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Staking his claim

After moving in from California, Mustangs' Behnke has found home

Taking a page from Charles Behnke's favorite hobby, he was like a fish out of water living in Rocklin, Calif.

An avid fisherman and standout baseball player, Behnke found himself somewhat out of his element in those city streets outside Sacramento.

People are a lot different in Rocklin, says the third baseman for the Medford Mustangs. It's a whole different lifestyle. Everybody around here (in Medford) is laid back and chill, not trying to be the next Puff Daddy or something. This is more like my lifestyle.

Behnke first ventured to Medford with his dad, Charles, prior to his junior campaign at North Medford High, taking the advice of his uncle, Frank Behnke, that this area might be right for the younger family member.

The easygoing teenager had been having his problems in Rocklin and needed a change.

— I wasn't excelling down there too much in school and in sports, so we decided to give Oregon a try, he says.

And the fit has been as snug as a grounder in the 18-year-old's glove ever since.

He's a special kid, says Mustangs manager Sandee Kensinger. He hasn't had it easy in his life. He's great to be around. I love the kid to death.

Behnke entered Saturday's doubleheader with the Humboldt Giants hitting .516 with 18 RBIs and 13 runs, but it's his defense that Kensinger relies upon most.

His defense caught my eye the first time I saw him play, says Kensinger, who is also an assistant baseball coach at North Medford High. He's got great, soft hands and an accurate, strong arm.

Defensively he's very solid. He's made some plays this year that have just been outstanding. Elevating his feet and charging the ball, he's done all the things a third baseman should do.

Behnke played a reserve role for the Black Tornado as a junior, then summer ball for the North Medford Mavericks last year before getting a little homesick and venturing back to California for his senior year.

I was kinda missing my mom and wanting to get back with my two brothers, he says.

January, Behnke was back in Medford.

I was so glad to see him back with that big ol' smile on his face and with the old California talk, says Kensinger.

Hitting in the No. — spot as North's starting third baseman, Behnke's defense was outstanding and his offense sound with a .359 batting average for the Tornado, which finished second in the Southern Oregon Conference and lost in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.

Playing in a loaded Mustangs lineup, Behnke is down to hitting about sixth or seventh in the order and thriving in that role.

When I was batting in the three spot, I wasn't seeing the pitches I'm seeing now, says the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder.

Kensinger says another factor in Behnke's increased productivity is that he's taking command at the plate.

He's just starting to feel his oats playing at this level, says Kensinger. At the plate he's been sweet. He's been patient and selective and doing a real good job for us of putting the ball in play.

Having Behnke on his roster has been like reliving his past, Kensinger says. The manager grew up in Los Gatos, Calif., and has family ties to the Behnkes that date back well before Charles was born.

It's the weirdest thing, says Kensinger. His dad is from the same area where I grew up and had my dad (Bob) as his baseball coach. And his uncle (Frank) used to hang out with my sister (Keri). The whole thing is just amazing. It's probably why I love the kid to death.

And another reason why the third baseman feels at home.

Everybody here has been great, says Behnke, who this past week reeled in a 25-pound salmon and had four hits and six RBIs to lead the Mustangs to a doubleheader sweep at Klamath Falls. My buds have been good to me, and it's just been fun. I like it here.

Medford Mustangs third baseman Charles Behnke was hitting .516 with 18 RBIs and 13 runs entering action Saturday. Mail Tribune / Andrew Mariman - Mail Tribune Andrew Mariman