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Sister-city love

Losses like the one that Ashland suffered Tuesday, when it rallied from a 6-1 deficit only to blow an 8-6 lead and fall 11-8, usually aren’t followed by laughter, high fives and general cheerfulness, at least not in the losing dugout.

But the Sister City Classic is much more than a baseball series between sister cities Guanajuato, Mexico and Ashland. And besides, Ashland pitcher Luke Brown could hardly be expected to hold in his laughter considering the scene he was describing.

On Saturday, Brown and the two boys his family is hosting — player Jose Cruz Morales and his cousin Eissa Morales — decided to go to the Jackson County Fair, where massive metal contraptions whirled and spun boys and girls already sick with cotton candy into screaming frenzies.

“They liked it a lot,” Brown said of his new friends. “But I had to convince one of them into going on one of the scarier rides — the ‘Ring of Fire.’”

And what was Jose Cruz Morales’ reaction after surviving the ride, a closed-in coaster that hurls riders in a complete circle, including upside down?

Brown’s eyes widened as he described the expression. “He’s like, ‘No es bueno! Es malo!’”

Translation: “It’s not good. It’s bad.”

The final exhibition game of Sister City Classic II was itself a sort of roller coaster Tuesday, with Guanajuato prevailing only after scoring five runs in the fourth inning to negate Ashland’s own comeback attempt en route to a Classic-capping victory before about 70 fans at North Mountain Park.

The Classic officially kicked off with a luncheon Saturday morning and wraps up with airplane rides today. Also on the schedule was a mini tournament at U.S. Cellular Community Park, a pool party and a trip to Crater Lake. The visitors fly back to Guanajuato Thursday morning.

Tuesday’s game was originally scheduled to be a split-squad exhibition, but organizers decided instead to pit the two teams against each other for the first four innings then split them up for three more. As it turned out, the first three innings of the slugfest took so long the coaches audibled in the fourth to abandon the split-squad plan and simply call it good after five innings.

That proved to be just enough time for Guanajuato to rally for its first win over the Ashland “A” team, which won the previous two matchups Sunday, 9-1 and 8-5.

Not that the scores mattered to the players and coaches.

“For us, the most important (thing) is not to win,” Guanajuato coach Armando Preciado said. “The most important thing was that the players can stay in another country, can have a new experience, can do really, really good activities. (Ashland) is a really, really good host for us. We’re family.”

Ashland’s Connor Gilliland, 13, agreed, adding that the laid-back atmosphere made the games themselves that much more enjoyable.

“It’s fun,” he said. “If someone does something dumb, we just laugh.”

“I would say that the games were competitive, but friendly,” Ashland coach Dave Johnson said. “Both teams played hard, did their best, and that’s what we ask the boys. Wins and losses aren’t important and I think that was highlighted here, where everybody just came out, did their best, had some nice, good, friendly competition and everybody just had a good time.”

Ashland jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on an RBI double by Ean Lawrence, who smacked a line drive over the right-fielder’s head.

Guanajuato scored two runs on a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice ground out in the second to take its first lead of the game, 2-1, and extended it to 6-1 in the third, taking advantage of three Ashland errors.

Jackson Kemper ripped a single down the third-base line to lead-off the bottom of the third and ignite a seven-run surge by Ashland, which included a two-run single by Eli Wimmer and back-to-back singles by Lawrence and Brown, the latter driving in the tying run. Michael Nixon’s bloop single, which landed just beyond the reach of Guanajuato’s third-baseman, gave Ashland an 8-6 lead.

Guanajuato came right back in the top of the fourth, getting the first two batters aboard on a single and a walk and scoring its first run of the inning on a fielder’s choice ground out that led to a play at the plate. Luis Rocha’s single scored Fernando Sanchez from third to tie the game, 8-8, and a bases-loaded walk allowed Guanajuato to take back the lead.

A single by Armando Rafael Preciado brought home two more runs for Guanajuato, and that proved to be enough after Ashland went down in order against Guanajuato pitcher Fernando Sanchez in the fifth to end the game.

Before the traditional handshakes at home plate, Guanajuato’s players honored Ashland with a short cheer, then players, coaches and family members from both teams gathered by the bleachers on the third-base side for an impromptu party to honor Guanajuato birthday boy Fabian Rodriguez. Somebody ordered a cake for Rodriguez, but before handing out slices the crowd serenaded him with “Happy Birthday” and its Spanish equivalent.

Included in the crowd of spectators was a group of about 20 children from Kids Unlimited, which runs summer camps in Medford. According to Kids Unlimited program director Steve Lecroy, a woman who works closely with Kids Unlimited grew up in Guanajuato and thought the game would be worth a day trip. Lecroy agreed, and the kids, mostly Spanish-speaking, took over the bleachers next to Guanajuato’s dugout Tuesday and cheered for the visitors. Later, between the third and fourth innings, they flooded into the dugout for a round of high-fives before heading back to Medford.

“We took a lot of kids from a migrant-ed program, so a lot of Spanish-speaking, bilingual kids,” Lecroy said. “So any chance we get to get the kids out to see something like this, we’re going to take it.”

Ashland’s players Tuesday acknowledged there’s a language barrier, but said they’ve managed to overcome it thanks in part to two unofficial interpreters: Ashland slugger Eli Westrick and Brown’s older brother Isaiah. Players and parents also have made use of various smart phone applications.

And, they’ve improvised.

“They don’t know too much English, but we use a lot of hand signals,” Gilliland said. “It’s really funny because we just, like, laugh a lot.”

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.