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Mark Lanman, left, coached countless players in his time in charge of the La Grande High School baseball team.
Lanman decides to call it quits after nine years in charge of La Grande baseball
What’s next? That’s the question former La Grande high school baseball coach Mark Lanman is now asking himself.
After nine seasons at the helm of the Tigers’ varsity program, he has decided to move on.
“It wasn’t as much for me as it was for the kids. I think they were ready for a change,” Lanman said. “For me, it was an easy decision. It was just time.”
It’s been a process over the last decade to get the varsity program and all the other baseball programs, including Little League and Babe Ruth, to where it is today.
La Grande teams now expect to win and consistently make runs during the summer tournaments.
“Baseball has come a long way since before I took over the position,” Lanman said. “It’s taken an effort of a lot of people in the area, including a lot of great coaches and parents.
“Now, when La Grande teams travel to different tournaments around the state, they get more respect. Teams know what they’re up against.”
It hasn’t just been the program that’s seen a huge turn around. Optimist Field in Pioneer Park is now the premier baseball field in the area, playing host to the Northwest Club Baseball Regional Tournament along with many other tournaments.
“I take a lot of pride in the way the field looks,” Lanman said. “It’s been an effort by everyone to get it to where it is and keep it looking nice.
“It’s a form of therapy for me. I spent a lot of long nights the day before the game at the field. It wasn’t nerves, but a way to slow my mind down and think about the matchup for the next game.”
Lanman said he had a lot of great memories from his time with the Tigers, including the first playoff win in 2006 against Junction City.
“It was a tough game on the road against a very good pitcher,” Lanman said. “Getting that first one under your belt is always a good thing.”
It didn’t take long for success to continue. In 2007, the Tigers compiled a 25-5 record, finishing 9-3 in the restructured Greater Oregon League.
La Grande had a bye in the opening round and went on to win the state championship, playing in three one-run games along the way. The final was a 6-5 win against top-ranked Newport in the championship game.
“It’s not easy to win a championship,” Lanman said. “Ask any coach that’s just won a state title and they’ll tell you that. It takes a lot of luck and things going your way. We made one error in that whole playoff run, and that’s what it takes along with some timely hitting.”
It wasn’t all about winning though for Lanman. He and his coaching staff understood that they were there to teach the student-athletes about baseball. The whole staff took it upon themselves to go a little further.
“We knew we were coaching young men,” Lanman said. “Baseball allows you the chance to teach players about more than the game itself. Baseball is a game of failure. You’re not always going to get a hit or make a perfect pitch. Life is that way too. You have to learn how to deal with failure and move on from it.”
Over his head coaching career, Lanman has one big regret. Not taking more time away from the game.
His son Jordan Lanman graduated following the 2007 state title, a special treat for the younger Lanman, receiving his high school diploma on the same day he brought home a state title. Jordan enrolled at Albertson College, now College of Idaho, and played baseball all four years.
“I wish I could go back and watch him play more,” Lanman said. “I just thought I was going to miss coaching.”
There is also one thing that Lanman won’t miss about being in charge of the baseball program, fundraising. Fall, Winter and spring the baseball team, along with every other sport, is constantly trying to bring money into the program.
“It felt like a year around thing we had to do,” Lanman said. “Maybe we didn’t have to do it as much as I did. We just wanted to make it easier on the kids to be able to play.
“I just wanted the team to have nice uniforms, bats and whatever else we could get.”
Lanman’s final words didn’t imply you wouldn’t still see him around.
“Whoever gets the job, if they need help with something, I’ll help out.”