A Division I scholarship, big money, glory — these are a few of the motives that drive baseball players across the country to keep practicing, keep improving, keep playing the game.
Jett Hamik? His motivation is a little more personal.
"For me," he said, "I want to win because my grandpa is going to the state tournament if we win."
Hamik and the rest of Ashland's Little League all-star team will host the 11-12 District 6 Little League all-star tournament Friday through Tuesday at the North Mountain Park softball fields, which have been converted to meet Little League baseball standards. The six-team, double-elimination event begins with a 5 p.m. game between Ore-Cal and Phoenix-Talent at 5 p.m. Friday. Ashland and Lakeview are scheduled to square off 30 minutes later. Medford Red and Medford Blue will also compete for a league title, with both receiving first-round byes.
The District 6 champion earns a spot in the state tournament, which begins July 24 in Salem. The state champ moves on to regionals, and the regional champ advances to the Little League World Series, televised every year by ESPN.
"Our goal is pretty much to beat Medford Red, but my goal is to go to the Little League World Series," Ashland pitcher/shortstop Collin Malcolm said. "I've always had that goal ever since I started playing Little League."
Malcolm, Hamik, and Wyatt Thompson lead an Ashland team that aims to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors. Ashland has advanced to the D6 semifinals four out of the past five years, a run that included back-to-back district titles in 2005-06 and a finals appearance last year.
To that end, Ashland can help its own cause considerably by staying in the winner's bracket through at least the first two rounds. The easiest path to the district title is to win four games in a row, but one miss-step in the first or second round makes that road much tougher, requiring five or six wins to bring home the trophy.
The Ashland-Lakeview winner will play Medford Red at 10 a.m. Saturday, while the Ore-Cal-Phoenix-Talent winner will face Medford Blue at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. The tournament bracket is available at ashlandoregonlittleleague.org.
After nearly three weeks of practicing, Ashland coach Josh Hamik believes his team is ready.
"I think they definitely could win the district tournament and go to the next level," he said. "It's just a matter of, they've been practicing so hard, now can they pull up their boot straps and really play well this weekend, or are they tired? Can they recover after these last practices and get that competitive edge and take that into the tournament?"
Besides playing key roles in the field, Jett Hamik, Malcolm and Thompson will likely all see action on the mound for Ashland, which Josh Hamik said is eight pitchers deep. Also playing key roles for Ashland will be Tim Kiesling, a left-handed pitcher and a first baseman, and Tarquin Daley, a second baseman and center fielder who will bat leadoff.
"Our pitchers aren't going to strike everybody out, but they've got three pitches and they keep the ball down so we've got to have great defense to make the plays," Josh Hamik said.
Jett Hamik, who will spend most of the tournament behind the plate, agreed, adding that from his perspective, the strength of the pitching staff is accuracy.
"We have a great team of pitchers that hit spots, because every time we call outside or inside pitches, we hit it pretty easily," he said.
Previous Little League tournaments hosted by Ashland have been played at Hunter Park, but district officials, citing concerns about the gradient of those fields, decided to move this year's tournament to the more level diamonds at North Mountain. The dimensions there meet Little League specifications, though raised pitching mounds will have to be added — a portable mound will be used on one field, and a dirt mound will probably be built today on the other.
Admission to the games is free and the concession stand will be open throughout the tournament.
Ashland last hosted the District 6 Little League tournament in 2007, when it suffered a first round loss then won two games in the loser's bracket before being eliminated by eventual champion South Suburban.
"(Traveling) really does take a toll on the kids after a while, so I think it's definitely an advantage to be here," Josh Hamik said. "It's a great park down here so it's going to be nice to be close to home and rolling out of (our own) beds."