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Just name it what it's called

When the North Medford High baseball field was built two years ago, a sign with the words "Jim McAbee Field" was attached to the scoreboard in left field.

The naming of the field was an appropriate tribute to McAbee, who coached the Black Tornado from 1968 to 1994.

The old ball coach compiled a record of 566-230 over those 27 seasons. He guided the Tornado to a state title in 1986 and had it in the state championship game two other times, including his final season.

But before the grounds could officially be named "Jim McAbee Field," a proposal needed to be written and approved by the Medford School District office and the Medford School Board.

That process is still ongoing, although current North Medford coach Brett Wolfe said Monday he submitted the paperwork several weeks ago and expects smooth sailing. A special ceremony will be held later this spring to honor McAbee, Wolfe added, and a much bigger sign will be hoisted at the front of the stadium.

If I had my way, I would call the venue "Jim McAbee Stadium" right now. Why not? We all know it's going to be rubber stamped.

Besides, a lot of people believe it's already a done deal. Prior to a game, here are the first words out of North Medford scorekeeper and public address announcer Don Schneider, as he grabs the microphone: "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Jim McAbee Field, home of the North Medford Black Tornado!"

As the National Anthem is about to begin, you glance toward the scoreboard and there's the "Jim McAbee Field" sign.

I tried to sneak the eventual stadium name into a story or two last year, but M-T sports editor Tim Trower took me to task.

"That's not official yet, is it?" He would ask.

Well, no, but it looks like it might take an act of Congress, and, by the way, did you know Jim McAbee? ...

"Can't do it," he would interrupt, "until it's official."

I first covered a game McAbee was coaching sometime in the late 1970s. The Tornado trounced its overmatched opponent. Before I could ask McAbee a question about the game, he pointed to a box in the dugout and said, "Hey, do you want an orange? Or how about a Snickers?"

Friendly, genuine and humble, he struggled to say as many nice things about his team as he did about the team he had just beaten.

That was his style.

Back then, he drove a green 1966 Chevy pickup with a canopy on the back. A quarter-century later, McAbee, 69, tools around in the same rig.

You'll find him Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Rogue Valley Family YMCA for an early-morning workout. You'll see him Tuesdays and Thursdays at a golf course with John Kovenz — his predecessor at Medford High — and Tom Marier, another ex-Tornado coach.

On the weekends, you're liable to locate him at a yet-to-be-named ballpark at North Medford High.

"The first thing I do in the morning is open my eyes," says McAbee, a standout athlete at Talent High School and Southern Oregon University in the 1950s. "The second thing is to look at the obituary page, and if I'm not in it, I'm off and running."

McAbee is in great shape for someone his age and will surely live to see the day the stadium is officially dedicated in his honor.

It would be nice if the North Medford folks presented him with something really special, like a brand new Chevy pickup. But knowing McAbee, an orange or a Snickers bar would be more than enough.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 7876-4469, or e-mail dhunt@mailtribune.com