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Coaches worry about lack of ballfield

With chances that umpires won't be yelling, Play ball at a new baseball field to replace demolished Miles Field this summer, coaches fear visiting teams won't bother to include Medford, shrinking the season for Medford's youth.

Sandee Kensinger, Medford Mustangs head coach, said when word got out last year about Miles Field's demise, the cancellations started coming in for the 56 scheduled games.

Last year it got whittled down to 38 games, he said. The field remained through the season, but now Kensinger fears it will happen again.

The Medford City Council will consider terminating the contract with the Medford Youth Baseball Society to build a baseball field at the new Medford Sports Park at their noon session Thursday. The meeting will be in the Council Chambers, City Hall, 411 W. Eighth St., Medford.

In July Jackson County gave the city &

36;2.3 million, a portion of proceeds from the sale of Miles Field to Wal-Mart. The city planned to use the money for a replacement field. The city signed a contract with the baseball society to design, construct and maintain a new field.

— Site preparation and design work was under way when an ironworkers union representative contacted the city attorney in November, expressing concerns that the building contract had been awarded by the baseball society without the required competitive bidding procedure.

So the council will consider terminating the society's contract and taking over the project, which would include public bidding for a contractor.

Brian Sjothun, parks and recreation department director, wouldn't speak to the chance of a finished, playable field this summer. But, he said, the city agreement with the county requires a field to be built by November 2006.

We will fulfill our contractual obligations, he said.

Coaches worry that this summer's season is approaching rapidly. They say the city's baseball field scene was sparse to begin with ' before the demolition of Miles Field last fall.

There was already a tremendous strain and a need for facilities, said Brett Wolfe, head baseball coach at North Medford High School. These young people are going to be impacted greatly.

He said with 14 Babe Ruth teams, four American Legion or Junior State teams, six Medford adult league teams, and the Medford Mustangs, practice and playing turf is hard to come by. He said a lot of teams try to squeeze onto the ball fields at North and South high schools, and it's been especially difficult to find practice spaces since the Hedrick and McLoughlin school ball fields were removed about five years ago.

Wolfe said a tournament scheduled for late June is in jeopardy of being canceled if the field isn't ready.

The grand opening of the new field had already been pushed back to early June, but the summer season starts mid-May and ends at the end of July or mid-August for the Mustangs.

The Mustangs have won six Oregon State American Legion state titles, and were runners-up to the state champion last year, said Wolfe, adding that they deserve to have a nice playing field.

No matter the outcome this summer, this phase of uncertainty was not part of the plan.

It's unfortunate that this has happened, said Sjothun.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail