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MailTribune.com
  • WCL BASEBALL

    Etheridge having breakout summer

    Late Medford Rogues addition has supplied big effort for WCL South franchise
  • You wouldn't think a baseball player who stands 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds could be considered an afterthought, but that was the early summer story for Nathan Etheridge of Grants Pass.
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    • NATHAN ETHERIDGE
      WHO: A 6-foot-5, 220-pound designated hitter/first baseman for the Medford Rogues.
      • WHAT: Etheridge, who graduated from Grants Pass High in 2011, leads the Rogues with 42 hits in 29 games...
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      NATHAN ETHERIDGE
      WHO: A 6-foot-5, 220-pound designated hitter/first baseman for the Medford Rogues.

      • WHAT: Etheridge, who graduated from Grants Pass High in 2011, leads the Rogues with 42 hits in 29 games and is among the West Coast League leaders with a .368 batting average to go with 18 runs and 25 RBIs.
      • up next: Tonight, 6:35, Walla Walla Sweets at Medford Rogues, Harry & David Field.
  • You wouldn't think a baseball player who stands 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds could be considered an afterthought, but that was the early summer story for Nathan Etheridge of Grants Pass.
    Whatever the case, you certainly cannot overlook the impact Etheridge has had in the West Coast League as a member of the Medford Rogues.
    "With about a couple weeks left before the season we weren't sure if we needed another corner guy and kind of another power bat so we just started searching around," said Rogues manager Josh Hogan.
    That search led Rogues General Manager Chuck Heeman to Western Oregon University and eventually to Etheridge, who had just completed his sophomore year — but first season of play — for the Wolves at first base.
    Etheridge's statistics looked good, he batted .306 with 23 runs, 32 RBIs and 16 extra-base hits for Western Oregon as it finished 31-18 overall and runner-up in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships.
    The Southern Oregon slugger also received positive reviews from his head coach, Kellen Walker, as well as a handful of teammates who played for the Rogues in their debut season last summer.
    All those positives, however, didn't do justice to what Etheridge has been able to accomplish since joining the Rogues.
    A former three-sport standout for the Cavemen, Etheridge recently established a new single-season record for doubles in the franchise's short history (nine) and his 42 hits in 29 games lead the team entering tonight's game against the Walla Walla Sweets at Harry & David Field. Etheridge's .368 batting average stands as one of the best in the WCL, and he has scored 18 runs to go with 25 RBIs.
    "We thought he'd be a good fit but we didn't expect what we got," said Hogan. "We expected him to be a good player but what we've gotten out of him has been very, very good."
    The best part about Etheridge's summer has been his consistency, with his batting average starting in the mid-.300s and holding steady with each passing game. He went 3-for-4 with one run and one RBI in Tuesday's series opener against Walla Walla.
    "He's continuously just hit for us," said Hogan. "His first day here he hit a home run and since then he's just been Mr. Consistent for us with big hits whenever we need them and taking pitchers deep into counts."
    "He's doing everything you really want up there at the plate," added Hogan. "He doesn't bunt too well, but we really don't care about that."
    The ability to play small ball wasn't why Etheridge landed with the Rogues, and certainly wasn't why he was chosen as the team's representative for the WCL Home Run Derby during Monday's WCL All-Star Game, which was rained out.
    "It was pretty fun to watch all the guys and exciting to be part of something like that," Etheridge said Tuesday, constant rain notwithstanding.
    For his part, Etheridge was able to send one blast over the fence in fair territory during his round Monday but didn't advance to the second round as one of two South team representatives. Gabe Clark of the Victoria HarbourCats won the derby before the sky really opened up and left the field unplayable.
    "At least I got the one," Etheridge said with a laugh. "I didn't get skunked."
    That attitude of taking things as they come has really benefitted Etheridge this summer, and has been a focal point for him after joining the Rogues following a year when he was a second-team all-GNAC selection — along with Wolves teammate and North Medford High alum Chris Bradshaw.
    "I try to take each at-bat as it comes and then move on and that's a whole new approach for me," he said. "It definitely helps calm me down in the box, especially when there's more of an intense situation. Every at-bat is big but there's ones that are always a little bigger because there's runners in scoring position or you're looking to start something and taking that approach has been good for me."
    Becoming a late addition to the Rogues roster also has been good for Etheridge, who is very comfortable in his surroundings after graduating in 2011 from Grants Pass and playing one summer of baseball for the now defunct Southern Oregon RiverDawgs in 2012.
    "It's just been a blast playing with these guys this summer," he said. "It's a great group of guys and I'm really pleased to have gotten the chance to be part of this team and play with them."
    Given his late start to developing summer plans, Etheridge said he really didn't have many goals or expectations in mind prior to joining the Rogues.
    "Ultimately I was just trying to come in here and try and play well and see how I could do against the Division I pitching and supposedly better competition than what I'm used to," he said.
    Although he'd prefer to play in the field at first base, teammate Victor Garcia Jr. has proven to be one of the WCL's best at that position and left Etheridge to garner most of his time as a designated hitter.
    "Initially it was kind of weird," he said of spending more time in the dugout, "but it got to the point where I've played this game for a while and if you want to succeed and help the team you've got to buy into your role. I've just tried to embrace it and do whatever I can to help our team."
    Hogan said Etheridge has also been open to fine-tuning all aspects of his game, including a minor tweak of his batting swing to quiet an uphill drive built from his legs that ultimately made its way to his hands.
    "He's one of our hardest workers and one of our most coachable players, too," said Hogan, "which a lot of people take for granted. You can tell them all the things you want, but for them to actually be able to consistently apply it is what you want out of a player and he does that."
    As Etheridge sees it, he's on the team to get better, and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure a positive carryover to his next season at Western Oregon and beyond.
    "I'm always looking to see a different set of eyes or ears on what I'm doing," he said. "I've been trying to take in as much as I can this summer. Anything that someone else has said or done that's shown success, I've wanted to see what they're doing so maybe it can help and improve my game."
    Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry
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