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RiverDogs plan for next season

In a sink-or-swim inaugural season for the Southern Oregon RiverDogs amateur baseball team, the squad may opt for swimming trunks if co-founders Jim McAbee and John White have anything to say about it.

The RiverDogs concluded their season with a doubleheader sweep of the Redding Spirits on Aug. 11.

But the season, so to speak, just started for McAbee and the rest of the RiverDogs board of directors.

Southern Oregon came up short of their projected budget but hopes to make up the difference through fund raising.

"I know people involved were happy with it," said McAbee of the season. "All in all, everybody was happy to get the first season off of the ground.

"Financially, it wasn't as good as we hoped, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been."

For White, who guided the RiverDogs to a 20-18 mark, the season did for those involved what he and McAbee originally set out to do. Simply get his players recognition and experience.

"We've been able to place a lot of kids into different (college) programs," said White. "There are also the kids that already have their foot in the door at some schools but just needed more at-bats to get them over the hump.

"It's been a tremendous benefit to the kids and I was more than happy that we were able to do it."

While some of the RiverDogs' players were already hooked on with college teams, there were others that used the summer-season to catch the eye of interested schools.

Former Eagle Point standout and Southern Oregon pitcher/outfielder Mike Newmann used a game in Redding, Calif., against the Spirits to find a college home.

After watching Newmann play, UC Davis coach Phil Swimley offered the right-hander a scholarship.

Southern Oregon left-handed pitcher Jesse Stevens is heading to Lane Community College after being noticed during a game against Bend.

Brent Foster hooked on with Eastern Arizona University and Errin Connors will head to Western Oregon after topping the 90-mile-per-hour mark off the mound. Connors, a former Ashland High standout, has undergone two major surgeries including a Tommy John operation on his elbow in 1997.

Despite the success of the franchise in its first year, the RiverDogs still may not have a league to play in next season.

Southern Oregon couldn't manage the hefty $50,000 fee required to join the National Baseball Congress Pacific International League at the start of the year. So the RiverDogs played an independent schedule.

Any notion that the RiverDogs may join up with the PIL next season won't happen.

"We won't go into the PIL," says McAbee. "Bend and Aloha are the only two teams that can afford to play in that league. But they have some pretty good sugar daddies."

Jim Richards footed the bill for Bend, while Nike chairman Phil Knight takes care of Aloha.

"Besides, you have to travel to places like Washington D.C. and we just can't afford that."

Founding a new conference with other teams from around the state is one possible way of avoiding another independent schedule where the RiverDogs' 50-game schedule was whittled down to 38 after cancellations.

"There is some interest to form another NBC (National Baseball Conference) league with teams out of Bend, Salem, Corvallis and Eugene," said McAbee. "I still have to find out how it works to set up a league, but that is definitely a possibility."

Playing for a league crown wasn't necessarily the intentions of White and McAbee when they formed the team, however.

"The point was to get college kids from the area that are home to play some ball," said McAbee. "We did some evaluating with the kids and, for the most part, they were happy with what happened here this summer."

The players agreed.

"I thought it was fun to be able to come back and play with guys that I have played against the year before," said former North Medford High graduate and Southern Oregon first baseman Colby Gonzales. "It was nice to see how guys were doing in their baseball lives and its nice to have somewhere to play during the summer."

"It's always nice to play for a league title, but this was a great way to stay in shape and keep your swing in shape," said K.C. Rumrey, an outfielder for the RiverDogs and a junior at Western Baptist. "I was really surprised, considering it was the first year and all, how much money they raised. We were really well taken care of."

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483 or e-mail sports@mailtribune.com.