Beavers bring out a crowd in Medford
For a lucky group of fans, October baseball arrived in the Rogue Valley Saturday afternoon.
And with a familiar orange and black twist.
For the first time in its storied history, Oregon State ran out of the home dugout and took to the diamond at Harry & David Field in Medford.
As their spikes hit the dirt, they were greeted by a boisterous sellout crowd, as 1,500-plus spectators — the overwhelming majority of them in OSU shirts and hats — who offered a hardy reception even before a pitch was thrown.
That only continued as the day went on.
Oregon State beat the University of San Francisco 13-4 in Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader, while taking the nightcap 5-1 to sweep the Dons.
“We’ve always known that Corvallis travels well, so we knew there would be a few people here and probably a lot of locals, too,” said OSU left-hander Cooper Hjerpe, who got the start in Game 1. “It was cool to get in front of a crowd like this again. Even with COVID still being a thing, it’s still good to see some people out here.”
The fall ball event was hosted by the Medford Rogues, who have a strong connection with the Oregon State baseball program, most notably with manager Bill Rowe and his coaching staff full of fellow Beaver alums.
The doubleheader came about over the summer when OSU head coach Mitch Canham came to Medford to see some of his players play for the Rogues this past summer.
With a clear desire to make a return visit in the future, Canham reached out to Rowe, who just so happened to be his roommate in college.
Things developed quickly, and the Rogues knew that if they brought the Beavers to town, people would come.
They certainly did, and in mass.
Once announced Sept. 16, tickets for Saturday’s twin bill went on sale 11 days later and sold out in less than an hour.
“I came down to a game here this summer and enjoyed the atmosphere as well, and I think this is something we’d love to find a way to continue to do,” Canham said. “We’re allowed a couple of fall games a year, and for the guys to work on traveling, how to prep on the road and we get to play on a dirt field, it helps the guys out in a number of ways. But this is definitely exciting and I’m sure there’s some people who were frustrated they couldn’t get in.”
Oregon State assistant coach and Crater High School alum Ryan Gipson wasn’t surprised in the slightest to see the kind of support the Beavers received Saturday.
“Not at all,” Gipson said without hesitation. “With our history, our successes and the way that we’ve gone about our business for a long time, with what (Pat Casey) started back when Mitch and I were teammates in 2005, I think the whole entire state became Beaver baseball fans at that point. Down here is Duck country, and if it’s baseball then it’s Beaver baseball country.”
Gipson is one of two Rogue Valley natives currently on the Oregon State coaching staff, with North Medford alum Rich Dorman serving as the Beavers’ pitching coach.
“I love it because it’s where I’m from,” Gipson said. “It’s exciting for the guys because just to get out of Corvallis and have some new faces get to watch us, and then see the place full like this, it’s good.”
In the spring, the Beavers were playing in front of limited capacity crowds while at home at Goss Stadium. That meant, for the first time since before the pandemic shut down the 2020 season a month into it, OSU got the chance to hear plenty of home support even though they were nearly four hours away from Corvallis.
“It makes you feel like you’re at home, no doubt about it,” Canham said. “Seeing the orange and black support down here, it’s very exciting. Even them ripping them chainsaw for a sound effect (when a run was scored), that was a beautiful touch as well.”
It didn’t hurt that there was some pretty good baseball played Saturday, too.
While both teams tried to get as many pitchers into the game as possible, it was Hjerpe who gave the crowd at Harry & David Field plenty to get excited about early on.
Hjerpe, who made 16 starts for the Beavers this past spring, fired three perfect innings before handing things over to the bullpen. He faced nine USF batters and struck out eight.
“When I go out there, it’s kind of a tunnel vision kind of thing,” said Hjerpe, “so I don’t really notice all of the people here, but at the same time I do. At the end of the outing, I actually looked around and said, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of people here.’ It’s awesome.”
“You get a little bit of the butterflies, that good feeling where you’re a little nervous. But that’s a good thing because you care,” Hjerpe continued. “Getting out in front of these guys is awesome, hearing the crowd cheering when somebody like (Matthew Gretler) hits a bomb, it’s great.”
Hjerpe was long gone when OSU got on the scoreboard in Game 1, recording back-to-back five-run innings to take a 10-4 lead after six complete.
OSU right fielder Wade Meckler finished with three RBIs thanks to a pair of run-scoring doubles in the fifth and sixth innings, while center fielder Micah McDowell drove in two with a fifth-inning single.
Gretler capped the opening-game win with a long solo shot over the scoreboard in left-center.
Eight of the nine OSU starters scored at least one run in Game 1.
The electric atmosphere started with Hjerpe’s strikeouts and ended with seven OSU pitchers limiting USF to four hits in the Game 2 win.
After trailing 1-0 early on, the Beavers got back-to-back home runs from Devyn Lopez and Justin Thorsteinson to go ahead 2-1.
“I think it’s been a great experience,” Gipson said. “It’s a great experience because it’s baseball fans who are into it.”
Saturday’s doubleheader attracted Beaver alums and OSU baseball fans from all around the Rogue Valley and beyond.
It served as a reunion of sorts for many, with the sellout crowd giving those in attendance plenty of opportunities to see some quality baseball as well as converse with plenty of others in orange and black.
“It’s nice to see all these fans come here,” said Ben Crockett of Monmouth, who made his first-ever visit to Harry & David Field Saturday and has been an OSU baseball fan since 2003. “I actually remember in real time I logged right on to the Rogues website at 10 a.m. when the tickets went on sale and the ones I wanted were like, ‘No, those sold out … no, those sold out.’ Sure enough, I went from thinking I didn’t think anybody was going to be here to feeling like I’m lucky to be here.”
For the Beavers, this was another step in the process as they continue their preparations for the 2022 season and a hunt for a fourth national championship.
But on this mid-October Saturday in Medford, it was a day for baseball fans to enjoy.
“It was great energy,” Canham said. “Fifteen-hundred people, that’s a great fall crowd. … We are extremely humbled that we have this kind of support coming 3 1/2 hours south, on a Saturday, when people could be doing a lot of other things. As we’ve explained to a lot of guys who are new (at OSU), this is how special the Beaver family is. Today gave them a pretty good indicator of what it’s like.”
Does that mean this is something the Rogue Valley can expect again in the future?
“I think we’ll definitely talk and break it down with all the guys,” Canham said. “Obviously it’s something that you can tell already means a ton to our guys, it means a ton to everyone here. I would like for this thing to continue on.”
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.