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  • LITTLE LEAGUE BASEBALL

    Fun and games

    Medford National Little League team marches to the beat of its own drum
  • There are a few things you must know about the Medford National Little League baseball team.
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    • LITTLE LEAGUE STATE TOURNAMENT
      WHAT: A tournament featuring representatives from all nine districts. After round-robin play and a single-elimination tournament, the winner advances to play in the Northwest Regional, set for Aug....
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      LITTLE LEAGUE STATE TOURNAMENT
      WHAT: A tournament featuring representatives from all nine districts. After round-robin play and a single-elimination tournament, the winner advances to play in the Northwest Regional, set for Aug. 2-10 in San Bernardino, Calif. The victor moves on to the Little League World Series, Aug. 15-25 in Williamsport, Pa.

      • up next: 6 p.m., today, Klamath Falls American vs. Hermiston; Medford National vs. Pendleton.
      • WHERE: Medford National Little League Fields (Thomas Whittle Fields), 4409 W. Main St.
  • There are a few things you must know about the Medford National Little League baseball team.
    Chiefly, they love to dance. Win, lose or draw. Rain or shine. Day or night.
    Ask Pendleton ... they know.
    Last year at the 10-11 state tournament in Hermiston, Medford challenged the fellas from Eastern Oregon to a dance-off following their third-place game.
    It was epic by all accounts.
    "That was after a five-hour game because we had two lightning delays," Medford National head coach Scott Carle says. "So it was like 11 at night and we are out there playing music and both teams are dancing and just having a great time."
    The two squads will reunite tonight and, yes, there will be another shimmy showdown. But before the fun, Medford National has a game. Things get a little more serious now, especially considering the club is hosting the 11-12 state tournament this year. Nine teams are competing for the chance to take the Oregon crown (well, medallions and a banner to be exact), advance to regionals in San Bernardino, Calif., and possibly move on to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
    The other teams competing at state are Wilshire-Riverside (District 1), Gresham (District 2), Pendleton (District 3), Lake Oswego (District 4), Hermiston (District 5), Klamath Falls American (District 6), Sprague (District 7) and Sheldon (District 9).
    The tournament continues today with pool play. Once seeding is determined, a single-elimination tournament will ensue and wrap up with the semifinals and finals on Saturday.
    At 5:06 p.m. on Tuesday, Carle patrolled one of the many fields at the 35-acre Medford National Little League complex, which is maintained solely by volunteers.
    "Game time," he repeats as his team begins to warm up for its clash against Wilshire-Riverside. "Guys, this is the time to get your mind right."
    The intensity of the scene was offset by a stuffed animal named Pepe, which had been crammed into the fence behind Medford's dugout.
    Legend has it that Pepe the dog was captured with a claw in an arcade game at Miguel's in Gold Hill. So was Jorge, a purple monkey.
    "I don't know where Jorge is though," says 13-year-old shortstop/pitcher Daniel Shenk.
    "They banished Jorge," a young voice yells out from the dugout.
    Jorge hadn't worn out its welcome entirely — it was quickly found and jammed next to Pepe. If an object — or an article of clothing — might bring some good vibes, Medford National is all about it.
    One mojo-seeking experiment that coach Carle is perfectly fine classifying as a failure were the extravagantly colored socks that his players sported earlier this month. Mind you, it wasn't his idea.
    "He was conned," his wife Stacy Carle says.
    "It was a compromise," the coach retorts.
    "The kids wanted purple or pink socks," coach Carle explains. "I wasn't so sure. I asked the moms and more than half said OK."
    A deal was made: if the players reached the district championship, they could go Skittles with their style.
    "Wildest, ugliest socks," the coach recalls. "And the thing is we didn't play well."
    All joking aside, the team is filled with caring kids, says Stacy, who has been a key cog in the behind-the-scenes preparation for the tournament. She noted a special moment during opening ceremonies last week when the boys came out to assist children with disabilities during an exhibition game.
    It was another proud moment for Scott and Stacy, whose son Robby plays on the Little League team and whose older boy Ryan competes for the American Legion South Medford Colts.
    Before the Carles had children, Scott was a standout at Mercy High in Red Bluff, Calif. The two met while at Oregon State University. After Scott assisted at Corvallis High, the couple moved to Ashland.
    And more than 20 years ago, the Carles received a fateful knock on the door.
    "There was a little neighbor kid standing there and I kid you not, his name was Johnny," recalls Scott, who is now a teacher at White City Elementary and an assistant coach at South Medford. "Little Johnny knocks on the door and says, 'Can you coach our team?' I said, 'Sure.' And I've been involved in everything from T-ball to American Legion ever since."
    A sense of obligation has kept him around.
    "Baseball prepares them for life," he says. "It prepares them to be the husbands, the employees, the guys out there ready to go. That is what baseball did for me."
    Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com
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