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Where are they now? Mark Smith, Medford High, 1976

MARK SMITH

MEDFORD HIGH, 1976

It's not surprising Mark Smith has spent 24 years in the banking industry. After all, the Medford High and Medford Mustangs baseball team's banked on him when he was the top pitcher in the two programs.

Smith, 49, lives in Hillsboro with his wife of 23 years, Jane, and their son, Tyler, who is a senior on the Liberty High baseball team. Another daughter, Melissa, will graduate from Oregon State this spring, then move on to pharmacy school.

Smith has remained involved in baseball over the years, primarily coaching or watching his son play. He even took the mound again at his 20th class reunion against a 14-year-old all-star team at Miles Field.

"We barely beat them," laughs Smith. "They had a pretty good team."

However, he seldom was on the losing end.

Smith and his family moved to Medford from Hilt, Calif., prior to his sophomore year at Medford Mid-High. The move was necessary when a mill in the Northern California community shut down.

"I always wanted to go to Medford and play ball there," says Smith, who has worked as an item processor his entire banking career. "I got my wish and it was kind of nice, but it was tough getting my foot in the door. I played a little football and basketball, and that helped get me introduced to all the guys."

Smith played basketball and baseball at the senior high, eschewing football because "I thought those guys were too big."

As a junior, Smith went 7-2 as a pitcher and worked himself into the starting rotation. As a senior, he was 5-5. The Tornado didn't make the state playoffs either, giving way to eventual state champion Klamath Union in 1975 and semifinalist Grants Pass a year later. The Southern Oregon Conference, like the seven other leagues, sent only one team.

"I wish we would have (made state)," says Smith. "That would have been something to get to state and play some of the big guys up in Portland. We had some great athletes."

Baseball success, however, materialized in the summer American Legion program. Smith pitched three years for the Mustangs, putting together records of 3-0, 13-3 and 16-3 and amassing more than 250 innings.

The Mustangs, who also featured Monte McAbee, Matt Mahaffey and Mike Carr, were state runners-up in 1975, then swept Corvallis a year later in the best-of-five state championship series. Smith started the first game in '76 and limited Richey's Markets to four hits in a 12-2 romp. It was his fourth complete game of the playoffs.

Smith also started the regional tournament's first game, and Medford won, but it lost the next two and was eliminated.

"I threw a lot of curveballs," says Smith. "I wasn't one of the fastest guys, but I had pretty good control and a great defense behind me. That always helped because I threw a lot of groundballs."

Smith continued to play baseball at Southern Oregon University, making the Evergreen Conference all-star team one season, and followed that up with a couple of years of semipro ball while helping coach the Mustangs in the early '80s before moving to Portland.

He likes to spend his free time hunting and fishing with his son and occasionally reminisces about his prep days, when he enjoyed "just being part of a team and all the camaraderie. We had a great group of guys."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com