The start of another Jackson County Fair brings thoughts of that vacant field at the south end of Medford, where an earlier fairground briefly was the center of summer fun.
It only lasted a few enjoyable years before the Great Depression shut it down. It had become too costly to hold fairs and have fun.
The weedy field, home of Shorty Miles' dreams, is on the east side of Highway 99 in Medford. From Interstate 5, Exit 27, drive east a long block to Riverside Avenue and turn left. In a half-mile the field will appear on your left, just past Stewart Avenue. (Last year, Wal-Mart officials said that once built, they would place a plaque in memory of Miles Field and Shorty Miles in the plaza area of their new store.)
The airport inside the racing oval moved away and the Civilian Conservation Corps and later the U.S. Army occupied most of the buildings for years. All that was left for the kids was a grandstand with a dusty diamond, where a man with a passion for baseball, believed he could save the day.
Claude Miles was a kid whose love of baseball never grew old. By the time he was 13, he was playing infield for the Medford "Grays," doing battle with and against future major leaguers like Hub Pernoll and Eddie Wilkinson. When the local team went pro for a few years, Miles signed on to play second base — the youngest player in the league.
He was also the shortest player and it earned him a nickname. "Even the kiddies on the street call him Shorty," joked a reporter. The name would stick for the rest of his life, yet everyone agreed, no one played the game harder than Shorty.
"My dad was a hard-nosed guy, tougher than nails," said Mike Miles. "He believed baseball could keep kids out of trouble."
Baseball was on again off again until after WWII, when Shorty Miles decided the town needed a real ballpark. "Mr. Baseball," as his friends called him, worked behind the scenes, pushing and prodding and doing, until the old dirt field had modern restrooms, a refreshment stand and an electric scoreboard.
When a midnight fire of suspicious origins leaped through the grandstands in 1951, everything vanished into a pile of soggy charcoal. Miles went back to work, badgering everyone, including himself, for donations and help.
"His friends wanted to name the rebuilt park after him," said Mike Miles, "but he wouldn't let them. He always felt that a company would come along who wanted to name the park and probably put a lot of money into it."
Eight months after Shorty Miles died in 1968, Jackson County Baseball Park was rededicated as Miles Field, the name that remained until it was torn down in 2004.
Mike Miles started as a batboy at the field and eventually worked up to Legion ball.
"I remember when I was about 6 years old," he said, "and there was a swampy area over where the credit union is now. Sometimes the bullfrogs were croaking so loud you couldn't hear the umpire call balls and strikes."
Soon, the old weedy field will be covered by a discount megastore, with shoppers surging through the aisles like a runner stealing home in the bottom of the ninth.
"That's OK," said Miles. "I still have some great memories and I know dad wouldn't mind. It sure was a great hitter's park, though."
Bill Miller is a Southern Oregon freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.