With smiling faces befitting a franchise that has yet to lose a single game and seems to unveil a new present each day, the Medford Rogues talked openly Tuesday about their optimistic hopes for a baseball season that begins in just nine days at Harry & David Field.
Decked out in a collection of the recently arrived team uniforms (home white, road grey and alternate green), the bulk of the Rogues coaching staff met with members of the media and shed insight on their summer expectations for the collegiate wood-bat team's inaugural season in the West Coast League.
The preseason opener is only nine days away, and the June 5 regular-season opener isn't far off that mark, and the Rogues feel confident that their approach to the season and the renovations at H&D should make for an entertaining debut campaign.
"On paper we look really good so I guess it's our fault if we lose," Rogues manager Josh Hogan said with a laugh. "We're really excited about this opportunity to bring this high caliber of baseball to Medford."
Hogan combined with pitching coach Jeff Lyle, assistant coach Aaron Nielsen and general manager Chuck Heeman to guide the Klamath Falls Gems to a 26-28 run last year in that franchise's second season. The Gems tied for second in the WCL's West Division — six games back of the Corvallis Knights — but lost out on a playoff berth in a tiebreaker with the Cowlitz Black Bears.
With the experience of navigating the WCL waters as a young franchise, all involved believe that they have been able to use that knowledge to give Medford a leg up for its first go-round.
"Honestly I don't think it should be much of a transition problem at all," said the 25-year-old Hogan, who is entering his seventh year as a player and then coach in the WCL. "I think it should actually be really good because we're fortunate enough to have the experience that we have on our staff, and with our GM's knowledge we're in a really good spot going into the year."
The Rogues roster remains fluid, however, with fans likely to see a few regulars and several 10-day contract players in the early portion of the season until many of the full-contract players arrive in mid-to-late June.
"In this league you pretty much have to recruit two teams, a 10-day contract team and a full-contract team," Hogan said of preparing for the season. "It's a tough process but I think we've done a really good job. We've learned from some mistakes we made last year and are kind of overdoing the 10-day contract part of it this year. We're trying to make sure we don't fall on our faces like we did last year."
Last year's Klamath Falls team opened the season with a 3-18 record before making a late surge. Hogan missed the first 13 games of the year while serving as first base coach at the University of Oregon, but his role this spring as assistant coach at Lane Community College has made him available to hit the ground running right away this summer.
One of those 10-day contract players — Ashland's Billy Hansen — was on hand for Tuesday's festivities and shared the excitement of those around him, for the upcoming season and renovations to Harry & David Field.
"I'm really excited to be a part of this whole thing," said Hansen, who was part of the basketball and baseball teams at Regis College in Colorado this past year as a freshman. "There's obviously a great buzz around the Rogue Valley going into this team."
Hansen was a member of the American Legion AAA Medford Mustangs last summer and said he believes the Rogues will be well received this summer, especially given the ballpark improvements.
"I definitely had heard a lot about the new renovations (at Harry & David Field) but this is the first time I've been out here and it's even more than I expected," the first baseman/outfielder said Tuesday. "Everything looks really great, looks really sharp and it looks like a real ballpark. There's already a great following for the Mustangs and I think it's going to be even a lot more so for the Rogues. I'm really excited to see how many people come out and the type of atmosphere we're going to play in."
Gary Miller, president of the Medford Youth Baseball Society, said his group has engineered — with some grants pending — about $300,000 worth of cash and in-kind donations for the renovations. Combined with a matching gift of up to $250,000 by the Rogues' ownership group CSH International Inc., about $560,000 worth of improvements at the facility will have occurred in the past year.
"We're very fortunate because this is a project that lends itself to a lot of in-kind donations like all the dirt and a lot of the other work that has been donated," said Miller. "We've really had a lot of people step up to make this happen."
Substructure for the viewing/party deck beyond the third-base dugout will be complete Friday, with decking installation to begin soon after, along with some tweaks to the grass berm, which had its first mowing on Tuesday. The last project Miller and company hope to have done before too long is installation of a perimeter fence around the complex.
"We're rounding third and heading for home as far as the construction of the new seating and everything," he said.
As for the product the Rogues will be putting out on the field, Hogan spoke of his willingness to let the players dictate play until small-ball tactics are in order and Lyle said his pitching staff should be deep and competitive. Last year, with Lyle at the help, the Gems set an all-time WCL record with 407 strikeouts while walking only 107.
"I know on paper we've got guys that we want in here and are strike-throwers," said Lyle.
"The way we run the staff is to go at people," he added. "We don't mind giving up hits and we don't mind guys earning things but we don't want to walk people, we don't want to (give away) anything free."
The Rogues are still seeking 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 a full schedule and ticket/merchandise information, go to the team's website at medfordrogues.com