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Mustangs star McLennan sets fine example

Were it not for the late-season contributions of Evan McLennan last summer, it’s entirely possible that the Medford Mustangs wouldn’t have claimed a sixth straight American Legion AAA state championship.

Despite elbow issues, a slight tear in his quadriceps muscle and a bout with pneumonia, McLennan finished as one of the Mustangs’ leading hitters with a .349 batting average, 27 runs and 31 RBIs.

Instead of basking in the glory of his accomplishments, though, McLennan found something gnawing at him only a month or two after that summer season.

“More than anything, I just knew I could do better,” said the 2019 Ashland High graduate. “I knew there were certain things that were holding me back and I knew if I could do my best to take care of them that I’d be able to have more success, or at least I’d put myself into a position where I could have more success.”

Living on his own as a freshman at Linn-Benton Community College in Corvallis, McLennan realized that he needed to make a change.

Standing 5-foot-8, he had seen his weight balloon to the heaviest in his life at 250 pounds as he entered the first season away from baseball since not long after he could walk.

It’s in such a moment where McLennan could have been any one of us, feeling overwhelmed and helpless to the downward direction he might be spiraling toward.

But that’s not the story, and that’s certainly not the story McLennan wanted to be told.

His story is one of someone taking charge of their life, showing that things don’t have to be a certain way if you don’t want that to be the case.

“More than anything,” the 19-year-old said Wednesday, “I want people to get that a lot can change in not a very long time if you put your mind to it and do everything that you can do and control the controllables. You can really make a big difference in your own life if you just commit yourself to it.”

In his situation, that change involved his weight and general health, but his message could very well go toward any area in life an individual feels may be holding them back.

“Whatever it is,” he added, “I’m here to show that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

These days, McLennan has dropped nearly 70 pounds to weigh in at a still-sturdy 181 pounds. He also feels reinvigorated when it comes to playing baseball again and has been rewarded with one of the most impressive starts to a season in Mustangs history.

“The ball does look pretty big right now, which is always fun,” McLennan said with a laugh.

Heading into this weekend’s baseball tournament in Roseburg, which runs Thursday-Sunday at Legion Field, McLennan sports an eye-popping .652 batting average after posting 15 hits in his 23 at-bats. He leads the Mustangs (12-3) with 18 RBIs to go with 12 runs scored, and has shown more power than ever before with a 1.217 slugging percentage thanks to five doubles, one triple and two home runs.

“He’s one of those guys right now where when he steps to the plate you just kind of feel sorry a little bit for the pitcher,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. “If he’s going to throw a fastball over the plate, Evan’s going to turn it around pretty quick.”

That rang especially true last Friday night, when McLennan ripped a game-tying home run to right-center field against the Springfield Timbers at Harry & David Field. The ball took off as a line drive that simply kept elevating and was out of the ballpark in a flash.

“I haven’t seen too many balls go out to right-center over that second fence in my 10 years of coaching the Mustangs,” said Mayben. “That was a blast. He caught that one square, no doubt.”

As joyful as that one moment felt for McLennan, he said it’s nothing compared to his overall feeling these days on the diamond.

“This season has been a lot more fun and it has put a lot more fun into the game being able to play with more ease these days,” he said. “The effort is still the same but it doesn’t hurt my body as much and it doesn’t make me as physically drained to be out there.”

“It really is night and day running around out there,” added McLennan. “I surprised myself the first time I got out there on the field by how different it really was to play this year versus last year. It feels very different.”

Getting to the point that he’s at now wasn’t easy, mind you, but his resolve was always there to push McLennan through toward better days.

“It was definitely hard at times but there really was no secret to it,” he said of refining his shape. “I just kind of ate really healthy and was in the gym as much as I could be. I started to see results and it just kind of kept coming, and the more and more I saw, the more I wanted it to keep going.”

The biggest lifestyle change involved his daily diet.

“I just decided to start buying only healthy food,” he said. “I was doing meal-prepping with rice and chicken, eggs, salads and all that kind of stuff just to eat as healthy as possible.”

The hardest part?

“I have quite the sweet tooth that comes through my family,” McLennan shyly admitted. “That was pretty hard to give up, and it took a lot of self-control, but really in the end, I’m very happy that I did it. I taught myself self-control and discipline, and I think it’s something that will help me further through my life as well.”

If McLennan could pick out one main difference from last season to this season, it’s been in the ability to move his body a lot better. He worked a lot on flexibility while also doing his cardiovascular and weightlifting workouts, and he feels stronger than he’s ever felt during a season. His elbow no longer is a nagging issue thanks to his time off and workout regimen, and he’s consistently hitting the ball harder after managing only 11 extra-base hits (all doubles) last summer.

“He just has such a consistent swing,” said Mayben. “He’s quick and long through the baseball. It’s a really sweet left-handed swing. And I think the big thing is if you look at his good start, he’s done it against the top tier teams that are playing right now. It’s not like he’s out there doing it only against the average teams.”

Like so many of his teammates, McLennan said he’s just happy to be playing baseball this summer and is currently exploring options to return to the diamond next season in college.

“I’m extremely grateful for all the coaches and everyone that’s played such a big part in us being able to be out there this season,” said McLennan. “It’s really awesome and I know everyone else on the team is truly as grateful as I am. I’m just really happy that we got to play baseball this summer, and that we still get to play some more before we head back to school.”

For his part, Mayben said he’s just happy to see McLennan set such a fine example toward always striving to be your best.

“He’s a great kid,” added the coach. “You don’t get them better than that.”

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

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneEvan McLennan is bumped by a team-mate after scoring at Harry & David Field.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneEvan McLennan makes a play from 3rd base during the opening game.