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PREP NOTEBOOK: Coaches tackle spring cleaning

While the spring sports season is on hiatus for high school athletes, that’s not entirely the case for baseball coaches like North Medford’s Kerry Curtis or Crater’s Jay Campbell.

Along with their softball and baseball coaching peers in the Rogue Valley, Curtis and Campbell are using this time to make facility upgrades while they hope for a return to action. The Oregon School Activities Association has suspended spring sports until April 28.

There are few things more personal to a baseball coach than his field and facilities, so both coaches counted themselves fortunate that they even had the opportunity for spring cleaning amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“If I couldn’t do that, I don’t know what would happen,” said Campbell, in his 15th season at the Comets’ helm. “There’s definitely a lot of pride there in your facilities. You’ve got to take the good, I guess, with the bad these days and the good news is we’ve been able to do some projects out there and get some things cleaned up and improve the facility.”

“The only thing we can do is hopefully put ourselves in the best position possible if and when we do get to resume,” he added. “This way we’ll be ready to go and we won’t have to spend a whole lot of time on facility cleanup or upgrades, we’ll be able to spend time on practice and development of skills.”

None of this is how Curtis envisioned his first season would go after taking over for Brett Wolfe, who guided North Medford to two state championships, one runner-up showing and nine conference titles in 25 years before retiring last September.

“We were ready to roll before all this happened,” said Curtis. “I guess I can say so far we’re undefeated though, right?”

“It’s been tough for everybody,” added the former Black Tornado standout, who is a lieutenant in the Medford Police Department. “I’m not so much worried how I feel about it but, man, I feel awful for the seniors and those guys that have been working so hard and are ready to go.”

Players are not allowed to use school facilities or get together for practices per direction from the OSAA in conjunction with Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 decree.

The OSAA executive board plans to meet Wednesday and again on April 15 to re-evaluate the suspension of spring activities and sports, along with the remaining spring state championships.

“These are times we’ve never been in before and we’re not sure how to deal with them,” said Campbell, “but we’re just doing the best we can with the situation we’ve got.”

As such, a lot of sheds that are lining baseball facilities are being cleaned out and everything is getting a second look on potential upgrades that could and should be made before players and fans are allowed to return.

“We’re cleaning out stuff that I haven’t seen in years just because we’re so bored,” said Campbell, who also serves as dean and athletic director at Scenic Middle School.

“My dad (assistant coach John Campbell) has been doing a lot of cleaning out of sheds and stuff like that,” he added, “and I can only mow the field in so many patterns before I start going crazy. The field looks great and patterns look good, though. The field’s in great shape and ready to go if and when we get to return.”

At Anhorn Field in Central Point, Campbell and his fellow coaches are installing artificial turf in the batting cage area with some turf that has been sitting out at the complex for a year or so but never got utilized due to time constraints.

Besides the typical field work and weeding being done, Campbell said the group has also been active in cleaning up the concessions and bathroom areas and adding paint where needed.

In Medford, Curtis inherited one of the area’s best baseball facilities from Wolfe but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been plenty to get handled. The infield lip needed some attention and they’ve been able to cut that back and get it primed and ready to go among other tasks.

“Coach Wolfe had brought in several yards of dirt,” said Curtis, “and we were able to get all that dirt moved out to the infield that’s been sitting there for a while and put it to good use. We fixed our base lines a little bit and have just been busy with some general cleaning and maintenance.”

“We filled a 20-yard dumpster of just trash and things that we don’t need and cleaned out some of the sheds,” he added. “We’ve just really been trying to do a lot of upkeep and making it look nice for when we get that green light.”

For the coaches, it’s all been a labor of love to spend their weekends prepping facilities that may or may not get used this spring.

“I know the other coaches agree,” said Curtis, “we will spend as much time out there as we can to make the field nice and the facility something that the kids can take pride in and help them really want to come out to the ballpark.”

“To have a good facility, it’s work that has to be done every year,” he added. “For us, if by chance we don’t get to play, there’s still going to be hopefully some summer ball and some teams using the field this summer and we want it to look good for them. Whether we play this year or not I have no control over, but we still want that facility to be top-notch and we’re making progress in that direction.”

What’s been more concerning for the coaches is their players, most of whom have remained in contact and expressed their issues over a potential lost season.

“More important to what we’re doing has been the work that the kids have put in since mid-October,” said Curtis. “They’ve been grinding and really working hard on their game and doing all the things that we’ve asked them to do. That’s what’s going to be frustrating, is if those kids say we did all that work and now we don’t even get to play. That’s the hardest part for me.”

“Not all of them are going to play summer ball,” he added. “Some of them are going on to play football and for those seniors, who knows if they’ll play again. That’s the tough part is those kids that really are in their final baseball season because they’ve got other plans when it comes to next fall and this was going to be it for them. That’s where I think as coaches across the board that we really feel badly for those kids because this is their last shot and last time to do it.”

Most coaches left their players with a request to do whatever they could to stay in shape when they were last able to gather on March 13, and some, like Campbell, made sure to provide pitchers with a workout routine built to ensure arm safety for whenever they returned.

Other than that, though, a lot of interactions with the players have involved more of a therapist and sounding board role than any potential skill building.

“I’ve checked in but it’s not just about workouts, it’s more about seeing how they’re holding up,” said Curtis. “They all miss it, they’re all frustrated and they all want to get back out there. They’re bummed and we’re all bummed, and we all kind of have to get through it together.”

“I hope they’re all hanging in there, it seems like they are,” he added. “I can’t imagine what they’re all going through because it sucks to kind of have that season possibly disappear.”

For his seniors, Campbell said he’s been trying to do whatever he can to help them formulate their college or post-graduate plans.

“This has kind of given me some down time to do that, too, which has been nice,” he said. “All the kids are frustrated and cooped up, but so is every kid. But you just feel really bad for the seniors right now.”

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

ANDY ATKINSON / MAIL TRIBUNE North Medford High's baseball field, like other facilities in the area has been tended to during the suspension of spring sports.