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Rogues eager to play ball

Only days before the Medford Rogues open play in their eighth season, it’s hard not to acknowledge there is a decidedly different feel this go-round for the collegiate wood-bat summer baseball team.

It’s not like the feeling of joining a new league, the Rogues have been there and done that three times over now.

It’s not like bringing in a new coaching staff because, again, that’s been done before and Bill Rowe is a known baseball commodity in these parts after growing up in Ashland.

It has everything to do, however, with the fact that most everyone in the Rogues’ baseball circle hasn’t enjoyed a competitive baseball game since last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they’re most definitely under the microscope as they return to play.

“Nervously excited would probably be the best way to describe it,” said Rogues general manager Dave May. “I’m excited for baseball to happen, of course. I’m nervous for the safety protocols that are in place and making sure people are following them.”

“I think from where we sit and what we’re providing, the community is going to be on board with following all of our guidelines,” he added, “because if we can’t follow the guidelines we don’t get to play. I think that everybody is so excited that this is even happening, though, that we probably will have very few issues with patrons coming in.”

The Rogues will know for sure this week after a trial run hosting the Coach K Memorial Tournament last week that alerted them to some areas that needed more attention. The Rogues open their 30-game independent schedule at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday against the Medford Mustangs, who play at the American Legion AAA level.

“We’re just trying to provide a little bit of hope and regularity to people in a really tough time right now,” said Rowe, who will be in his first year at the helm. “I’m really just hoping that people are going to be cool with all the extra work that we’re trying to do to make everyone safe and not give us a hard time about it.”

All games will involve social distancing in the seating area, allowing for up to 250 people, and patrons are encouraged to wear a face mask as they enter the facility and until safely in their seats.

Capacity can increase to 325 thanks to the addition of a gate that cordons off the existing grass berm, which can be privately rented for up to 75 people much like in years past on the patio deck. The berm has its own entrance, bathroom and concessions stand so there will be no mixing with those in the main seating area.

To show how serious the Rogues are at maintaining social distancing, they have physically removed every seat that’s not available, uninstalling some 300-plus seats this past week to complement roped-off areas in the bleachers.

Hand sanitizers are also available at each entrance and exit gate, in front of the bathrooms and in the dugout areas, where players and coaches have their own safety protocols.

Another change to this summer is that all tickets must be purchased in advance through the Rogues’ ticket office by noon of each game day, with Tuesday’s game against the Mustangs already sold out.

In reality, May said there are 86 tickets per game available for purchase by the general public after season ticket holders, host families and corporate sponsors are accounted for, but that number would increase if tickets for a given game or series are given up by the aforementioned.

There will be no theme nights or in-game promotions this summer, with all 30 games to be played at Harry & David Field. All games begin at 6:35 p.m. except on Sundays, when gametime is 12:35 p.m.

“There’s not a lot of theatrics,” said May. “Our main focus this year is just baseball and getting people outdoors safely, and then making sure that we can have them in a controlled environment while they’re here.”

Having a focus mostly on baseball will be a welcomed change for collegiate players who saw their spring season abruptly halted in March with no promise that they would get back on the diamond anytime soon.

“For a lot of these guys,” said Rowe, “it’s a really critical year for them in their baseball journey. So to miss out on playing a high level of baseball this summer really would be setting them back.”

Wins and losses this summer will take a backseat to merely providing an opportunity that most players haven’t had in quite a while, and recent team workouts seem to have brought a spring back into their step as they anticipate the return of baseball.

“You could just see how happy these guys were to be back out on a baseball field,” said Rowe. “Even if we don’t have all the facilities opened up and they’re not going to get to be treated quite as well as sometimes their used to, or they might have to be social-distancing in the dugout or wearing a mask or celebrating in a way where they’re not giving high fives, everyone is still willing to be out there because they just want to play.”

Rowe, who graduated from Ashland High in 2002, knows exactly how his player must feel. He played three seasons at UC Santa Barbara and finally at Oregon State, where he helped the Beavers win their first College World Series title in 2006.

Rowe was selected to the All-College World Series team after batting .419 with four doubles, one home run and 18 RBIs over 13 postseason games. His 18 RBIs stand as the most ever by an Oregon State player in a single postseason.

Rowe is joined on the coaching staff by another Oregon State baseball product in Parker Berberet, who had a seven-year professional career in the Milwaukee Brewers organization as a catcher and relief pitcher.

“They’ve both played professionally and in a program (at Oregon State) that’s had a lot of success,” said May. “So far everything that I’ve seen with them when they’ve worked with individual kids here as they’ve started arriving into town has been incredible. They are so knowledgeable and so good at relating to the athletes and communicating with them on what they want done and what their goals are going to be for these athletes.”

Pitchers Sebastian Boivin and Trae Perkins return to the fold for the Rogues to provide some stability after each played key roles in Medford finishing as runner-up in the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League last season in their GSCBL debut. That league opted to cancel its 2020 season due to the coronavirus in April.

Boivin, who graduated from Crater, went 3-1 with a 2.04 ERA in 351/3 innings last summer while Perkins, from Eagle Point, went 1-1 with a 5.17 ERA in 311/3 innings.

Key newcomers include Oregon State’s Jacob Melton, Utah’s Vinny Zavolta, Oregon’s Hayden Rasica and Biola’s Honus Kindreich.

Current Mustangs Kyle Lund and Ethan Whitney are also expected to move over and play for the Rogues once the season starts.

Another intriguing young figure for the Rogues will be Hidden Valley’s Isaac Hill, who just wrapped up his sophomore year but has already committed to Oregon State. Rowe coached Hill at an Oregon State camp last summer and has been extremely impressed by the right-handed pitcher.

“He’s a stud,” said Rowe. “I know him pretty well and it’s going to be fun having him out there.”

The Rogues’ roster will be an ever-evolving one this summer, with players coming in to get a few innings here and there. Summer teams typically only have four roster spots for Division I programs like Oregon State or Oregon, but May said the Rogues got an exception this year and could have up to eight guys from any given roster.

With Rowe’s contacts, May said it’s entirely possible to see “six to eight Oregon State guys and maybe four to six coming from Oregon as well” before the season is complete.

After Tuesday’s opener, the slate starts in earnest Thursday with the opening of a four-game series against the San Francisco Seals, who were formerly part of the now defunct Great West League with the Rogues.

The Rogues will use Tuesdays to play Legion programs like the Mustangs, as well as a special treat against alumni from Oregon State University on July 28.

From Thursday-Sunday, games will feature other college-level wood-bat programs until the final week of play Aug. 13-16 against the Cascade Collegiate League All-Stars.

Other four-game series will be held against Northwest Star Academy (July 16-19), Palo Alto Oaks (July 23-26), Fresno Athletics (July 30-Aug. 2) and Bay Area Force (Aug. 6-9).

For more information, see medfordrogues.com or call 541-973-2883.

Have a local story? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneMedford Rogues players at a voluntary practice Thursday evening at Harry & David Field.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Bill Rowe talks with Rogues players at a voluntary practice Thursday evening at Harry & David Field.