While other boys his age spend the summer months playing at the lake, lounging in front of the TV or locked into a full-time job (or all three), Ethan Schlecht is giving back.
And he's thrilled about it.
The 19-year-old 2012 Ashland High alum has been hired to coach the Ashland Pilots, the American Legion A baseball team that he helped lead to a state and regional championship only three years ago, for the remainder of the season. The pay's nothing to brag about and the hours are rough, but it's hard to beat the view from the office, the home dugout at North Mountain Park. So when Ashland's American Legion board asked Schlecht about a month ago if he would take over the team — with a little help from his dad, former AHS principal Jeff Schlecht, and former Grizzly teammate Ian Alpenia — from late June on, it turned out to be a no-brainer.
"Pretty immediately I said yes," said the younger Schlecht, who recently completed an all-star freshman campaign at Oregon Tech. "I wanted to do it. I wanted to offer these kids something because I had coach (Don) Senestraro, and what a great help he was to me, and I just wanted to show these kids what he did for me."
Schlecht may be short on life experience compared to the other Area 4 head coaches, but he seems to have the demeanor to pull it off. Soft spoken but direct, Schlecht isn't afraid to tell a pitcher when it's time to start attacking the zone or a batter when he's taking the wrong approach at the plate.
Mature beyond his years, Schlecht also keeps the game in perspective. He never lost his cool as a player at AHS, and has already displayed the same temperament as a coach. In his first game in the third-base coaches box on Monday, an extra-inning loss to the Grants Pass Miners, Schlecht sent an Ashland baserunner home and was shocked when a close play at the plate went against the Pilots.
"He role-modeled exactly the type of sportsmanship that I hoped he would," Jeff Schlecht said, "and I looked directly into our dugout and I said to the kids, 'That's what it's all about right there.' It's disappointing, but I don't want to see palms up, 'Why me?' You could see, he went, 'Oh!', but then he just went about his business."
It probably doesn't hurt that Schlecht has some compelling evidence to back up the advice he gives — as in multiple all-star nods in both high school and now in college (he was named to the All-NAIA West Group Team as a freshman). Schlecht batted .478 in his final year with the Pilots, flirted with .500 as a Grizzly, was one of the top hitters for the Medford Mustangs last summer and overcame an early-season slump to bat .283 as the starting third baseman and No. 5 hitter for Oregon Tech.
But even with all those impressive numbers, Schlecht has his work cut out for him. After all, he's attempting to do something few would even consider — coach players only a few years his junior, two of which, Jack Carroll and Vince Cammarota, played catch with Schlecht as a teammate only 14 months ago.
"It's kind of both ways — they call me Ethan and they call me coach," Schlecht said, when asked how he's addressed by the players. "But they respect me as a coach and they understand what I'm trying to say and I feel like I have a lot to teach them, coming from OIT and playing college baseball. They listen pretty well.
"This is a pretty good group of kids. The Ashland baseball program as a whole has been really good in respecting the coach and respecting the community and so it's not been a problem for me."
Schlecht said his practices are similar in length and structure to those of Senestraro. As far as mentor's go, Schlecht could do far worse. Senestraro coached Ashland High to four straight Class 5A semifinal appearances and a state championship in 2008 before stepping down following the 2011 season.
"(Practices) are only about an hour and a half, but you get so much done," Schlecht said, sounding a lot like a coach who's been in the business for three years instead of three weeks. "There's no rest time; you're just going from drill to drill. It's a lot of fun, and one thing that I wanted to stress to the kids is that having fun doesn't mean that we're goofing off and that kind of stuff. Having fun means that we're working hard together and making sure that we're being the best team and the best players as individuals, and we've got to keep each other accountable to that."
Daily Tidings sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 776-4469 or email@example.com