The Medford Rogues' distinction as the most successful start-up franchise in the nine years of West Coast League baseball was reinforced recently.
The team was ranked in the top 50 for attendance by Ballpark Business among all summer collegiate baseball teams, cracking the list at No. 31. For 26 home games, the Rogues averaged 1,372 fans.
They were third in the WCL behind Bend (1,574) and first-year Victoria (1,437).
The overall leader was Madison, Wis., with 6,110, well ahead of runner-up Lacrosse, Wis. (2,979).
The ranking was further indication of the success of Medford's debut in the wood-bat league. It already was the first expansion team to make the playoffs, and the Rogues set a record for most victories by a first-year franchise. They were 30-26, including the postseason, beating the former record of the Klamath Falls Gems, who won 19 games two years ago.
Rogues general manager Chuck Heeman held the same position with that first Klamath Falls team.
"I think that's exactly what it says," Heeman said, responding to a question about the attendance ranking. "People embraced the team once they realized what product we were putting out here on the field and what we did to entertain families. Once people took hold of that, we really saw a nice increase in attendance as the season went on, and that's a really good sign for next year."
Heeman's goal was 1,500 per game.
"We didn't quite hit that," he said, "but I think that was a pretty lofty goal. Higher-end teams are at 1,300 to 1,500. We wanted to finish in the top three in our league."
The newness of the team led to a bit of a slow start at the gate, said Heeman. Late in the season, wildfires blanketed the region with smoke, forcing many to stay indoors. That undoubtedly kept some individuals and families away, and a couple companies canceled group outings, said Heeman.
"I hate to say that because it sounds like we're making excuses," he added. "Every time I see an empty seat, I think we're not working hard enough."
Work has already begun on next season.
Heeman has identified areas to improve the spectator experience, notably making food and beverage service more efficient.
"We need to make adjustments to get people fed quicker," he said, noting that the layout of the concessions could change.
As for the on-field product, he and head coach Josh Hogan have talked at length about how to approach next season.
They'd like to identify college players who get out of school earlier and thus could join the team more quickly than much of the roster did this season. A number of Division I schools are out in mid-May, he said. That's a month earlier than when some of this year's players arrived.
"The last two-thirds of the year, we did really well," said Heeman. ... "We were one of the best teams in the league. If we get off to a better early start and keep those guys together for the summer, I think we'll have a better shot at the playoffs."
The Rogues have identified 13 eligible players they'd like to bring back next year. Once those deals are finalized, Heeman and Hogan will set about filling holes. Heeman said work will start after Labor Day on next year's roster, schedule, sponsors, ticket sales, etc.
Medford's home stadium, Harry & David Field, is an attractive place for potential recruits to play, said Heeman.
It worked well for this year's team, too. The Rogues won 16 of their last 18 WCL games there, intensifying their playoff push.
Medford and Bend tied with 30-24 records, but the Rogues advanced to the playoffs because of a 4-2 head-to-head record against the Elks.
Bend seemingly had the playoff spot in hand but lost its final six games.
The Rogues' season ended with consecutive losses to Corvallis in the WCL South Division best-of-three playoff.
"We accomplished a lot," said Heeman, "but until we win the whole thing, we're not finished. It's a cliche, but it's true."
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com