One month away from opening day, Medford Rogues general manager Chuck Heeman said he doesn't want to jinx anything but he's pleasantly surprised at how everything is coming together for the collegiate wood-bat team's inaugural season in the West Coast League.
Renovations at Harry & David Field are nearing completion and the roster is shaping up to be one that should give the Rogues a chance to compete in their first summer of play.
WHO: First-year franchise in the 11-team collegiate wood-bat baseball West Coast League.
"I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, to where something's going to go wrong," said Heeman, "and something will because there's always last-minute stuff but everything has come together remarkably well so far."
The biggest — and most expensive — piece of the puzzle has been the ongoing face-lift at Harry & David Field.
"The construction is really coming together," said Heeman. "Batzer Construction's done a great job and Gary Miller (president of the Medford Youth Baseball Society) has really been instrumental in getting the work done and getting people to donate things to help us."
"A couple weeks from now and even I won't recognize it," he added. "It's really coming along great."
Already in place are permanent seats along the first base line as well as bleacher seating alongside the concrete concourse. The same setup is slated for the third base line, with the concrete concourse slated to be finished at mid-week and construction on an adjacent party deck further toward left field beginning later in the week. The installation of seats on the third base side will begin next week and take about three days, and the protective netting behind home plate will be extended to the edge of the dugouts.
Irrigation for a grass berm that will extend the seating area toward right field was completed last week, with topsoil brought in on Friday and slated to be smoothed out today before sod is installed on Wednesday. Also this week, an additional speaker will be added to each side of the press box to help balance the sound system.
A playground for kids will be built beyond the grass berm on the right field line on May 18, and then one of the final main projects prior to the preseason opener on May 31 will be the installation of a perimeter fence to surround the complex.
The Medford Rogues will play five preseason games — three at H&D Field — before their official season opener June 5 at home against Bellingham.
"Right now we're about a week ahead of schedule, which is really good," said Heeman. "It looks like we're going to be OK for the third week of May and then that last week before we start is all about setting up the concession stands and team shops and where we want everything to be."
All of it hopefully will allow the Medford Rogues to offer not only a quality venue to watch the top level of collegiate summer baseball on the West Coast, but also a full-family experience at the ballpark.
"What we're trying to create is what you would find at an affiliated minor league stadium like in Sacramento or Eugene or Salem, where you go and it's really all about family entertainment," said Heeman. "There's good music, good food, good baseball and a lot of giveaways and stuff happening during the game to make it fun for everyone."
Heeman helped bring the Klamath Falls Gems into the WCL two years ago after four years in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. He was brought in by the Medford Rogues' ownership group, Consolidated Sports Holdings International Inc., to provide a solid foundation for the summer program and said he and his wife Mayra, who is a sales representative/administrative assistant for the team, have enjoyed a much smoother transition than when they were in Klamath Falls.
That goes beyond the community awareness and business support, too. Heeman said the Rogues have received good response from college coaches wanting to send their players to Medford and play for head coach Josh Hogan, who played for three seasons in the WCL and has three years of coaching experience in the league.
"The No. 1 thing I have to keep in mind is that it's an expansion team," Heeman said of tempering his optimism, "but one of the benefits we have is that college coaches know Medford, they know the field and they know the ballpark. They kinda know where they're sending players so we've been really fortunate that we've gotten some good talent."
Heeman and Hogan started the recruiting process in October and have tweaked the roster ever since, with more to come. The Rogues have 44 players on the roster now, although a handful are 10-day contract players, and range from familiar local faces like North Medford High products Matt Maurer, Colin Sowers and Michael Bradshaw to University of Oregon players Connor Hofmann and Jeff Gold.
"We're turning away good players right now and that's a great position to be in," said Heeman.
Two Rogues players from Oklahoma Baptist University, junior first baseman Matt Page and junior catcher Mason Ankeney, were recently named to the first team of their NAIA conference and Page was named player of the year. In addition, Ankeney won his conference's Gold Glove for the catcher position.
Page currently leads all of college baseball with 81 RBIs and the lefty power hitter finished the regular season with a .396 batting average and 15 home runs. Ankeney made only two errors in 274 chances as a catcher and hit .337 with 44 RBIs.
Heeman said he's excited about the entire roster but particularly for infielder Joe Chavez (UC Riverside), who has been a two-time Big West Conference player of the week; speedy outfielder Shakeel Newton (Genesee CC in New York); left-handed pitcher Steven Schoonover (Nebraska-Omaha), who pitched for the Gems two years ago; and left-handed pitcher Justin Jacome (UC Santa Barbara).
Another exciting facet will be the adjustment made by incoming Ducks A.J. Balta (infield), Dane McFarland (outfield) and Reza Aleaziz (pitcher) and UC Santa Barbara freshman-to-be Brody Weiss, son of former major leaguer Walt Weiss.
The roster will continue to be adjusted as the team waits for its Division I players to finish school and get to Medford (typically around mid-June), therefore the need for 10-day contract players who have the ability to make enough of an impression that they stick with the squad. Heeman said WCL teams can dress 25 players per games but often keep around 30-32.
"We have a lot of juniors right now because we want to win some games this year and really have a good team, and I think we have an opportunity to do that," said Heeman. "You try to build a pipeline of good people and good players who come here and like it here and want to keep coming back if they can."
If there is one piece of the puzzle that hasn't quite come together at this point, according to Heeman, it's that the Rogues still needs more host families for the players who are coming to town. Anyone interested in filling that role can contact Heeman in the Medford Rogues office at 541-973-2883.
For more information on the Rogues, including ticket and merchandise information, go to the team's website at medfordrogues.com