The Molalla Mohicans have players in the second, third and fourth grades, including several who are play8ing baseball for the first time.

by: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Molalla's Will McAtee gazes toward the plate as he prepares to deliver a pitch in a recent Clackamas County Junior Baseball Association Midget National game at Clark Park. The visiting baseball team was taking infield, so there was some time to kill on the Molalla Mohicans’ bench.

“Kyle, what time do you go to bed at?” 9-year-old Logan Sandberg asked


“Is it school the next day?” teammate Kyle Chavez replied.

Sandberg: “Well, yeah.”

Chavez: “Oh, eight-thirty.”

Sandberg: “Copy-catter.”

A few minutes later, Mohicans coach John von Eynern and assistant Doug Swain huddled with their Midget National players — a group of second-, third- and fourth-graders with limited experience — for a quick pep talk before sending them onto the field for the start of another Clackamas County Junior Baseball Association game at Clark Park.

Most folks who are associated with Molalla Youth Sports or who have come up through the CCJBA system know that the Midget level is only two steps above T-ball. They also know that within each classification there are three divisions — Federal, American and National — and that Federal is the top division in terms of skill level, followed by American and National.

by: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Molalla pitcher Logan Roley delivers a fastball during a recent Mohicans' Midget National game at Clark Park.What von Eynern and Swain are working with is the rawest of the raw. That’s not to say that the next Mike Trout or the next Clayton Kershaw isn’t sitting somewhere on the Mohicans’ bench. But most of the Mohicans are kids who skipped T-ball and Rookie ball, and this is the first time they've played baseball.

What you see at a Mohicans’ game is a course is Baseball 101, taught by two fathers who have a combined 35 years experience coaching youth baseball in the area.

“It’s a lot of basic fundamentals,” von Eynern said. “When it’s time to play, we keep it serious for the most part, but they’re just 8-, 9- and 10-year-old kids. They’re not going to remember what happened 10 minutes ago.

“We want to make it a fun atmosphere and try to work with each kid and teach them what they need to learn to get to the next level.”

During the Mohicans’ pre-game warm-ups, von Eynern and Swain lob wiffle balls in batting practice, emphasizing the need to “see the ball” and to “concentrate on hitting the ball out front.”

“It’s all about the hitting at this level,” von Eynern said. “If you put the ball into play, you’re good to go.”

Getting players to stand in the batter’s box and swing is half the challenge, especially if they’ve been hit by a pitch, which most of them have. And no matter how many times the coaches tell the players, “It only hurts for a second,” there is an innate fear that most kids have when they’re facing living pitching for the first time.

That means for many, their first step as a batter is backward, not forward.

The Midget game comes with a generous strike zone — so generous that a player who stands 3-foot-9 may have a strike zone that is 4-foot-2. In other words, a pitch that is over the plate and eye high or slightly higher occasionally gets called a strike.

by: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Molalla's Josh Lam pops a pitch toward the left side of the infield where it fell for a base hit in a recent CCJBA Midget National game at Clark Park.The expanded strike zone makes sense, because it encourages kids to swing at anything that is close, cuts down on walks, and keeps the game moving.

Almost every batter who comes to the plate hears the same series of tips. “Back elbow up!” … “Start to swing early!” … “Move closer to the plate!”

The one suggestion that throws a lot of Midgets is when they’re told to, “Move back in the box.” Half of them take a step toward the catcher. The other half take a step away from the plate.

Obviously, a lot of them are still learning.

“All kids mature at different ages,” Swain said. “At this age, you don’t know who’s going to be a ballplayer and who isn’t. But if we can teach them the basic fundamentals, maybe we can get them down the road until they do mature and then see if they want to play some more.”

Each inning, Midget teams bat until they make three outs or score five runs, whichever comes first. Games are only five innings and there is a two-hour time limit, both of which can test the attention span of most Midgets.

When Molalla fell behind 6-0 in the fourth inning, one of the Mohicans’ reserves got restless.

“Coach, I want to be pitcher,” he said.

“Yeah, and I want to be Vice President,” Swain said back through the fence.

“Really? Why not President?” the player asked.

“Nobody would vote for me for President,” Swain said. “Vice President, I’ve got a chance.”

Heading into the final week of the regular season, the Mohicans had a 5-5-1 record, keeping them in the hunt for a postseason berth into the pre-County playoffs.

And while a trip to County would be a nice bonus, that’s not what motivates von Eynern and Swain.

Said Swain: “What we’re really trying to do here is make these kids better ballplayers and hope they love the game enough that they want to come back and play next year.”

Jim Beseda / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(503) 829-2301

by: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Molalla coach John von Eynern gives some final instructions to the players before sending them onto the field for a recent home game at Clark Park.

by: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Mohicans' clean-up hitter Zac B. stands ready to swing away.

by: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Molalla's Kyle Chavez takes a mighty rip during CCJBA Midget National action at Clark Park.

by: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Mohicans' assistant Doug Swain serves up wiffle balls during batting practice before a recent CCJBA Midget National game at Clark Park.

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