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Ashland braces for Sister City Classic II

Sixteen months ago, 13 young baseball players from Ashland spent six days in Guanajuato, Mexico as part of the inaugural Sister City Classic. Part cultural exchange, part baseball tournament, the SCC was a huge success as the players and family members who made the trip came back with stories of lifetime memories and new friendships.

Now, it’s time for Ashland to return the favor.

Ten players from Guanajuato, many of whom played in the first Classic back in March of 2015, will arrive in Ashland Friday night for the second annual Sister City Classic, a five-day affair which will include a four-team tournament, a mixed-team exhibition, airplane rides out Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport’s Million Air terminal and a trip to Crater Lake.

The 13 players who made up Ashland’s original SSC team, now a year older (12 to 14 years old), will host Guanajuato this time around, and the visiting group includes coaches and family members for a total of 20, according to Ashland city counselor and SSC organizer Rich Rosenthal.

“In fact, I believe in most cases the same families that stayed there, that’s being reciprocated,” Rosenthal said, explaining that the majority of the host families in 2015 will, starting Friday night, be sleeping in the homes of the families they hosted. “It just worked out that way.”

The Guanajuato group is scheduled to land in Medford at 11 p.m. Friday. Their hosts will meet them at the airport and the fun for what is officially being called Sister City Classic II will begin the following day with a welcome luncheon at Louie’s.

After the luncheon, Guanajuato players and coaches head downtown for a tour of Lithia Park, led by park tour guide Tom Foster. Translator Mina Turner will also be on hand.

The first game between Ashland and Guanajuato will be played that night, with the first pitched scheduled for 7 p.m. at Medford’s U.S. Cellular Community Park, field 7.

Guanajuato won all four of the exhibition games in first Classic, but three of those contests could have gone either way. Preparing for the rematch during a practice at North Mountain Park on Tuesday, Ashland 14-year-old pitcher Eli Westrick said the rematch should be competitive.

“Definitely, the games will be fun” said Westrick, who will be a freshman at Ashland High School this fall. “After last year we lost a lot to the same team we’re going to be playing this year, so I’m hoping we can beat them this year. I’m kind of looking forward to the chance to do that.”

Ashland catcher and third-baseman Jackson Kemper, 12, an incoming seventh-grader, said he’s looking forward to showing the Guanajuato players around Ashland and wowing them with the local baseball facilities and supplies, which he believes will help make it a special trip for the visitors.

“I think they’ll like the baseball field,” Kemper said, “and when we went there they didn’t have very many baseballs. They only had like six for all the practices and it’s going to be way different for them to come here and have buckets of balls.

“I think they’re about equal to us, but they beat us every game. But I think we can definitely win the games. I don’t know about the wins and losses but I think they’re all going to be pretty close.”

The rest of the SCC schedule is stuffed:

• Sunday morning, a pool party will be held at a residence near the Hunter Park Little League fields. That evening, Ashland’s original SCC team, designated the “A” team; an Ashland “B” team; Guanajuato; and a team representing North Medford will play a combined four games, starting at 5 p.m. at U.S. Cellular Community Park. The “A” team will face Guanajuato at 5 p.m. on field 7 and the “B” team will face North Medford at the same time on the adjacent field 8. At 7 p.m., the “B” team will play Guanajuato on field 7 and the “A” team will play North Medford on field 8. The field dimensions will be 54 feet from the mound to home plate, 80 feet between bases and 275 feet to the outfield fence. 

• Monday morning, the players, coaches and some family members will take a bus from Hunter Park to Crater Lake (seats are available for a suggested donation of $15 each, with sign-ups being held at the luncheon). The trip will include a stop at Union Creek. After they return, at 4:30 p.m., the players will take part in the Medford Rogues youth home run derby at Harry & David Field.

• Tuesday, the players from Guanajuato and Ashland will mix up their teams for a final exhibition “split-squad” game, set to start at 9 a.m. at North Mountain Park. Later, they’ll head to Medford again at 6:35 p.m. to watch the Medford Rogues all-star game and fireworks.

• Wednesday, the visitors from Guanajuato will hang out with their host families and go on airplane rides. The Guanajuato party departs from Medford airport the following morning.

Ashland “A” team coach Dave Johnson said his players are excited about mixing up the teams for Tuesday’s split-squad contest. 

“The boys said that was one of the highlights last time,” he said. “One, I think it was really fun to have the boys from Guanajuato be their teammates for a game, and then also to play against their buddies.”

The players that make up Ashland’s “A” team are: Westrick, Kemper, Eli Wimmer, Luke Brown, Kellen Rice, Jackson Rice, Joshua Mitzel, David Johnson, Connor Gilliland, Michael Nixon, Quinlan Lawson, Ean Lawrence and Tripp Repp.

“They’re very excited,” Johnson said. “Although baseball’s still obviously something that all these boys love, I think they’re more excited to see their friends that they made when they were down there (in Guanajuato) and participate in all the activities — baseball as well as all the non-baseball events we have organized. … There’s been a lot of Facebooking that has gone on since our trip down there and I think pretty much all the families have stayed in contact at some level.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.