Ashland to host fourth annual Sister City Classic

The relationship between Ashland and Guanajuato, Mexico, goes well beyond the current ages of every Ashland Little League player, a pact between sister cities that is closing in on its 50th birthday.

This week, the two cities will meet on the baseball field in the fourth edition of the Sister City Classic, an event that has become another extension of the relationship between little league organizations that stretches well beyond the game itself.

It’s the second complete cycle of the classic that originated in March 2015 when Ashland little leaguers first made the trip to Mexico.

“It’s a baseball-based program, but the outcome of the games really doesn’t matter much,” said Ashland city councilman and Amigo Club liaison Rich Rosenthal, one of the main coordinators of the event alongside Guanajuato’s Armando Preciado. “It’s the fact that we’re building relationships and we’re building bridges as those boys who participate in the games are experiencing something that practically no other little league kids will be able to do in their lives.

“They get to experience things they might not normally get to do and it’s all because of the baseball game.”

A total of 31 Guanajuatenses, which includes 10 players and their families, will arrive in Ashland on Wednesday after driving up from San Francisco.

“It’s a great testament to their determination because it is not easy to obtain a visa to travel to the U.S., particularly now under the current administration. There’s also the economic barrier there that not every family has the means to buy an airline ticket and to pay the fee for a visa,” Rosenthal said. “The fact that there are 10 or 11 players coming up with their families with all the challenges is really exciting to us.”

During their five-day stay in the Rogue Valley, they won’t be simply spending every available hour on the baseball diamond or anything close to it.

There are four games scheduled during Guanajuato’s stay in Ashland, starting with 6 p.m. matchup at Hunter Park on Wednesday, a 7 p.m. game at U.S. Cellular Community Park in Medford on Thursday and then a doubleheader on Saturday that starts at 4 p.m. back at Hunter Park.

In the final game of the four-game series, players from Guanajuato and Ashland will be mixed up into two teams, something that also took place last year in Mexico.

However, it’s not just baseball that some of the youngest people that will be visiting Ashland this weekend will be taking part in.

Both the Guanajuato players and their families will have a chance to raft on the Rogue River as well as visit Crater Lake and the surrounding cities in the Rogue Valley.

It is a nearly a week of a very busy schedule, and baseball is just a part of it.

The four games that will be played this week don’t count on any kind of record. The only internationally-sanctioned little league event will take place later this summer in Pennsylvania and the Little League World Series.

But the common theme of the Sister City Classic is simply for the experience of it all.

It doesn’t matter if it’s in Mexico or Ashland.

“Going to Mexico, you usually end up somewhere on the coast or by the ocean,” said Ashland coach Jeff Rhoden, who was part of the group that went to Guanajuato last summer. “Guanajuato is right smack dab in the middle of the country. There’s a beach nowhere. But the history itself has amazing heritage, amazing history itself, amazing culture and is, by far, one of my favorite trips to Mexico that I’ve ever been on. The people are amazing, too. It’s great hospitality, and the relationship that Ashland has with Guanajuato and the sister city lends to that hospitality as well.”

And knowing that a handful of the Ashland little leaguers were able to make the trip to Mexico last year, they want to return the hospitality 12 months later.

They are eager to show off their neighborhood and host kids they will be playing against over the same period just as those families in Guanajuato has extended the olive branch to them in 2015 and 2017.

“It is an impactful trip and impactful experience — whether they get to go down to Guanajuato or just get to play in these games this week,” Rhoden said. “Just seeing these people from Ashland’s sister city and experiencing a sharing culture with them is an impactful experience, for sure.”

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

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