When Canby goes to Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer Saturday to battle the West Linn Lions with the OSAA 6A baseball title on the line, it will be exactly 62 years to the day since the Cougars made their first — and, previously, only — trip to the state finals: a June 4, 1960, tilt with the Seagulls of Seaside High School.
It was a generation ago, but many descendants — and even original members — of that generation are still here.
The roster featured the talents of Mike Fisher, Arlie Lenhardt, Steve Buchanan, Al Kraft, Jim Martin, Wayne Oliver, Jack Fisher, Chuck Jackson, Prentiss Hansen, Jed Harms, Ed Corwin, Gerald Kraxberger, Richard Meek, Danny Owings and Frank Cutsforth.
The team was coached by Chuck Driggers and managed by Hugh Preston and Larry Ball.
Many of the names will be familiar to longtime Canby residents.
Wayne Oliver, who passed away in February 2014 at the age of 70, became a businessman and a legend in local youth sports, founding Canby Kids and coaching and sponsoring countless teams over four decades.
Canby’s baseball field is named in his honor, and the team’s uniforms sport a patch bearing his likeness — which also serves as the logo of the Wayne Oliver Foundation, which supports a number of local community and youth-oriented causes.
Al Kraft’s son, Ty, was a three-sport athlete for the Cougars (football, basketball and, of course, baseball) and earned 1989 all-state as a tight end, linebacker and placekicker. He has served as coach of the Canby Cougar softball team since 2020.
And Frank Cutsforth… Well. Everybody knows Frank.
“Baseball was our whole life back when we were growing up,” Cutsforth told the Current. “You never lose those kinds of things. It gets in your DNA.”
The Cougs were in the Capitol Conference back then, a league centered around Salem and divided into northern and southern sections.
Canby’s northern division included Woodburn, Gervais, North Marion and the kings of the conference, Mt. Angel.
Mt. Angel, which was led by future Canby superintendent and coach Dick Brown, had beaten Canby in a doubleheader earlier in the season and were regarded as “one of the hot teams of the Capitol Conference,” according to a 1960 article in the Canby Herald.
Canby captured second place in the conference with wins over Gervais and North Marion — then left town for the final two games of the season: non-league contests on the coast in Warrenton.
In those days, only the league winners were admitted to the postseason, regardless of record or strength of schedule.
“We played the season out and finished one game behind Mt. Angel, so we thought we were done,” Cutsforth recalled. “We left for this double-header on the coast, won both games, then came home and found out Mt. Angel had lost their last two. So we had leapfrogged into first place.”
That set up a conference championship game with the southern division winners, the Serra Catholic Sabers of Salem.
“They were kind of a juggernaut in sports of that era,” he said. “We were not favored to win that game, honestly. The next year, Serra Catholic won state easily. We lost in a really tough two-game series to them, and then they walked through the state playoffs.
“So, we thought we were the second-best team in the league in ’61 as well, but they didn’t let you in the playoffs back then unless you won your league.”
But in 1960, the home team Cougars had the upper hand, winning a tight 1-0 pitchers’ duel in which Ed Corwin allowed only four scattered hits.
The lone run came from Richard Meek, who drew a walk, and scored on successive singles from Kraft and Cutsforth, who followed each other in the batting order.
Kraft was a senior pitcher, center fielder and leadoff hitter. Cutsforth, a junior, batted No. 2 and played second base.
“Allen Kraft was probably our best player,” said Cutsforth. “He was an incredible pitcher.”
That set up a quarterfinals matchup with McLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater — and sent Coach Driggers and his players scrambling for maps of Oregon.
“We didn’t know where Milton-Freewater was,” Cutsforth recalled with a laugh. “We had to figure out how to get there — some-350 miles away.”
The school district had no buses in those days, so the players had to arrange private transport.
Cutsforth’s parents, Glenn and Elsie, agreed to loan their station wagon to Driggers for the occasion, who loaded it with ballplayers and headed for Walla Walla.
Mike “Doc” Harms, a former Canby baseball and football star, made the drive from Oregon State University where he was studying veterinary medicine to watch his younger brother, Jed, play.
While no one in Canby had heard of Milton-Freewater, the feelings were mutual in eastern Oregon.
“Nobody there knew about us either,” Cutsforth said. “Their pitcher was this left-handed kid who really threw the ball hard. The rumor was he was a Yankees prospect.”
