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Players get a feel for their new surroundings

Southern Oregon Timberjacks pitcher Shane Bazzell drove into Medford with his parents Wednesday afternoon.

He liked what he saw.

Thursday night, Bazzell had checked out the Rogue River for his fishing interests, toured Eagle Point Golf Course in 83 strokes and had been fitted for his Timberjacks uniforms.

Bazzell, 20, who starred at New Hope High of Columbus, Miss., from 1995-98, is settling into his new professional baseball summer home.

Still, he hopes his stay in Medford will be short.

I'm on a bonus incentive plan with my contract, Bazzell says. If I move up to Visalia (Calif.) this year, I'll get a $1,500 bonus. When I get to double-A ball, I'll get another $2,500.

Bazzell, a 16th-round selection of the Oakland A's in the 1998 free-agent draft, had a 4-2 record with a 3.27 ERA for Oakland's rookie league team in Arizona last summer.

It feels good to be here in a real minor league town, says Bazzell, who toured Miles Field, ate a barbecue lunch with teammates, checked out the team's clubhouse then met with coaches and team officials.

I like this area a lot, says Bazzell. It's a lot like Mississippi. The people are real nice, it's a smaller town and the greenery here is something else.

It reminds me a lot of Mississippi, except we don't have mountains.

Bazzell, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander, specializes in throwing a split-finger fastball to go with his hard fastball, slider and changeup. He ranks second in Mississippi prep records in single-season strikeouts with 198 in 97 innings during his senior year. He compiled a four-year record of 34-1. He was the winning pitcher in two of New Hope High's three consecutive state championships from 1996-98.

I used to be a power pitcher in high school, but I'm not at this level, says Bazzell. These guys (hitters) are too good.

A significant chunk of the Timberjacks' roster is made up of players, who played with Bazzell in the Arizona League last year.

Let me tell you, we're going to have a good team, Bazzell says. We will win the Northwest League championship. We have good hitters, good power and strong pitching. We have it all.

Bazzell says Aaron Nieckula, 22, a former University of Illinois catcher, is a complete player.

He's the guy I want catching me when I throw, says Bazzell. It's a real plus for me having him here with me.

Bazzell says 13 of the 20 players on the Timberjacks' roster Thursday were on his rookie league team last year in Arizona.

We won our division last year, and that's a pretty stacked team, says Bazzell.

Most Timberjack players will stay with sponsor families, according to Ian Tisdale, media relations director.

There are 30 sponsor families waiting to take in a player, so some of them won't get a player, he says.

Players and families will be matched up according to their interests, says Tisdale.

The club's first practice is at 11 a.m. today. The team will work out from 10 a.m. to — p.m. Saturday.

It's going to be nice to have fans to support us here, says Jose Negron, a 6-foot-7, right-hand pitcher from Puerto Rico. We didn't have fans in Arizona. We played our games at noon, and it was too hot for them to come out.

The fans here have already been great. They came out to welcome us at the airport, and they made us feel good. It will help to have them in the stands cheering for us.

Jamie Porter, a former University of Washington outfielder, spent two injury-plagued seasons in Arizona.

I had two shoulder surgeries for a torn rotator cuff, says Porter. Hopefully, my shoulder will be fine this year.

I'm looking forward to crashing into some walls and catchers and taking out a few shortstops, says Porter, who calls himself an aggressive doubles hitter.

It's nice to be back in the Northwest, says Porter, who is from Bothell, Wash.

Shane Bazzell, right, who this time last year was graduating from high school, is all smiles as he dons his new Timberjacks jersey. - By RANDY HAMMERICKSEN