Rogues open on positive note against Mustangs
Jacob Melton did his fair share to help the Medford Mustangs win consecutive American Legion AAA state championships during his tenure, but Tuesday found him playing spoiler against his old squad during the much-anticipated season opener for the Medford Rogues at Harry & David Field.
The Oregon State sophomore got things going with an RBI single and run scored in the first inning and drove in an insurance run in the sixth to help propel the Rogues to a 5-3 victory over a Mustangs squad that certainly didn’t make it easy.
“It was definitely different and not exactly how I expected it to be,” said Melton of opposing the Mustangs for the first time. “It was just exciting to finally get to come out and play some baseball. I know everybody on the team has been waiting a long time to get the chance to come out and I feel like we couldn’t have had a much better opening night for ourselves.”
That sentiment held true for the Mustangs, as well, despite them dropping to 15-5 on the season. The Rogues (1-0) tallied three runs in the bottom of the first inning after batting around against starter Dylan Marsh but saw the Mustangs even the score by the fourth inning.
“I thought we competed our ass off,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. “I thought we did a great job. It’s a little intimidating maybe a little bit there from the get-go, and Dylan struggled a little to start off, but he did a great job of bouncing back and throwing well and competing.”
After seeing its Golden State Collegiate Baseball League cancel for the summer in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rogues were left to wonder what they could piece together for a potential eighth season and Tuesday marked a positive start toward a 30-game independent schedule that continues Thursday-Sunday with a four-game home series against the San Francisco Seals.
Fans by and large followed Rogues recommendations to wear a mask during entry to the facility and as they made their way to their reserved seats, and a handful of spectators chose to continue wearing a mask once seated. Spectators donned a mask again whenever they returned to the concourse area, although most remained in their seat.
Tuesday officially goes as a sellout, with the state-mandated 250 person capacity reached in the general seating area. With another 60 in a cordoned off grass berm area that is for rent each game, the official count was 310 on hand for the season opener.
“I’m real happy with the people who showed up, and I'm real happy with the demand of the tickets,” said Rogues general manager Dave May. “I’m happy that the people followed our orders of needing a mask on the way in, when you’re up from the seat and on the way out. I’m just happy overall with how serious this community took it so that we can continue to have baseball.”
A few technical difficulties caused some delays in hands-free delivery of refreshments to seats by Rogues staffers, who also worked to sanitize ballpark railings throughout the game, but May was pleased with how things went in the season opener.
“This is game zero for us,” said May. “It’s a whole new set of rules, everyone’s out of their comfort zone and we’re just going to make the best of it with what we’ve got. We had hiccups at times but overall I was proud of the way the staff handled it. I’m looking forward to Game 30 and seeing how good we are then, too.”
The Rogues wasted little time gaining the advantage, using an RBI double by Omar Ortiz and RBI single by Melton to go up 2-0 through four batters. The first of two stolen bases by Melton set the table for the Rogues to go up 3-0 with a bases-loaded walk drawn by fellow Beaver Ben Steck.
That score held up until the third inning, when Rowan Amann reached on an error and Quinton Rumrey followed with his second single of the game. After a sacrifice bunt by Darin Marsh, South Medford senior-to-be Bennett Thompson ripped a two-run single up the middle off Rogues starter Logan Barrick to make it 3-2.
“That took a little weight off their shoulders, at least getting some runs up there and competing a little bit,” Mayben said of Thompson’s big hit. “But I thought we did a good job all night. We put the ball in play and put some good swings on the baseball.”
The Mustangs tied the game at 3-all in the fourth when reliever Braedon Bellum was hurt by a pair of walks, a wild pitch and an error by second baseman Matthew Aguilar on a grounder by Rumrey.
The Rogues regained control for good in the sixth inning when Vinnie Zavolta, who was the leadoff hitter in five of his team’s eight innings at the plate, supplied a leadoff triple and was brought home on an RBI groundout by Ortiz. After Josh Berman drew a walk, Melton turned on an offering by Thompson in relief for an RBI double down the right field line.
“Honestly I was just excited to play,” said Melton on whether there was extra motivation against his Mustangs buddies Tuesday. “If I was trying to prove anything it was to myself that I was still ready for the games. I feel like I really didn’t skip a beat here so that was nice.”
“Knowing the culture over there, it’s kind of a fight and never die mentality,” he added, “so I can’t say that I was surprised too much by how close of a game it was either.”
Honus Kindreich secured the win with one hit and one walk allowed in two scoreless innings of relief for the Rogues, while Grant Henry gained his first save with scoreless efforts in the eighth and ninth innings with only one walk and one hit allowed.
“It was obvious that a lot of our guys haven’t seen live pitching in quite some time so shaking off the rust a little bit was expected, and the same with the defense,” said first-year Rogues manager Bill Rowe, “but all in all I’m pretty happy. Our pitchers did a good job throwing strikes, and getting a win is huge against those guys.”
“They’re a pretty good ballclub and they certainly have some good future college players on their team,” added Rowe, who graduated from Ashland High in 2002, just prior to a change that allowed Ashland players to play for the Mustangs. “They’ve also played together for about 20 games, which was really obvious. You could see just in the execution of their bunts and their understanding of the game plan. We’ll get there, too.”
Rowe said he was just happy to get Tuesday’s win in the books and move on from there.
“It was fun to get out and get a win,” he said, “and just fun to be playing baseball again. We’ve been putting in a lot of work to make sure this happens safely. All the staff has been working tirelessly so it’s great to see it happen and have a bunch of people in the ballpark.”
That last part was doubly special for Melton, who played his high school baseball at South Medford High and is no stranger to Harry & David Field.
“It was definitely nice to have people in the stands,” said Melton. “Not playing with anybody here would’ve been a little weird from what we’ve had going on for years here. Looking up and seeing familiar faces was definitely really nice.”
Dy. Marsh, B. Thompson (5), Westrick (7), Balsiger (8) and Passey, B. Thompson (7); Barrick, Bellum (4), Kindreich (6), Henry (8) and Steck. W — Kindreich (1-0). L — B. Thompson (1-1). S — Henry (1). 2B — R: Ortiz, Melton, Young. 3B — R: Zavolta.