That’s not as farfetched as it may sound: A generation earlier, the town of “Muddy-Frogwater,” as it is sometimes jokingly known, had produced Oscar Harstad, a Major League pitcher who appeared in 32 games for the Cleveland Indians in 1915.
The game was closely contested until the sixth inning, when the “Canby Nine” blew things wide open with an eight-score run that started with Cutsforth.
“I remember, I lined a shot up the middle that missed the [pitcher]’s head by inches and that started us going,” he said. “We won that game 10-1.”
The Cougs paraded through their entire lineup that inning, with Cutsforth coming up to bat again (he drew a walk) before Jed Harms finally struck out to end the fun.
In the semis, the boys had to head down to another foreign locale, the tiny southern Oregon town of Drain, which was centered around two things: the timber industry and baseball.
The Drain Black Sox, a semi-pro team sponsored by the local Woolley Lumber Company, had won the National Baseball Congress tournament, the World Series of amateur baseball, just two years prior. They were the first West Coast and only Oregon team to ever win the title.
“The town had that environment of baseball,” Cutsforth said. “The Drain Black Sox, they had a lot of college kids who worked at the lumber mill in the summer and loved to play baseball. Really high caliber, and they didn’t know who we were either. We beat them 2-0.”
The Cougs won three games in six days to punch their ticket to the state championship, their first — and, until this season, only — chance at the title at Multnomah Stadium in Portland.
Originally built in 1926, the storied Multnomah Park has seen nearly every conceivable outdoor athletic and cultural event, from dog racing to a summer ski jump in 1953 intended to promote the upcoming winter games at Mt. Hood.
It’s hosted presidents — including William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Warren G. Harding — and musical icons the likes of the Beach Boys, Village People, David Bowie and Elvis Presley, who played there at the height of his fame, before 14,000 screaming fans, in 1957.
Sadly, it was there that the Canby Nine’s Cinderella story ended in heartbreak, as the Cougs fell 4-0 to the Seagulls of Seaside High School on Saturday, June 4, 1960. Only Mike Fisher managed two hits against the Gulls as the typically dependable Canby offense sputtered to a halt.
“If it Wasn’t for Seagulls These Boys Would Be State A-2 Baseball Champions,” the Herald‘s headline from its next edition read. Indeed.
“That was our run,” Cutsforth said. “You never forget that stuff. It was kind of unexpected, but you just play and stuff happens sometimes. We had some good ability. We had some really good players. We were a bunch of competitive guys.”
After high school, many of the guys from that 1960 team settled in the Canby area, started families, businesses and civic clubs — and many of them or their descendants remain here today.
And, of course, they kept that competitive spirit alive, dominating in local fastpitch softball leagues — and becoming lifelong fans of Canby baseball.
The 2022 Cougars’ magical run has brought back a lot of memories for the team’s surviving members.
“I’m reliving this stuff now, Tyler, to be honest with you,” Cutsforth said. “I’m texting [head baseball coach] J.J. [Stolsig] just about every day. I started wishing him well after that first game, encouraging him to have fun, because he and those kids will never forget this as long as they live.”
He did something else that first night, when Canby hosted its first home playoff game in 17 years, beating Bend 2-1 to jumpstart its title run: He picked up a lucky rock.
“You know, I coached a lot of Little League and I’m very superstitious,” he admitted. “Baseball people can be awfully superstitious. Everybody’s got their little things. So, I used to pick up rocks around the field and if they kept it going, I’d hang onto it.
“I had this rock I picked up at the back side of the field, and I told J.J.: ‘I’ve got this rock that’s going to help you. I think there might be about four more wins in this rock.'”
Cutsforth is looking forward to watching history repeat itself for his Canby Cougars this Saturday — although, hopefully, with a happier ending this time.
Being one of the few other Canbyites to have ever played on the sport’s highest high school stage, Cutsforth believes these boys are ready.
“I think they’ve seasoned themselves,” he said. “You look at their competition: They played in the toughest league in the state, and that prepared them. They played [finals opponent] West Linn three times, all close games. My hope is just that they play well and have fun and let things fall where they may.”
With no Seagulls likely to be within miles of Volcanoes Stadium, the Cougars will certainly have a shot. Just so long as Frank holds onto that rock.
To hear more from Cutsforth, check out Episode 366 of the Now Hear This: Canby podcast, “Glory Days”:
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