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Mustangs holding out hope for summer season

Every day that passes brings Medford Mustangs manager Nate Mayben an opportunity for hope, along with a chance for disappointment.

Caught in the COVID-19 quandary of whether there will be an American Legion baseball season this summer after an actionless spring, Mayben said each day has been an adventure as he and his coaching peers await final directions.

“It’s all over the place, and it’s just one of those things where every day seems like it’s a different part of the roller coaster and it’s either going up or it’s going down,” said Mayben. “Tomorrow, who knows what will happen.”

American Legion Baseball has already officially canceled its season-ending regional tournaments and subsequent World Series, but the door was left open for each state to dictate what they wanted to do exclusive of those events.

Should the states get a go-ahead from their respective governors and health officials to resume play, albeit with some understandable restrictions, then there would be nothing stopping them from playing a regular season and, potentially, state championships.

“We’re just kind of waiting to hear back from our state commissioners with what we’re going to do as a state,” said Mayben. “We’re in a wait-and-see mode for what they decide to do. Then, once they make a decision, we’ve got to decide what we’re going to do as an organization.”

The situation became more tenuous last Friday when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown ordered schools and their facilities to remain closed through June 30, albeit with the option to extend or relax that order at her discretion.

With half of the Legion AAA Area 4 teams using school facilities as their home ballparks, including the Medford Mustangs this summer, that provides quite a monkey wrench if teams cannot even get on their fields until July 1 for a season that typically wraps up in mid-August.

The Mustangs, who earned a sixth straight state championship last year, were slated to play all their home games at North Medford High this summer after a breakdown in financial negotiations when it came to returning to Harry & David Field.

Legion A teams in Medford, Central Point, Ashland and Eagle Point use their own high school facilities, even if they are considered off-campus sites.

“The big thing is facility usage,” said Mayben. “With school facilities being shut down, how’s that impacting American Legion as a whole and how does that impact us as the Mustangs by having teams to play? How far will we have to travel to get games if lots of teams shut down this summer? There still are a lot of questions out there.”

As it is, the Mustangs are already behind when it comes to annual fundraising. It costs upwards of $30,000 to run the nonprofit organization, which tries to keep the costs as low as possible for players and funnels all proceeds back into the team.

“I usually write letters in March and send them out to the businesses and individuals who have been so great and donated to us in the past,” said Mustangs general manager Paul White, “but I held on to them this year. I couldn’t even send them out and feel good about it, asking people for money with all we’re going through right now.”

One aspect that is not in question is the desire of the Mustangs to play this summer, even if it did become an abbreviated campaign that featured league games throughout July and a season-ending state tournament in Roseburg at the beginning of August. Legion A teams would have their state championships in Aurora.

“Nate and I have talked a million times about how much we feel for these athletic seniors,” said White. “That’s the biggest disappointment you could have in not having a senior season, and now to not even get a summer season, that’s horrible.”

“We’re really hoping to get a season,” he added, “and the state of Oregon is holding on for dear life until the very end to see if we can get somewhat of a season, even if it’s just a few weeks of playing.”

That abbreviated season would likely include restrictions to mitigate concerns toward transmission of the coronavirus, be it social distancing, the usage of masks in dugouts and in the stands (if fan attendance is allowed) and other sanitary solutions.

“We’re not going to get the all-clear, there’s no way,” said White. “I can’t see that coming. But I think if the governor eases up restrictions, with some of the businesses reopening and things like that, then maybe we’ll be able to get a season together.”

Even with an overall OK to resume play, Mayben said there still would be plenty of logistics to figure out to make it safe for players who essentially have been on the shelf with limited workouts the past seven weeks.

“People can look at a schedule and say you can start July 1 and play until August 15 or whatever, but what are we doing before July 1 to get our kids healthy and arms ready to go?” said Mayben. “You don’t want to just jump out there and start going. I would say it takes a minimum of 10 days of being on the field and practicing to put things like bunt defenses in and all that stuff prior to playing a game.”

“Can we work in small groups before then or will places like U.S. Cellular (Community Park) allow us to come in before July 1? Things are changing every day so we’re trying to remain optimistic.”

All Mayben knows is that there is one prevailing theme when his eyes turn toward the summer season, which wouldn’t have started until June anyway.

“If we can play, we will,” said the coach. “What it will look like, I have no idea right now. But we owe it to these kids to keep trying until we’re told that it’s just not possible.”

Have a local story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

The Medford Mustangs, shown celebrating their sixth straight state championship last year,{ }are in a holding pattern as they await word on the potential of a 2020 season. Andy Atkinson/Mail Tribune