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Rogues host Fresno to begin season Thursday

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Second baseman Ruben Cedillo, left, catches runner Michael LaVigne for an out. Photo by Denise Baratta

This year’s scramble hasn’t quite been the same but the buildup and excitement for another summer of collegiate wood-bat baseball has been palpable for the Medford Rogues.

“Last year we put it all together in 29 days,” said Rogues general manager Dave May of a 2020 campaign that was granted late approval amid strict COVID-19 restrictions in the state. “This year I feel a little bit more ahead of schedule, even though we’re really not. You just feel that way because of the frantic way we put it together last year to just make something happen.”

“We’re just excited to get back to where the Medford Rogues were pre-pandemic,” added May, “getting back to what we know and that’s entertainment and fun and good baseball on the field. Hopefully the restrictions continue to lift and as those things lift, the more fun we can have.”

In the ninth year of the franchise, the Rogues open their eight-week season Thursday against the Fresno A’s at Harry & David Field. Gates open for all home games at 5:30 p.m. and first pitch is at 6:35, with tickets available for purchase at medfordrogues.com.

Opening night and Saturday’s contest, which features a fireworks display, are the only games that are sold out. There will be another fireworks display on July 3.

Games will not be broadcast this summer, either online or radio.

With a 15% seating capacity currently allowed through Oregon Health Authority regulations, this summer offers more viewing opportunities than a year ago when the cutoff point was 250 fans. Approximately 150 socially distanced bleacher seats will also be available for purchase at $10 apiece, with a handful of lower section Strike Zone seats available for purchase at $13.

Given the stadium’s design, featuring a 75-person patio for private parties and grass berm that now includes some picnic tables and shade canopies for extra viewing spots, the Rogues expect capacity to reach around 400 for this season until all restrictions are lifted if the state reaches the 70% vaccination threshold.

“Everyone is so excited to be playing in front of people again,” said second-year Rogues manager Bill Rowe. “Not all of the guys got to play in front of fans at their colleges, so knowing the community is going to be out there supporting them this summer and people are excited to be coming out to games, the feeling at the field is just elation, with normal baseball and getting a crowd back in there and performing for them coming here soon.”

The Rogues will move back into Golden State Collegiate Baseball League play with a shortened 16-game slate this summer after the GSCBL canceled its season one year ago due to COVID-19. They have also added nonleague games against the Corvallis Knights, Bend Elks and Lincoln Potters.

“Those are three of the top 25 teams for summer collegiate baseball,” said May, “so it will be good to match up with those teams.”

On the field, May said he’s excited about the group of players coming in this summer, many of whom are familiar to Medford fans after returning from last year’s 22-8 squad.

“We’re really excited for the group that we have coming in,” said May. “Coach Rowe and (assistant coach Parker Berberet) did a fantastic job. I can’t kudos them enough for the job that they did in getting the players that we got. It’s pretty competitive to find college baseball players overall and they recruited hard early and it’s showing now. We’ve had a couple workouts already and they’re going to be a very good team.”

Key returners among positional players include infielders Omar Ortiz, Caleb Schorr, Jason Dumont and Emiliano Alarcon, and outfielders Jackson Hall and Drew Steelhammer.

The Rogues outscored their opponents last summer by an average of 10.7 to 6.7 runs per game, sporting an overall team batting average of .344.

“We’re just excited to get all those players back,” said Rowe. “There’s a reason we had them back, not only are they good athletes but they’re just really, really high character guys. I think what we were most impressed with last year is just how well our team jelled. Nobody got in trouble, everyone was super focused and that’s not always easy to do when you’re playing summer ball.”

Third baseman Ortiz scored 35 runs to lead the team and was runner-up in RBIs (28) to go with his .349 batting average.

Steelhammer hit .422 with 33 runs and 20 RBIs, while Dumont (.310, 31 runs, 25 RBIs), Alarcon (.354, 29 runs, 14 RBIs), Schorr (20 RBIs) and Hall (.327, 18 runs, 18 RBIs) also played prominent roles.

Returning pitchers include Griffin Henry (3-0, 4.32 ERA), who led the team with 26 strikeouts in 25 innings, as well as Jack Erickson (1-1, 5.68 ERA) and Sebasten Boivin (3.86 ERA).

“This season we’re just extremely amped,” said Rowe. “We got almost all of our favorite players back from last season, and we’ve just added an arsenal of killer talent in my opinion.”

Thanks to relationships built during Rowe and Berberet’s days at Oregon State, the Rogues also plan to feature a pair of Arizona pitchers in Hunter Cope and Ryan Kysar, who have been under the guidance of former OSU and current Wildcats pitching coach Nate Yeskie.

Rowe said the 6-foot-10, 260-pound Cope reportedly throws up to 97 mph and could definitely be one to watch this summer.

Oregon State’s Ryan Brown and Van Larson will also add to a rotation brimming with a lot of young talent, while the OSU connection with Andy Jenkins, currently on staff at Cal State Fullerton, helped add another asset in outfielder Jake Gentry.

“The relationships coach Berberet and I have with college coaches has really proven to be kind of the X-factor with the quality of players we’re getting,” said Rowe. “We really appreciate all the trust that they show in us to send their guys here.”

Medford will start the summer slate, however, with only 11 position players and about a dozen pitchers as the Rogues await the arrival of some Division I players. That makes it interesting considering Medford plays 12 games in 11 days to start the season.

“Last year we leaned on our coaching staff (to pitch some innings) in certain situations and we were lucky to be able to do that,” Rowe said of pitching duties, “but this year playing in our league again, we’re not going to be able to do that when we need to so we’ll just try to make sure we have enough arms to make it through and keep everyone safe.”

Added May of the early season issues brought on each season by a limited availability of players at the start of June: “It doesn’t give you a ton of flexibility but we have a couple guys that we call Swiss Army knives and they can plug in and play anywhere and that’s going to give us an advantage early in the season over these other teams who also have the low numbers.”

For more info, go to medfordrogues.com or contact the front office at 541-973-2883.

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

Runner Emiliano Alarcon passes 2nd. Phot by Denise Baratta
Teppei Fukuda, (22), runs past 3rd base for a score. Photo by Denise Baratta
Pitcher Jacob Memmott, (33). Photo by Denise Baratta
Pitcher Matt Ager, (34). Photo by Denise Baratta
Pitcher Heith Rasica (35). Photo by Denise Baratta
Pitcher Eric Roher (30). