Gordon joins Oregon State as walk-on

Max Gordon took a leap of faith to follow his dream. Like always, the former Ashland High outfielder popped right back up as good as new.

A year after phoning Oregon State baseball coach Pat Casey on a whim Gordon is lifting weights at AHS in preparation for his first season with the Beavers. The outfielder, who batted leadoff on Ashland's 2008 state championship team before spending a season with Sierra College in California, received the good news directly from Casey during a one-on-one meeting following Oregon State's fall ball season two months ago.

"He called me into his office for grade checks," said Gordon, "and he shook my hand and told me that I was going to be a part of the club.

"I was pretty happy. I didn't really want to blow up in the office, so I waited until I got out of the office."

Gordon, a redshirt sophomore, will join former AHS teammate Sam Gaviglio, the 2008 Oregon Class 5A pitcher of the year who's a junior at OSU.

Baseball America in February named Oregon State the No. 2 college baseball program of the decade, ranking the Beavers behind only Texas. They catapulted to the forefront of Division I baseball by winning back-to-back national titles in 2006 and '07.

As a senior at AHS, Gordon dreamed of dawning orange and black one day, but knew his chances were slim at best.

He gave himself a lift by playing for the Medford Mustangs over the summer of '08, helping the Mustangs advance to the American Legion AAA World Series championship round. The following spring, he continued to show promise at Sierra College.

Gordon then decided he was ready to go for it. He called a former Sierra teammate, Keith Jennette, who had since made the Oregon State roster, and asked for Casey's phone number.

Then Gordon, known for his edge-of-your seat play-making ability, often at the expense of his body, picked up the phone and took a different kind of risk.

"I was really nervous when I called (Casey) up because I didn't know what was going to happen," Gordon said. "He knew who I was. He'd seen me play for the Mustangs and said that I had a lot of courage for being where I was already after the accident. Then I asked him if I could come up and look around. Talk to him some more. He said he'd love to have me up."

The "accident" Casey referred to was the car crash on Highway 62 in January, 2008, that critically injured Gordon and killed his brother, Nick. The two were returning from a ski trip to Mount Bachelor when Nick Gordon lost control of the car while trying to make a pass.

Max Gordon suffered severe head trauma, a lacerated spleen and eventually had to deal with a bout with pneumonia. He overcame it all, and five months later executed a celebratory front flip after Gaviglio recorded the last out of Ashland's state championship victory over Thurston.

Gordon visited the Oregon State campus last January and decided to try to make the team as a walk-on. He played in a Portland wood bat league over the summer to help sharpen his skills heading into the Beavers' fall ball season. Fall ball proved to be a nerve-racking experience for Gordon.

"I think I did pretty well," he said. "I just did a lot of the little things right and every day I just tried not to make mistakes. It was pretty stressful for a while. I really didn't want to mess up and shoot myself in the foot. I just worked hard and hustled everywhere, basically."

Apparently, that was exactly what Casey was looking for, because soon thereafter he told Gordon the good news. So far, Gordon said, he is the only walk-on to earn a roster spot.

"It was a pretty big surprise," he said. "I knew I would kind of be in the mix, but since I kind of felt like I was a long shot just getting up there and getting the opportunity was (a big deal). It kind of blew me backwards, and I was like, 'Oh, wow.'"

Gordon has no idea whether or not he'll see game action for the Beavers during the 2011 season, but doesn't sound too worried about it, either. Nor is he concerned with the possibility of moving from his usual spot in center field to left.

It's easy to see why.

At Sierra College, players were required to sell raffle tickets to help pay for equipment.

"When I got to Oregon State," he said, "the first day they gave us a Nike shirt and shorts and a hat. I'm like, 'I didn't have to sell anything. Right on.'"

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