Now 78, Alokli’s playing days have passed, but his passion for the sport is still very much alive. He spent part of his Tuesday morning at the Baranof Park ice rink watching a dozen youths and adults — all from the Alutiiq Language Day Camp — enjoying the game he grew up playing.
He smiled each time the big inflatable rubber ball connected with the short plastic bat, which sent the game into motion.
Laptuuk, derived from a Russian batting game, has been around for decades and is still played today in many Kodiak Island villages. “The game can be played anywhere, but typically is staged on a beach,” said Alisha Drabek, the Alutiiq Museum executive director.
“This is played island-wide. It is a traditional Alutiiq game,” she added.
Laptuuk is actually the Alutiiq word for baseball, but the game doesn’t have many similarities with America’s pastime. It is a hodgepodge of cricket, baseball and dodgeball, looking chaotic at times.
There are only two bases instead of four and there is no limit on team size.
“There is not a cap on how many people can play,” Drabek said. “You can play with a few people or you can play with the whole village. It is different than American baseball where there are so many people on a team.”
The game starts when the pitching team lobs the ball to a hitter on the other team. Once the ball is put in play, everybody from the hitting team runs to a base — a safety zone — while dodging the ball being thrown at them by the opposing players.
If a player safely reaches the second base and returns to the first base — the hitting zone — without getting hit with the ball a run is awarded to the hitting team.
If the ball is caught in the air or if a runner is pegged with the ball an out is recorded. The game has different variations where one, two or three outs retire the side, sending the other team up to bat.
The game doesn’t have a set number of innings and can go on forever.
“The kids can play for hours,” said Susan Malutin, who was part of the day camp. “I’ve seen them in Ouzinkie play for three hours.”
On Tuesday, all the campers had to speak in Alutiiq while playing the game. Words like “Piq’ru” (hit it), “Akiqaru” (catch it) and “Q’cingi” (run) echoed through the ice rink.
Shelia Lineberger grew up in Ouzinkie playing laptuuk and now teaches in Bethel. She spends her summers on Kodiak Island and attended the two-day camp. She said even kids in Bethel play a form of laptuuk called Eskimo baseball.
“Everybody plays a bat and ball game,” she said. “There are just different variations and anybody can play from little kids to big kids.”
Contact Derek Clarkston at firstname.lastname@example.org.