Hermon Brothers that he changed positions, moving to second base as he was intimately aware of his value in the eyes of scouts as an infielder.
Coby has been similarly receptive to position change during his time with the Miners, following in his father’s footsteps. Ben recalls the first game he played for the Miners, when he arrived shortly after had been trying out for the Olympic baseball team in 1992. Ben landed in Alaska after the tryout and hopped in the late Miners General Manager Stan Zaborac’s pickup to race for the field. Ben got his jersey minutes before the game, and delivered almost as soon as he put it on. In each of his first two ABL games for the Miners, Ben hit walk-off home runs. The rest is history.
“This is what put me on the map. This is what created me as a top-round draft pick because of my experience and the year I had and the summer I had here,” said Ben Boulware. “From that day one of me being here, it’s been a place in my heart that this is the place for me.”
Ben Boulware made the ABL All-Star Team in 1992 and went on to be selected in the seventh round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Chicago White Sox.
Ben Boulware was shopping for baseball bats in 2015 for his son to swing and came across the website for Baum Bats. Steve Baum invented Baum Bats in 1993 and Boulware bought the company in 2015, which boasts that its composite wood bat is 400 times stronger than traditional wood bats. Baum Bats have been a stalwart in the hands of ABL hitters since introduction.
In Palmer in 1992, Ben Boulware honed his craft that would one day become his profession. Ben’s career changed from playing baseball to teaching others the game, and brought his son Coby alongside him for the ride.
“Since he could crawl he was hanging around at college and pro level camps. So he was getting knowledge of how to hit when he was two from big league hitting instructors and getting guys after camp that would throw to him and be on a big league field. So he doesn’t know anything else,” said Ben Boulware.
Coby’s intensity and work ethic have shown through in his short time with the Miners. Though he arrived late after spending a short time in the Cape Cod League, Boulware entered the playoffs with a batting average of .261 with 15 steals in 25 games. Earlier this summer, Coby took another step in his father’s footsteps. He was named an ABL All-Star, just as his father was in 1992
During a recent game against the Chugiak Chinooks, Coby Boulware’s dirtbag mentality helped the Miners come back to win the game. Trailing 1-0 in the seventh inning, Coby Boulware hustled down the first base line to safely beat infielder’s throw off of a bobbled ground ball. Coby Boulware, ever the opportunist, then raced from first to third base on a passed ball, scoring the tying run in the seventh inning. Boulware would score again later in the game, accounting for half of the Miners runs in the win.
“He’s obviously been raised to compete like crazy and he does that to the fullest and that’s why I love that kid to death. He just has a motor that you can’t turn off,” said Miners head coach Tyler LeBrun. “He’s finding ways to get on base and when he does he changes the ballgame with it.”
As the saying goes, speed kills, and Coby Boulware is deadly on the basepaths. Chinook pitchers unsuccessfully attempted to pick Coby Boulware off at first base over and over again, but Coby Boulware has become a master in the art of thievery. He added another steal in the game, successfully moving himself into scoring position where he would later be driven in by Justin Kirby. LeBrun says that Coby has the green light, meaning that he is free to attempt a steal whenever he gets the urge to run. Between pitches, Coby will look to LeBrun in the dugout for signs. LeBrun said that he rarely gives Coby the sign to steal, instead waiting for him to start the fireworks on his own.
“Being a base stealer is finding ways to score when you probably shouldn’t, so it’s fun to be aggressive and help the team win,” said Coby Boulware.
Coby Boulware enjoyed a monster freshman season as an All-American at Texas Christian University before transferring to the University of Arkansas. After sitting out for a season, Coby was itching to get back on the field and prove that he is among the best ballplayers in the country. While Coby is hoping to enjoy the same success as his father, vaulting his draft status in hopes of a successful professional career, Ben was happy to introduce Coby to the Miners family that exists outside the white lines of the baseball diamond.
“To go fishing after the games, the sunlight, how it doesn’t get dark and you’re telling your friends at home that you’re putting tinfoil on your windows they’re like what are you talking about,” said Ben Boulware. “We got to work on the field, we got to do camps. My last 20 years was doing baseball camps because of the camps I learned how to do here.”
Ben Boulware began training his son for this season as soon as he was able by bringing him to baseball camps as a spectator alongside his father and a participant once he was old enough. Ben has always had Coby play against older competition to challenge him as a hitter against pitchers that throw faster than his peers, preparing Coby for the 90 mile per hour fastballs thrown by pitchers in the Alaska Baseball League. Not only did Coby inherit his father’s blazing speed and love for the game, but he has been embraced by the summer family at Hermon Brothers Field and beyond just as his father was 27 years ago.
“The culture, the environment, the essence of this amazing place is exactly the same. What Pete and Denise have done is just unreal,” said Ben Boulware. “You can’t go anywhere in the country and get this environment. It’s a special place.”
More than 1,500 fans packed the stands on July 30 night to see the Miners battle for playoff position. What Ben Boulware is most enamored by is the escape from major civilization and technology in the Alaskan wilderness. Rather than being in a Californian metropolis, the Boulwares can enjoy all of the natural beauty that Alaska has to offer and the people that call the Valley home. Ben is still in contact with his host family and their children that he met nearly 30 years ago, and Coby has similarly taken to his host family. Coby beamed with praise for the Christophers for their work ethic in uniting the team with post game meals, trips to the Matanuska Glacier, and the type of fun that cannot be had in the Lower 48.
“There’s nothing like being in Alaska, hunting, fishing shooting guns, driving little RZR’s around with the guys, and the host families make it go around as well. They play a huge part,” said Coby Boulware.
With the obvious wonders of the Alaskan landscape, the elite level of baseball and the father-son connection to the game in many instances, Ben Boulware cannot understand why this has never happened before.
“This needs to happen more. This is what it’s about, to keep that tradition alive from father to son. So to be out here and to experience this from the same locker room and the same spot to be in the batting cage and seeing the uniform is just a dream, a complete dream,” said Ben Boulware. “This is what it’s all about, to get in nature and play the greatest game on earth.”
Coby will be featured on the basepaths and in the outfield for the Miners as they work toward another ABL championship. While Ben beams watching his son play, he hopes to add another chapter to the Boulware legacy on Hermon Brothers Field. Ben’s youngest son Kyler is a fine middle infielder in his own right, taking after his brother and father. Ben hopes that in a couple of years when Kyler has reached an elite level of play, he can put on the Mat Su Miners jersey and play on his family’s home for the summer.
“That’s the goal right there,” said Kyler Boulware.
While Ben and Coby Boulware are the first father and son to play in the ABL, fathers and sons have shared baseball fields around the Valley all summer. Many fathers who now serve as coaches get to watch their sons play on some of the same fields they played on while they were young ballplayers. The Boulware family’s connection to Hermon Brothers Field is unlike any other, and may even be making an encore performance in the near future.
“I just pray he gets the opportunity too. I just think that would be something special and something that doesn’t happen too often,” said Coby Boulware. “I couldn’t be more proud to put on a Miner uniform knowing that my dad played here.”