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  • BASEBALL

    Former Medford A's skipper returns

    Rogers, of the WCL Victoria team, managed Canseco, Steinbach in early '80s
  • If Dennis Rogers were a nostalgic sort, there was plenty for him to reminisce about when he and his Victoria Harbourcats baseball team arrived in Medford late Monday night.
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  • If Dennis Rogers were a nostalgic sort, there was plenty for him to reminisce about when he and his Victoria Harbourcats baseball team arrived in Medford late Monday night.
    Rogers, who is the manager of the fledgling West Coast League squad in British Columbia, Canada, will lead a team from a dugout in Medford for the first time since he was the Medford A's skipper for three years in the early 1980s.
    Rogers took the short-season rookie affiliate of the Oakland A's to the Northwest League championship in 1983 — when future major-league stars Jose Canseco and Terry Steinbach were among its top players.
    His other two teams also won South Division crowns but lost out in the playoffs to the North Division representatives.
    "I'm not really a nostalgic person," Rogers said Tuesday as Victoria waited to open a three-game series against the Medford Rogues at Harry & David Field. "I'm pretty much in the moment. It's a baseball game. We go and play, then go on from there. I haven't gotten into that nostalgic thing in life yet. I have to figure that out.
    "But it is a place where a lot of good things happened, as they have in many other places."
    In a baseball sense, he won't dwell on the time he spent here. But there are other things — trips up and down Interstate 5, visiting relatives, camping out or taking in the Shakespearean Festival.
    You see, this is also where Rogers met his wife, Connie. She's the daughter of Bill and Sally Jackson, who live in the same house in Eagle Point that they did when the local baseball manager courted their daughter.
    When the Harbourcats pulled in following a series against Klamath Falls Monday, their bus passed within a couple miles of his in-laws' house. When it got to the Rogue Regency Inn, Rogers knew from Bill's stories that his father in-law worked on the wiring when it was built.
    But baseball memories? He'll leave them for others to dredge up.
    Rogers, 60, got his foot in the door of professional ball through an acquaintance with the A's while coaching at Cal Poly Pomona. When the college season was finished, he zipped up to Medford for his summer gig.
    He's doing similarly these days as he's coached Riverside (Calif.) Community College for 23 seasons.
    In those bygone days, there was a short "spring training," said Rogers, then some players stayed in Medford and others went to Idaho Falls, Idaho, to play for Oakland's team in the Pioneer League.
    "We'd just put a team together based on grinding it out, playing every day for however many games we played," said Rogers.
    Based on his record, his teams were quite resilient.
    Beginning in 1982, they went 53-17 — the best record in professional ball, which included only three losses at old Miles Field — then 50-18 and 45-29.
    The combined record of 148-64 represented a winning percentage of .698.
    "Miles Field was an old, ancient, quality, unique type of field at that time," said Rogers.
    In that first season, the favored A's, who had won the South Division by a whopping 23 games over the Bend Phillies, met the Salem Angels for the NWL championship in a best-of-three series.
    Salem had only a 34-36 regular-season record but dispatched Medford in two games.
    Joe Maddon, who has skippered the Tampa Bay Rays since 2006, was the Salem manager.
    "They had two dynamic pitchers that were going to the major leagues," said Rogers.
    Among the Medford players who made the big leagues were catcher Charlie O'Brien and pitcher Steve Ontiveros.
    A year later, the A's prevailed in a playoff series against Bellingham, Wash., when Steinbach laced a game-winning hit in the bottom of the 16th inning of the deciding game.
    Canseco, then 18, batted .269 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs in 59 games. Steinbach had a .315 average with six homers and 38 RBIs in 62 games. Pitcher Greg Cadaret (7-3) was another of a half-dozen A's players who made the show.
    In 1984, Tri Cities, Wash., beat out Medford for the title. Todd Burns pitched here before making the majors.
    Rogers didn't manage professionally the following season, then spent two years in the Pittsburgh Pirates' organization. A couple years at Cal State Fullerton followed, then he took the post at Riverside.
    He didn't return to professional managing until taking over the A's start-up team in Vancouver, B.C., Canada in 2003 and '04.
    Much like his first Canada-based team in Vancouver — "When you think about it," he said, "it's a rookie entry club in Vancouver, which is a major-league city" — Rogers enjoys the challenge in picturesque Victoria, a city of 360,000.
    The Harbourcats were 15-14 entering their opener with Medford.
    "Obviously, we're starting a grass-roots program with our ownership and front-office personnel," he said. "Initially, we've done respectively well ... It's not as easy as it is in the states to get players, so we're learning as we go along. But I think it's a viable market and a great city. Our fans have been very supportive throughout the inaugural season. There's a tremendous amount of potential to grow."
    And who knows, success there might someday give him reason to reflect.
    Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com
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