For two decades, Sandee Kensinger expected his Medford Mustangs players to commit to the American Legion baseball team.

For two decades, Sandee Kensinger expected his Medford Mustangs players to commit to the American Legion baseball team.

When an opportunity arose that would prevent the most successful manager in the storied franchise's history from doing the same, he elected to step down.

Kensinger, 53, will turn over the reins to Nate Mayben but will stay on as an assistant coach.

Mayben is a former Mustangs player who last spring quit after four years as head coach of Corban University. He is an assistant coach at North Medford High this spring.

Kensinger informed Mustangs general manager Don Schneider of his decision a couple months ago, he said. Kensinger was invited to coach at USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars in June and considered it the chance of a lifetime.

The tournament brings together youth players from across the nation for an eight-team tournament June 22-26 at Cary, N.C. The Junior Olympic team is chosen from that pool of players, said Kensinger.

The Mustangs would play 10 games in his absence, including six in Area 4, he said.

"I told Don it's just not right," said Kensinger. "I don't let the kids go for stuff. I ask them to make a commitment. I'm getting to the end of the road, anyway. I've been coaching for a lot of years, and this is an opportunity to do something special."

Schneider had held out hope that Kensinger would reconsider, especially with a milestone looming.

If Kensinger, who took over in 1990, stayed on, he would manage his 1,000th game just three games into the season.

His career record is 758-239, for a winning percentage of .760 over 19 seasons. He stepped down for two seasons, 2001-02, for personal reasons but served as an assistant to Brent Watts.

Under Kensinger, the Mustangs made it to the American Legion World Series three times (1992, '97 and '09), placing as high as second in '97 and '09. They also went in 2002. Those are the only four times in roughly 80 years Medford advanced to the national championship.

Under Kensinger, the Mustangs also captured seven of the team's 11 state crowns.

"He's been great for the program and all the kids love him," said Schneider. "What's neat is when kids go away and come back to Sandee. You can tell they really like him and appreciate what he did for them. I appreciate him, too. He's a tireless worker and he's done a great job. We're very fortunate to have him."

Kensinger and Schneider both said the timing is right, given the availability of Mayben, who was a 16-year-old on the 1997 Mustangs.

Mayben went on to play for Corban (which then was Western Baptist College). By the time he was through, he ranked in the top 10 in 11 offensive categories, including No. 1 in career hits (214), and had a .326 career batting average.

He also pitched and was in the top 10 in five categories.

Mayben was an assistant coach at Corban for two years before assuming control in 2007. He produced the second-most wins in school history in his short stint.

"We couldn't have a better replacement, really," said Schneider.

Kensinger agreed.

"He's qualified," said Kensinger. "He has an understanding of how the program has been run. I don't think he wants to come in and reinvent the wheel. Baseball's always been a simple game, and we've kept it that way with what we do on defense and all that stuff. The biggest thing is making sure the right kids are on the roster, and sometimes that's the toughest thing."

Mayben's transition in returning to the Rogue Valley has gone smoothly, he said, mostly for family reasons but also because of the opportunity to coach at North Medford and now the Mustangs.

He was an assistant to another former Mustangs player, Matt Skundrick, on Salem's Post 9 American Legion team the past three summers. Medford defeated Salem in the state semifinals last year, and it wasn't long afterward that Kensinger and Mayben discussed how the latter might be involved with the Mustangs.

It wasn't until early this year he learned he'd be the head man.

"There's no filling Sandee's shoes," said Mayben, 30. "He made the Mustangs what they are. He's been there a long time and set a standard I just hope to continue. I know what the culture is like there, and playing for Sandee, I know what those guys expect."

Other than a minor tweak here and there, he doesn't plan any changes.

"I just want to keep the program headed in the same direction," he said.

In addition to Kensinger, he'll have assistant coaches Eric Austad and Watts helping out.

Kensinger has taken up umpiring this spring and has worked several high school games involving players eligible for the Mustangs.

He likes what he's seen.

"In this valley, I don't think the corral will ever be empty," said Kensinger. "The Mustangs are always going to have talent. We just herd them up every year. But winning it all is not an easy task; just getting out of our league is a tough chore."

Kensinger has had a number of outstanding teams, but one that stands out is the 1997 squad.

It boasted unmatched offensive punch and top-flight pitching, a combination that produced a 56-11 mark and a program record for victories.

Led by Brian Fachet's 24 home runs (second all-time), it broke the 14-year-old single-season homer mark of 70 by clubbing 80. Shawn Walker tied the RBI record with 83, matching Jordan Stevens' mark in 1983.

Nate Philo was national player of the year, and the late Steve Bechler and Hans Smith combined to go 27-5 on the mound. Bechler was named the outstanding pitcher of the World Series and earned the Bob Feller Award for the most strikeouts.

He died on Feb. 17, 2003, from ephedra-aided heatstroke while in spring training with the Baltimore Orioles.

"That was a special group," said Kensinger. "They always showed up and played."

Just as he always showed up to manage them.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com