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Perseverance pays off for Medford Rogues

Dave May and his wife Tabitha hadn’t really had time to let it all sink in this summer.

From so much uncertainty in March on whether their Medford Rogues would even be able to field a team to countless hurdles leading up to Sunday’s season finale, neither of the Mays were able to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

That all changed, however, as the team’s general manager and its director of operations sat back and watched the final out be called in the final game of what has been a COVID-induced 30-game independent season.

“It was just one of those moments that makes you want to cry tears of joy but also let out an exhale of relief all at the same time,” Dave May said Tuesday while sweeping up at Harry & David Field. “It was just a really awesome situation to see everything that happened and be a part of it. It’s something that I can’t wait to share with friends and family in 50 years, that within this pandemic, we found a way to make it work.”

At no point was it easy, but May said it was all worth it.

Despite the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League (GSCBL) canceling its league season in April due to COVID-19, the Rogues worked with local officials to produce a 30-game campaign that had a limited number of fans allowed in the stands (250) but certainly didn’t have a limited impact on Southern Oregon.

“For us, everything from top to bottom was just so rewarding this year,” said May, “both on and off the field.”

“Anytime you can make it through every scheduled game that you had, it’s going to be a success, whether we went 0-30 or 30-0,” he added. “It was something we could provide for the athletes but, more importantly, it was something that we could also provide for the community because there wasn’t much going on this summer so it allowed them to have something a little more normal to do during the summer.”

Under the guidance of first-year manager Bill Rowe and lead assistant coach Parker Berberet, the Rogues came together in short order to produce a 22-8 campaign in the eighth year for the collegiate wood-bat program.

The Rogues outscored their opponents by an average of 10.7 to 6.7 runs per game, sporting an overall team batting average of .344 and team pitching ERA of 5.59.

“Overall I think the fan experience was great because they loved watching these athletes play baseball,” said May. “That’s a testament to the kids, I was very pleased with them. I was also very, very happy with the efforts and energy that our coaching staff made with them this season. We had six coaches who poured their heart and soul into these athletes for the six or seven weeks that we had them.”

Left fielder Wyatt Young paced the team in RBIs (33) and home runs (seven) and finished runner-up in runs scored (34) by one to returning Medford third baseman Omar Ortiz, who scored 35 time and was runner-up in RBIs (28) and batted .349.

Young was also one of four Rogues regulars to reach the .400 mark after hitting .402, led by Ben Steck (.465), Drew Steelhammer (.422) and Grant Henry (.406).

Despite being slowed by an early season injury, Steck finished with 25 runs and 23 RBIs, while Steelhammer had 33 runs and 20 RBIs and Henry supplied 13 runs and 16 RBIs with his late-season surge.

Other prominent offensive efforts were by Josh Berman (.323, six home runs, 27 runs, 20 RBIs), Vinny Zavolta (.359, 24 runs, 20 RBIs), Jason Dumont (.310, 31 runs, 25 RBIs), Emiliano Alarcon (.354, 29 runs, 14 RBIs) and Caleb Schorr (20 RBIs).

In only 19 games, Jackson Hall had 18 runs and 18 RBIs with a .327 batting average, and South Medford High senior-to-be Bennett Thompson chipped in with a .393 batting average and eight RBIs in 10 games.

“It was really neat for so many of them to have some success and also just get better at baseball,” said May. “From an overall standpoint, this season was an A-plus.”

On the mound, Logan Barrick (3-0, 4.22 ERA), Griffin Henry (3-0, 4.32 ERA), Honus Kindreich (3-2, one save, 2.65 ERA) and Nate Vidlak (3-0, 5.22 ERA) led the charge for the Rogues in a summer that featured 19 pitchers overall.

Griffin Henry led the team with 26 strikeouts in 25 innings, while Trae Perkins struck out 22 in 21? innings.

“The kids who I talked with, all of them said that this was one of their favorite summers they ever had in their entire life playing baseball,” said May. “That’s a testament to coach Rowe and coach Berberet for providing that for them and giving them that structure. They do a fantastic job of helping these kids get better and working with them to get through to the next level and onto some Division I rosters.”

All numbers aside, though, May said the most fulfilling part of this summer’s journey was when he would walk through the concourse at Harry & David Field and get stopped by well-wishing Rogues supporters.

“People were just saying how normal they felt when coming here and it just made their summer a summer, and that’s one of the best compliments that I can take from this season and I loved hearing that,” he said. “That was our goal as we set out, to find ways to play baseball and find ways to keep people safe but also find ways to create some normalcy in Southern Oregon this summer.”

Another highlight was how the Rogues provided a safe atmosphere during the pandemic through sanitizing protocols and the community’s assistance in adhering to state mandates.

“No one got sick and there were no cases linked to Harry & David Field, so from a COVID standpoint I’m very pleased with all the effort and energy that the entire staff and players and really everybody put forth to make this season happen,” said May. “That was very key for us to continue playing through this season. It really takes a village so that’s kudos to the community for stepping up more than anybody else.”

The Rogues boasted 23 sellouts this season, albeit at a 250-person maximum. And as May reiterated, something was better than nothing this season as the franchise continues to try and gain a foothold in Southern Oregon.

All indications are that the GSCBL plans to return to play next summer and, despite financial issues brought on by the pandemic, May said he is hard at work making plans for a 2021 schedule and roster.

The Rogues have already put 2021 season tickets on sale, initially limiting that number to 250 tickets to be safe in case there are further COVID-19 issues next year. Should there be no restrictions, or a higher limit for outdoor gatherings, that season ticket number will increase as the Rogues get closer to the 2021 campaign.

All those who opted out of their season tickets for 2020 and moved them to 2021 will still have first right of refusal.

“Financially it’s always a challenge,” admitted May, who has yet to compile official figures for the 2020 season. “When you average 1,000 people and then you cut that down to 250 people, it makes it tough to operate a 365-day business on what we just did in 30 days. That’s going to be one of our biggest challenges as we move forward and as we reflect on 2020. It’s something that in the moment has worked great and we don’t have any concern that we’re not going to come back in 2021 but, like every other business in our community, we’re still also affected by COVID-19.”

“There’s still some effects of maybe some sponsors not coming back because their businesses were hit hard,” he added, “so there is still some uncertainty ahead and that’s probably the biggest concern and biggest challenge of not just having a 2020 season but continuing on in 2021. That being said, and until I’m blue in the face, we have every intention of coming back in 2021 and every intention of going back to our normal program of promos and things like that, along as something changes directly with COVID.”

In the interim, May said his staff is preparing to host a Baseball Northwest Showcase over Labor Day weekend, featuring 22 games in four days from about 30 teams from Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

There has also been discussion about continuing play at Harry & David through the upcoming fall season since the Oregon School Activities Association has postponed its official athletic seasons until 2021.

“We’re going to continue to keep trying to play baseball out here at Harry & David Field in some capacity because the spring season was cut short,” said May. “We’re looking at creating an 18-and-under team for the fall with coach Rowe and coach Berberet if we can find ways to get it off the ground and make it happen. We’re just looking for as much baseball as we can to provide for this community because we are one of the very few venues, especially not being on a school campus, that can pull it off.”

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

Oregon State freshman Wyatt Young led the Rogues in home runs and RBIs this summer. ANDY ATKINSON / MAIL TRIBUNE
First-year Medford Rogues manager Bill Rowe chats with his players prior to their season-opener on July 7. ANDY ATKINSON / MAIL TRIBUNE