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Medford secures spot in West Coast League

Under perfect conditions Wednesday afternoon at Harry & David Field, baseball and city officials mapped out what they believe will be a perfect marriage between Medford, the West Coast League and the incomplete ballpark that's currently home to around 140 games per year.

Speaking from the middle of the only complete seating structure at the 6-year-old facility, WCL president Ken Wilson announced that Medford had secured a franchise in the top-tier summer wood-bat college baseball league with the help of the Arizona-based ownership group Consolidated Sports Holdings International, Inc.

"We realize, with our league and with our teams, that we have to earn the support of our fans," Wilson said in his introductory speech. "We have to provide a great product on the field and a fabulous product off the field, and I can guarantee you that's what's going to happen here in Medford."

The agreement was met with plenty of excitement from Gary Miller, president of the Medford Youth Baseball Society, to other prominent figures on hand involved with baseball in this community. The new team, which will be named through an upcoming contest, will take the place of the current college-level tenant, the Far West League's Southern Oregon RiverDawgs, beginning in 2013.

"As you can imagine there's been a number of different leagues that have come through here and wanted to put a team in Medford, but this is the first time that they walked their talk," said Miller, who has been a chief caretaker of baseball here and instrumental in the building of H&D Field following the demolition of Miles Field in 2004 to make way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter. "They've done what they said they were going to do and it wasn't just a bunch of hype."

Wilson had been visiting with Miller and discussing the prospects of joining the WCL since 2008 but things only really took off over the last year when Wilson brought CSH International together with the MYBS.

The owners of the new team pledged up to $250,000 as a matching gift to Miller's current fundraising efforts to complete seating plans at the ballpark. Such an offer from a group that also pledges solid financial backing and community involvement was simply too good for Miller to pass up.

"We're about running a business in town but we're also about making this feel as best we can like a community-owned team with something to give back to the community," said Gary Gelinas, president of CSH International.

The awarding of the team is contingent upon the ownership group securing a lease for Harry & David Field from the City of Medford and the completion of the fundraising drive to add additional stadium-quality seating. Negotiations with the city are in the initial stages and included a small gathering of officials in the ballpark's press box following Wednesday's announcement.

"The remaining fundraising and getting the lease with the city is rather crucial," said Wilson of Medford officially getting his league's 11th franchise. "It doesn't happen without that and we've got to get going. It takes a good year to integrate into a community and get to know everybody and there are a lot of things to do so we're looking forward to getting all that wrapped up so we can bring a staff in here and really start working with amateur baseball."

Brad Hicks, president and chief executive of The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County, said Medford "is a great place for the West Coast League to plant a flag." He was not only excited by the prospects of having such top-tier baseball come to the area but also by what that might mean locally, for baseball fans and the economy.

"We're hopeful that the West Coast League is going to add somewhere upwards of 400 room nights to our room inventory here so that's great for the local economy," said Hicks. "Beyond that, it's also going to fill up restaurants, it's going to fill up entertainment venues and the like."

"It's already a great place to play baseball," he added, "but the influx of money (by CSH International) is not only going to create jobs but it's going to make a great place for these young players to play and for the kids that reside in our community to play. As far as I'm concerned, this is a great day for the City of Medford and a great day for Harry & David Field."

Miller said his group will continue to be active in its fundraising efforts to reach the $250,000 goal, with $65,000 of that already in hand due to in-kind donations by KOGAP.

"The in-kind is one of the beauties of the match," said Miller. "We don't have to come up with $250,000 cash, we can come up with $65,000 matching or if somebody wants to donate concrete or any material that can go into a stadium that will help toward us meeting that target gift from Consolidated Sports Holdings International."

The seating plan involves carrying the same chair-back seating already on hand to the edges of the dugouts along the first base and third base lines. Chair-back seating will then be added to replace the temporary bleachers beyond that initial first five or so rows. A grassy berm will be placed beyond the bleachers on the first base side, while a public-viewing area or party deck will be built between the third base dugout and the current ramp that leads to the playing field.

All told, Wilson said he expects the chair-back seating to reach about 1,500 and an overall seating figure around 2,000 once construction is complete. Wilson said the average WCL attendance is about 1,200 per game and approaches around 2,500 in areas like for the Corvallis Knights and Bend Elks in Oregon and Washington-based Walla Walla Sweets and Wenatchee AppleSox.

"As it sits today it's a nice stadium and we feel with the enhancements that can be made it's going to be a beautiful stadium and fit very well within the footprint of the West Coast League," said Gelinas.

WCL teams play 54 games overall, with around 27-30 at home. The RiverDawgs current schedule includes 32 home dates, with Miller adding that Harry & David Field hosted 137 games this past year between teams at the high school, American Legion and senior baseball levels.

Previous WCL players from this area included Sam Gaviglio, Griff Boyd, Bill Rowe and Matt Maurer and the current Klamath Falls Gems roster includes locals Zack Earle, Colin Sowers, Seth Brown, Justin Bohn and Neil Emerson. Fifty-seven WCL players were selected in the most recent MLB draft, with about 20 players currently on major league rosters having ties to the WCL.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry