Medford's Jessie Hornbrook connects on a pitch during a game Monday at Harry & David Field. - Julia Moore

Seizing the opportunity

If there's one thing Jessie Hornbrook has oodles of, it's confidence.

How else can you describe someone who has rarely pitched and hadn't taken the mound in months, yet warms up for his summer debut with the Medford Mustangs asking teammates if they've ever witnessed a perfect game, since that was what he was about to pull off?

To be fair, Hornbrook was only joking around prior to Monday's outing against the East County Knights.

In reality, the 18-year-old utility player does a lot of talking in bravado fashion on any number of subjects. A lot.

But within that constant chatter lies someone with the physical talent to back up his boasts, and someone who doesn't take himself too seriously.

Hornbrook has also proven to be one of the Mustangs' biggest surprises of the summer thus far, just not for his pitching. After seeing limited action earlier this season in his first turn with the American Legion AAA team, Hornbrook has seized his opportunity of late and now stands as one of the team's top hitters.

"It's a big surprise and a huge help for us," Mustangs manager Nate Mayben says of Hornbrook's uprising.

The 6-foot-1, 187-pounder boasts a 14-game hitting streak heading into tonight's game at the Grants Pass Nuggets and has risen to the No. 2 spot in the batting order — and in efficiency — for Medford. Hornbrook is hitting .456 (31-for-68) with 20 runs scored and 18 RBIs.

"I wasn't expecting him to come out and be hitting over .450 this early in the year but he had a great spring with North Medford and he has a good, solid swing," adds Mayben. "Against guys that are better, he's able to adjust to it because he's mechanically sound and that helps him out a lot."

Only Mustangs returner Seth Brown boasts a higher batting average (.463) after hitting safely in 19 of the team's 21 games thus far. Brown is 38-for-82 with 30 runs and 25 RBIs.

"Lately I've been seeing the ball pretty good and I've just been trying to put a good swing on the pitch," Hornbrook says.

Even after a season in which he was a first-team all-conference shortstop for the Black Tornado, Hornbrook knew he would have much to prove if he was going to see time on the field for the Mustangs. This past spring was the first time in two years he played in the field, and the summer club isn't exactly devoid of talented position players.

"Coming into this summer I wasn't expecting to play much because Justin Bohn's our returning shortstop and he's really good," Hornbrook says, "so I knew when I got an at-bat I had to take advantage of it and really prove myself."

A tender ankle for Bohn and the Phoenix standout's venture to play in the Class 4A all-star series opened the door for more plate appearances in the past two weeks and Hornbrook seemingly hasn't looked back.

"He's been hot at the plate and really that's the reason he's staying in the lineup," says Mayben. "I wasn't too sure what was going to go on with him and Justin there (at shortstop) early in the year. They both play a good short. Justin's probably a little bit better defensively up the middle and more sound because he's had more experience there since Jessie played short this year for the first time in high school, but the way Jessie's swinging it, we've got to find a way to have him in the lineup."

That way has evolved into a rotation at shortstop between Hornbrook and Bohn, who is hitting .303, and some stints in right field and at third base for Hornbrook who, all bravado aside, simply just wants to help his team win in any way possible.

His not-so-quiet confidence kept Hornbrook upbeat when he failed to see much action in the early stages of the summer. His undeniable competitive nature also played a key role in his success once the opportunity arose.

"This team is a good team so you've got to step up your game if you want to be able to play," he says. "I just had to stay confident, knowing I was good enough to play. Being around good players like this and having that competitive level drives me to be better. I like having the competition, it pushes me."

Beyond Brown, Bohn and Hornbrook, the Mustangs have shown solid balance at the plate and in the field in the likes of Colin Sowers (.375, 30 runs, 18 RBIs), Cody James (.361, 21 runs, 27 RBIs), Ethan Schlecht (.389, 15 runs, 17 RBIs), Lucas Stone (.367, 14 runs, 20 RBIs) and Kameron Kaufman (.362, 15 runs, 14 RBIs).

"This team is fun," says Hornbrook. "We just play loose and relaxed and have a blast."

No one exemplifies that more than Hornbrook, according to Mayben.

"You watch him play and he's all over the place," says the first-year manager. "It doesn't matter if he's out in right field or if he's at shortstop or wherever he's at, the guy's always going 100 percent and that helps him a lot and gives him the edge. I like to see that, I like to see guys that are flying around the ballpark. The way he plays the game he plays it very intensely and he gets after it, and I like it."

Hornbrook hopes to use this summer as a springboard to success when he joins the Linn-Benton Community College baseball team in the fall. As someone who excelled in high school in football, wrestling and baseball, Hornbrook had a tough choice when it came to his collegiate pursuit. He averaged 6 yards per carry and scored 12 touchdowns last fall as tailback for the Black Tornado, amassing 1,251 yards rushing on 209 carries.

"I had a decent year this year in football so I was debating whether to go to college for football or baseball," says Hornbrook, "but I chose baseball because my body was kind of beat up (by football). It was tough because I love football and baseball, but I think it's the right decision for me."

Just like inserting Hornbrook in the batting lineup has been for the Mustangs. As a pitcher? Well that's another thing entirely for the affable right-hander.

"It was fun but I wish I could've thrown my curveball a little bit better," he says of a pitching debut that lost track of being perfect when his first curveball thrown hit the second batter of the game. "I've got to work on that."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or email Follow him at

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