It's a Family Affair
There are few times the Wolfe family looks forward to more than when the winter chill begins to vacate the Rogue Valley and attentions turn toward spring.
It's a season seemingly made for the local family, with dad Brett Wolfe well-established as the North Medford High baseball coach, senior son Hayden a fixture in the outfield for the Black Tornado and sophomore daughter Amanda a blossoming catcher for the North softball team.
For good measure, mom Kim has spearheaded concession stand efforts over the years for the baseball program, while also balancing the tight-wire act required to watch both children play their favorite sport.
It's that last part, however, that provides the only real sticking point to the spring season for the Wolfes. By nature of their allegiances, they're rarely in the same place at the same time.
Hayden, 18, and Amanda Wolfe, 16, have been around the North Medford baseball system for years, essentially growing up in the shadow of the Black Tornado greats who have come and gone over their lifetime.
With a workaholic father who long dreamed of building a ballfield at the high school and then went about putting in the sweat equity to make it happen, the kids might have even confused the diamond for their home away from home.
As Hayden winds down his final high school season, Brett finds himself reflecting on those early moments more so than ever before. Neither child was ever shy about picking up a rake or pitching in to help the team, even dating back to when Hayden learned as a first-grader to handle a riding lawn mower to help out his dad.
"He would be out there mowing that thing back and forth, it was quite a sight," recalls Brett. "We had that field mowed in funny patterns sometimes, but it got mowed."
As the children grew, they would always tag along with their parents during the summer months as Brett coached the American Legion North Medford Mavericks and often took the team on long road trips.
"That's when Amanda learned to keep score and kept the scorebook for me and told me when I kept the pitcher in too long," adds Brett with a laugh.
At all times the family tried to stick together, but conflicting game schedules often meant that Brett simply couldn't attend because of his responsibilities with the varsity baseball team.
Once Hayden made it to high school and his first spring season rolled around, the inevitable concerns cropped up.
"Going into my freshman year I was a little nervous because I worried about what other people would think because you hear all the stories about coaches' sons and that kind of thing," he says, "but it was really not that big of a deal."
"My dad made it easy because his philosophy is to treat every kid like it's his own son," adds Hayden. "On the baseball field, he's not even really my dad, he's my coach and treats me just like anyone else."
Still, to make sure no one could read into any choices of playing time or whatever, Hayden put in as much time as possible to develop as a player and prove that everything he received was well-earned.
"I really like to make it easy on him because it's not an easy job to be a coach," says the center fielder of his dad. "He has to deal with so many other things, I didn't want him to have to deal with me slacking or anything like that."
Hayden was an honorable mention all-state selection last year after hitting .347 with 28 runs and 18 RBIs. He also didn't commit a single error as a junior. This season's numbers haven't been as high, but some of that may be due to his double duty as one of the team's main pitchers behind juniors Matt Maurer and Brady Shipley.
Entering today's Class 6A state-playoff opener against Reynolds, Hayden is hitting .300 with 30 runs scored and 14 RBIs. He has 11 stolen bases and has not committed an error for the 23-4 Black Tornado. On the mound, the left-hander is 7-0 overall with a 2.01 ERA.
"The first thing you like to see as a coach is passion for the game, because once you have passion for the game the rest of it all falls into place, and Hayden has that," says Brett. "He's also got the ability to play the game, and putting those things together allows any player to excel. As a coach and as a dad, I look at Hayden as one of those players you'd love to have on any team."
Amanda was satisfied following the baseball team around and handling the stats for her dad until friends pulled her into playing softball when she was 9. Her time for stat-keeping decreased significantly after that.
While her dad has tried to help whenever possible, Amanda says a great deal of the player she's developed into is due in large part to watching Hayden and his counterparts on the baseball diamond.
"He just means a lot to me and I've always been impressed with how hard he works," Amanda says of her older brother. "He's kinda like a role model for me. Basically his leadership skills and work ethic and just his mentality out there, I try to get that from him."
While flattery surely will get you everywhere, Hayden is quick to point out how impressed he's been with Amanda coming in and taking over the starting duties at catcher since Day 1.
"That's just amazing to me," says Hayden. "That's a tough thing to do to man a staff as the starting catcher. That's such a big responsibility and that in itself is a really big accomplishment for her, and she just keeps getting better."
Amanda's numbers bear that out. She's upped her batting average to .382 entering today's state-playoff opener against Westview to go with 27 RBIs and 19 runs scored. Always able to pack a punch — she led North with seven doubles last year — Amanda has two home runs, three triples and eight doubles this season.
"I would definitely say she has me in the power game, but I'm still faster," quips Hayden, who hit his first high school home run last week.
North Medford softball coach Mike Mayben says he, too, has been impressed with how well Amanda has come in and handled such a key position behind the plate.
"She came in and made an immediate impact on the team," says Mayben. "She's got a good mind for pitch selection and reading hitters and moves behind the plate really well. Her and Taylor (Schmidt) have a great rapport and work really well together."
It also doesn't hurt that, like Hayden, Mayben says Amanda is "always putting in the extra time." That extra effort is a family trait Brett is most thankful has been passed on through the generations.
"She has that internal drive to excel and she doesn't accept mediocrity," says Brett of his daughter.
The hardest part for Brett through it all is an inability to play the role of typical parent. Should Hayden get a big hit, it's not like he can jump up and down in the third-base box. It's even more difficult when it comes to Amanda, because at least he gets to watch Hayden's exploits first-hand.
"As a parent that hurts a little bit because you obviously want to be part of her experiences as well," he admits. "Her being on the softball side is difficult because obviously I would love to be there. I try to communicate that to her as much as I can. I know it's got to hurt her a little bit but she's very good in the fact that she keeps her chin up about it."
For Amanda, it's taken some time to develop that understanding.
"It's not that I'm less important, I know how much the baseball program means to him," she says. "A couple years ago it was really bothering me, but when the boys won the state championship (in 2007), it was like everything was worth it. I would much rather have them be a better program and have him devoted fully to his program than having him watching my practices or whatever."
Brett often throws batting practice to the baseball team and, afterward, to Amanda. When he's unavailable, Hayden has stepped in to give her more swings.
"I've really made an effort to be more involved with her this year," says Hayden. "I don't know why, but I've taken a lot more interest in her games than our games. I used to always go and read the newspaper and the baseball box scores first after our games even though I knew what happened. But after the games this year, I go and read the paper and find out what she did first. I guess I just do it subconsciously, I don't know, but I like to find out what she did first more than recapping my own game."
Certainly not trying to rub it in, but Hayden says the ability to play for his dad has been nothing short of amazing in his time at North.
"It's just a great experience to be able to spend so much time with your dad," he says. "I love going to practice every day. I mean, how many kids get to spend four hours almost every day with their dad? Most people are working all day and then the kids are doing homework and school things and don't hardly spend any time together. We don't have that."
And although Amanda may not have her dad's total attention, Hayden isn't so sure that would work anyway.
"I don't think she minds because we're really different," he says with a chuckle. "She's more like him and I get a lot of my characteristics from my mom. My dad and I can work really well together because we're opposites, but him and Amanda kinda butt heads a little bit because they're so identical in the way they act and the way they need things to go. They're both pretty stubborn sometimes."
The clear winner each spring may be Kim Wolfe, at least according to Hayden.
"She loves it. Once baseball season starts that's her favorite time of year because my dad's always gone," says Hayden, laughing again at how well that comment's going to go over at tonight's dinner table.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org