Rogues embark on season of change
To say this past offseason for the Medford Rogues was an eventful one would be an understatement.
First, the Great West League — in which Medford had excelled during its three-year run — suspended operations last October.
In December came a change in ownership to local businessman Treg Scott and a switch to the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League (GSCBL), and thereafter a host of changes at Harry & David Field — some still ongoing — meant to boost the fan experience each night at the ballpark.
Tack on an entirely new coaching staff, led by manager Sean Gallagher, and an overhauled roster brimming with talent that hails from Southern Oregon and, well, Rogues general manager Dave May could barely catch a breath Wednesday as the realization sank in that a new season was only one day away.
“Luckily for us we’re starting two days later than we did last year,” said May. “That gives us another opportunity to make sure we have all our systems in place and everything’s dialed in, but it’s very fast approaching. It kind of snuck up on me a little bit, personally.”
Medford opens the collegiate wood-bat summer season at 6:35 p.m. Thursday against the California Bees at Harry & David Field in Game 1 of a four-game homestand that concludes Sunday.
With all that the Rogues have endured since last season, it’s hard not to feel as if the franchise is embarking on a new genre, albeit one that aims to build off prior successes on and off the field.
“Obviously with the local ownership and local head coaches and the most local players we’ve ever had before (11), it really is a new attitude around here,” said May. “With having all those local ties, we’re really wanting to bring that local flavor of baseball. We have such good baseball talent here that it’s hard to turn these local kids away because they’re every bit as good as the kids from New York, Texas, Southern California or wherever else we get our guys from.”
“It does have a different feel to it this year,” he added. “It’s nice to know some of the kids before they show up and their backgrounds and past histories here.”
The Rogues were founded in 2013 and competed in the West Coast League for three seasons before joining the Great West League in 2016. Medford captured the GWL regular season championship in each of the first two seasons and went on to play in the GWL Championship Series each time, winning in 2017 after falling short during the debut season against the Chico Heat.
Returning local players from that 2017 team include Medford’s Jordan Ragan and Josh Berman, as well as Aaron Hutchinson of Phoenix.
Other local players signed in the offseason by the Rogues include three of Gallagher’s former players at St. Mary’s High in Joe Johnson, Travis Danielson and Ty Mulholland, as well as Crater product Sebasten Boivin, Phoenix’s James Turnbull, Eagle Point’s Preston Johnson and Trae Perkins and Grants Pass’ Chris D’Amico.
Gallagher coached St. Mary’s to the Class 3A state championship in 2017 before becoming the hitting and pitching coach at Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia.
“Sean’s a super aggressive coach,” said May. “He’ll squeeze, he’ll hit and run and he’ll push the limits a little bit, and I think our fans are going to enjoy it. It’s going to be an entertaining style of baseball.”
In five years under Gallagher, the Crusaders went 106-37 and never won fewer than 17 games in a season. In his last two seasons, St. Mary’s was 52-6.
“I’ve known Sean going on 10 years now and one thing I’ve known about him is his teams play for the name on their chest and not the name on their back,” said May, “and that’s really hard to teach kids and athletes in general. A lot of people can be selfish and Sean makes it so these guys aren’t selfish. They want to be the best team in the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League, and that’s a direct reflection on our coach and his leadership.”
Aligning with the GSCBL, which was founded in 2012 and features franchises in California and Nevada, seemed to be a win-win proposition for all. The Rogues needed a league to be part of so they could maintain fan interest and help fill out their schedule, and the GSCBL gets a proven commodity in Medford that will only serve to raise its level of play.
Last season, the Rogues had the league’s third-best record but lost in the playoffs to the Lincoln Potters. Medford’s season was marred by seven canceled games due to poor air quality brought on by fires in the region, but the program has been one of the top-tier franchises in attendance since its inception.
This year, the Rogues schedule features 33 home games and 49 overall, with the season shortened by one week since the GSCBL playoffs run July 25-28. Twenty of those home games come in the first 31/2 weeks of the season, with May making room for the Medford Mustangs to host their annual Coach K Memorial Tournament at the end of June as well as trying to avoid any fire season issues that may pop up as happened a year ago in mid-July.
“It is definitely a condensed schedule but there are more home games as well so there’s more opportunity for our fans to watch us,” said May.
Having fans at the games will be somewhat of a new thing for the eight-team GSCBL, which consists of one division with each franchise playing a 42-game league schedule, with the hope of adding more nonleague games to reach around 50 games for the summer. Generally, the league has operated as a showcase for top college-level players, focusing on giving professional baseball scouts priority by creating day-time schedules.
By joining the league, the Rogues were able to generate an extremely home-friendly schedule to give GSCBL players the best of both worlds.
“That was a very attractive point of joining this league,” said May. “We want to give people in Medford the opportunity to watch us play as much as we possibly can, and the league wants us in this league because we draw fans. These kids from these visiting teams look forward to coming to Medford and playing in front of 800 or 1,000 people a night, and on big theme nights maybe 1,500 or 2,000 people.”
Top Speed Baseball out of Santa Rosa, California, went 39-3 in league play and 43-3 overall last summer to earn its fourth straight GSCBL title, edging out the San Francisco Seagulls.
May said Top Speed finished last year as the No. 8 team in the country for summer league programs, while San Francisco was 23rd.
Also in the GSCBL are the California Bees, Reno Rams, Sacramento Heat, South Bay Storm and Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox, another former GWL program.
“I’d be pretty disappointed if we didn’t make the playoffs,” said May, noting the top four programs advance. “Top Speed has lost only 19 games in five years so you’ve got to crown them as who’s going to be the No. 1 until they’re knocked off their pedestal in this league.”
The GSCBL is a step below where the WCL is these days in terms of summer baseball prospects and it remains to be seen how it compares to what Rogues fans became familiar with in the GWL, but May said he’s definitely optimistic about the on-field product.
Off the field, May said fans can expect a revamped food and beverage service that will feature some lower prices, as well as items like salads and sandwiches that go beyond the typical ballpark fare. The Rogues have added more in-stand servers and are determined to cut down on previous wait times in line.
“My No. 1 focus this year is to do what I can to take care of the fans,” said May. “That’s the No. 1 priority for us, because without fans we don’t have a team.”
“Hopefully we put on a show every night, both on the field and off the field for the fans,” he added. “That’s always our goal.”
As such, the Rogues had grand designs on supplying some shade at the sun-baked ballpark that recently took a detour. Initially, the team purchased a large cloth that was to be stretched between light fixtures on the third base side to eliminate sun issues, but engineers deemed it a potentially unsafe element. Instead, the Rogues have cut up the cloth and placed portions on the third-base bleachers facing Highway 99 to at least provide some relief while they consider a permanent structure next year.
“We are always looking for ways to create a better fan experience and we know shade is a key component out here,” said May, who noted about five smaller table tops with umbrella stands have also been added to the viewing concourse. “We’re trying to do everything we can to create some somehow.”
Besides an array of promotional nights throughout the season, the Rogues are also offering a promotion that allows one of the first 100 entrants to the ballpark a chance to win $25,000 should a player from either team hit a home run through a 3-foot hole in a sign placed beyond the outfield fence. Simply hitting the sign nets that fan $1,000, with the promotion running for every home game.
Barring conflicts, all Rogues games this year will air on the radio (96.1-FM/580-AM), and road games will be video simulcast on www.tablerocksports.net
For more info on this season’s schedule, promotional nights or ticket prices, go to www.medfordrogues.com or call 541-973-2883.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry