Sandee Kensinger was a coach, a mentor, a friend and a one-of-a-kind personality, and no one involved within the Medford Mustangs program wants his legacy to ever be forgotten.
As such, the Mustangs will be playing host to the inaugural Coach K Memorial Tournament this week to pay homage to the winningest manager in program history who died suddenly Aug. 14, 2017 at age 59.
Medford will be joined by the Corvallis Gerding Builders, Klamath Falls Falcons and Grants Pass Cavemen in a round-robin format for games to be played Thursday through Sunday at Harry & David Field. The Mustangs (9-3) will play at 7 p.m. during the first three tournament days, then cap the event at 1 p.m. Sunday. Other nine-inning games will be 4 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday.
Tickets at Harry & David Field are $5 for adults and $3 for children/seniors, with admission good for both games each day. Thursday’s matchups will be Grants Pass versus Klamath Falls and Medford against Corvallis.
“I think the main thing starting this up is to make sure people remember really what Sandee stood for, and that was pure baseball,” said Mustangs General Manager Paul White. “He just was passionate about baseball. That’s all he lived for was the summer and to get to baseball.”
White said the Mustangs had hoped for an even bigger tournament as they pay homage to Kensinger — and the plan is for this to be an annual event — but getting a late start in the planning process due to questions over field availability cut into that ability as he and manager Nate Mayben sought to put the memorial tourney together.
“Throwing these things together is pretty tough and we’re trying to build on it from year to year,” said White. “We’re hoping to make it a pretty big event with premier teams coming down to play each summer.”
The last thing anyone wanted to do, however, was wait as they continue to pay respect to Kensinger, who led the Mustangs to the American Legion World Series three times (1992, 1997, 2009), placing as high as second in ‘97 and ‘09. Medford won seven state championships under Kensinger, who was affectionately known as “Coach K” to his players and gave the program all he had through his 19 seasons.
The Mustangs players and coaches have also all been wearing Kensinger’s No. 17 jerseys during their warmups this summer.
“I don’t want the day to ever come to where 10 years from now Nate and I are doing our thing and they’re going to say, ‘Who’s Sandee Kensinger?’” said White. “We want the community and players to always know who Sandee Kensinger is and what he stood for.”
“On the field, Sandee didn’t get into mechanics of pitching or hitting too much,” added White, who also serves as Medford’s pitching coach and began working alongside Kensinger in the North Medford program in 1999. “Just his sheer passion would get through to the kids and they wanted to play so hard for him. They would run through a wall for him. You can’t teach it, you definitely have to have it or you don’t, and he definitely had it.”
For Mayben, Kensinger wasn’t one particular entity, he was a man who stood up for what he believed and helped mold the current Mustangs manager from his time as a player to now.
“Coach K meant a lot to me,” said Mayben, who is in his eighth season after taking over for Kensinger in 2011. “I’m one of the most unique and blessed people because I had an opportunity to not only play for him but coach with him and also had the opportunity to have him as a friend.”
“He was a great friend, a great mentor and a great coach to me,” he added. “He instilled a lot of confidence in me, not only as a player but as a coach in doing things that I thought was right with the program.”
When Mayben was checking in with teams about their availability to play in the tournament this year, he said the outpouring of support was tremendous and should lead for even bigger and better in the future.
“Next year hopefully we can get a guarantee on dates, we’d like to do this every year after Father’s Day weekend, and we can get some of the best teams in here,” said Mayben. “We talked to a lot of teams that respect Coach K a lot and wanted to be a part of it so we’re excited about the future on it and just continuing the Coach K tradition of good baseball down here.”
“The thing about Coach K is that he just loved the game of baseball and he loved just watching kids play and develop,” added Mayben. “We knew that when he passed away, it was just kind of a no-brainer obviously to do this.”
One of the things Mayben said he’ll remember most about Kensinger was just how genuine of a person he was, and how he loved helping others.
“Coach K was one of those friends who would drop everything for you,” said Mayben. “He was that guy you could count on, he would just do it. He wouldn’t balk at it or say, ‘Come on, man,’ he would just do it.”
“I remember multiple times we’d either be playing at Harry & David or North Medford (High School) and he’d come out and I’d be dragging the water hose around and he’d say, ‘What are you doing? I got it. Go write your lineup card out.’ You didn’t have to say do this for me, it was just like I got that for you.”
And now the Mustangs will have this annual tournament for him.