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MailTribune.com
  • BASEBALL

    Covering the Corners

    Carlson supplies consistent bat, solid defense for Mustangs as a corner infielder
  • When you're a baseball player and you get a hit in every other at-bat, it can alter your perspective a little.
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    • ERIC CARLSON
      WHO: A 6-foot, 185-pound first baseman/third baseman for the Medford Mustangs.
      • WHAT: Led Ashland High with a .500 batting average to go with 29 runs and 30 RBIs in the spring and thus fa...
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      ERIC CARLSON
      WHO: A 6-foot, 185-pound first baseman/third baseman for the Medford Mustangs.

      • WHAT: Led Ashland High with a .500 batting average to go with 29 runs and 30 RBIs in the spring and thus far this summer is batting .353 with nine RBIs and a team-high 10 runs scored.
      • UP NEXT: Today, 5 p.m., Eugene Challengers at Medford Mustangs (dh), Harry & David Field.
  • When you're a baseball player and you get a hit in every other at-bat, it can alter your perspective a little.
    Take the case of Medford Mustangs corner infielder Eric Carlson, who by any standard is off to a fine start to the summer season but almost has to be convinced of that fact.
    "I wish I was off to a little bit better start coming off that .500 average from the varsity season," Carlson said innocently enough Monday. "It's a little bit weird being in the dugout more time than on the bases, but I guess with better pitching comes lower averages."
    To be fair, it's not like Carlson is struggling these days for the Mustangs, who are 9-2 overall and 4-0 in Area 4 play entering tonight's league doubleheader against the Eugene Challengers (10-7, 5-1 Area 4). The 6-foot, 185-pounder ranks fourth on the American Legion AAA squad with a .353 batting average to go with nine RBIs and a team-best 10 runs scored.
    It's only when you consider Carlson hit .500 this past spring for Ashland High — while also scoring 29 runs and driving in 30 — that his ho-hum attitude toward those current figures comes into focus.
    Being somewhat of a perfectionist can also alter your outlook.
    "The thing about Eric is he's always constantly working," said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. "He isn't satisfied with where he's at right now, he wants to get better and is always asking questions and wanting to work on his swing."
    If anything, Carlson said his time spent with the Mustangs last summer is as responsible as anything else for his lofty aspirations. He hit .361 in his first season with the team of local standouts and said that experience helped carry over and create his spring success with the Grizzlies.
    "I think being part of the Mustangs actually had a huge part in helping me with that (.500 season)," he said. "From seeing all the really good pitching last season, it helped me adjust back to seeing good pitching during the varsity season and I think that really benefited me."
    Even though he may not be totally satisfied with his own performance thus far — and Mayben said the first baseman/third baseman is alone in that thinking — Carlson said he's thrilled with Medford's early results overall.
    "This is probably the best team I've ever played with or been a part of," said Carlson, who moved to Ashland prior to entering seventh grade. "I just have a good feeling about this team. I feel big things are coming out of this summer."
    Entering tonight's twin bill, he ranks fourth on the Mustangs in batting average behind Micah Brown (.433), Jared Evans (.387) and Austin Zavala (.367) and is second only in RBIs to Evans, who has 10 in eight games.
    "I just really like the friendships we have on this team," said Carlson, noting that returning most of last year's team has made a big difference early on. "I like being really close to all the North Medford and South Medford guys, and it's a lot of fun being around so many funny guys on this team."
    While Carlson's offense has made an upswing in recent years, the defensive side of the game has typically been his forte since he began playing baseball when he was 6.
    "I try to pride myself on defense while helping my team offensively," he said. "I don't really see myself as a threat in one direction any more than the other, for me they're pretty equal. (Sunday) night I made a catch over the fence on a foul ball and I felt just as happy as I would've hitting a double off the fence."
    Carlson's versatility has been key thus far with his unique ability to play either corner infield position. Last summer he continually made highlight reel plays as a third baseman, but this season he's been penciled in primarily as a first baseman — although he did play one game at each position this past Sunday in a doubleheader sweep of Roseburg.
    "We've always liked his play in the field," said Mayben. "He's got a very solid glove and has good lateral movement and is just a very solid guy to have as part of your defense."
    Interestingly enough, Carlson played mostly first base as a sophomore and junior at Ashland but Mayben and company had a need at third base last summer and Carlson adeptly was able to fill it. With Josh Berman coming along this season, and Mayben's desire to get both on the field as much as possible, Carlson was asked to switch back to first base since he has experience at that spot.
    "He has had to make a little bit of an adjustment moving from that left-side corner to the other corner, but he's done a good job with that," said Mayben. "Fielding groundballs is fielding groundballs. Really what it comes down to is the mental side of the game and positioning yourself correctly in the right counts and right situations."
    For his part, Carlson said there's really nothing to switching between third base and first base, and that he's just happy to be able to contribute any way he can to the Mustangs' success.
    "My No. 1 goal this summer is to obviously win the state tournament and move on to regionals," said Carlson, who has already committed to play at Ohlone College in Fremont, Calif., with teammate Carter Glick. "I don't necessarily have any personal goals this summer. I just want to help the team out any way I can and achieve that state championship goal."
    It's that outlook, among many other characteristics, that Mayben finds so endearing.
    "He's awesome," the second-year Medford manager said of Carlson. "He's one of those true team players who is willing to do anything for you. Obviously, he's out on the field a lot so that makes a big difference for us, but he's just a great kid. I think anybody who gets him at the next level is going to be happy with his work ethic and willingness to make adjustments because he's still making adjustments at the plate even today. You'd like to have 20 of those guys on your roster."
    As for Carlson, who turns 18 on July 9, he's just happy to still be playing baseball, whether it's this summer or as he continues on at Ohlone.
    "I'm beyond excited to continue," he said. "Just seeing some of my friends who had to hang up their cleats from the varsity season is really depressing. I hope I don't have to do that for a long time."
    At the rate he's going, that shouldn't be a concern.
    After all, we are talking about someone who scoffs at a .353 batting average.
    Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry
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