The longtime Little League and Babe Ruth coach finally retires
by: submitted photo, IN HIS ELEMENT — Len Clarke came away from his 32-year coaching career with lots of smiles, lots of great memories and lots of great friends.

Len Clarke has done a lot of things in his 61 years.

As an executive vice president at Poorman-Douglas Corporation, he has worked on some of the biggest class-action lawsuits of the past generation.

As a father and husband, he helped his wife Patty raise three sons, saw them through college and into their own professional lives, marriages and families.

And as a longtime baseball coach, he helped his teams win 21 state titles and led a handful of those as far as World Series competition, including his 2006 Beaverton Ringor team, which finished second in the AAU 19-U World Series just a week ago.

But now, Clarke is trying something new. Something he's never done before. He's going to step back into retirement.

He's already begun the transition away from Poorman-Douglas, his professional home for the past 16 years - he plans to finish his tenure there in January of 2007 - and he's pretty darn sure that this year's Ringor team will be his last.

'It's been a great ride (but) I seriously doubt I'll ever take on another managerial role,' he said. 'And it seemed right to go out with a World Series game.'

While Clarke is far from done with his lifelong love of baseball - he plans to continue giving coaching clinics, hopes to work with his sons as they coach their own children, and may also offer private instruction - it seemed like the time was right after more than 25 years of Little League, Babe Ruth, Senior Babe Ruth and AAU.

Along the way, though, Clarke has made a lifetime of baseball memories.

There was his brush with Major League Baseball when the New York Yankees called with their intention to draft him after Clarke earned All-City honors at Jefferson, only to be rebuffed by Clarke's father who told the Yankees very firmly that his son would be going to college.

There were three straight city titles in his first coaching job as player/coach at age 20 in the old Portland fastpitch softball league. 'No one else wanted to coach so I said 'Hell with it. I'll do it,'' Clarke recalled.

There were four state titles while coaching his sons through Raleigh Hills Little League, and a couple others with Beaverton Babe Ruth - Clarke spent nine seasons coaching in both leagues at the same time to accommodate all three of his boys. 'It was busy as heck but they were all good ballplayers,' Clarke said of his sons.

Eventually, in 1998, there was his transition to coaching at the Senior Babe Ruth level, a move spurred by former player Mark Calkins. Calkins came to Clarke, explaining that Jesuit High School had no summer team and he needed a place to play following his senior season. 'I told him I just wasn't sure about it,' Clarke said. 'I didn't know if we could get enough guys to play.'

But Calkins assured him otherwise, saying that Clarke's long tenure in the area would guarantee him as many players as he'd need and Calkins was right - the team had 12 by the next day and Beaverton Ringor set off on a string of nine straight Oregon state titles and regional appearances, and a number of chances in the World Series too, including his 2003 Series champions.

There were other World Series championships too, including two with Beaverton Babe Ruth all-star teams (in 1987 and 1992). But Clarke was never a win at all costs kind of guy.

'The things I've had success with is the ability to get the most out of players,' Clarke said. 'We've had so many guys who've had their best seasons with us. I thank God I'm blessed with that.'

Instead of winning, it was about family for Clarke, both his own family and the many baseball familes he coached over his 32 years in the game.

There was his son Scott's marriage - held on Tualatin Hills Field No. 2 with a Catholic priest in umpire's garb and his new daughter-in-law throwing out a ceremonial first pitch for her new marriage. 'He (Scott) wanted to present his wife with the biggest diamond ever,' Clarke laughed.

And it was family - in this case his grandson Eric, 10 - that also helped him make the decision to step away from coaching. Talking with Eric at a Ringor game earlier this summer, Clarke told his grandson 'Hey buddy. How are you doing? I haven't seen you in a while.' Eric's response? 'Yeah Grampa. Since Ringor started, you haven't been to one of my games.'

And Clarke knew, right then, his time had come.

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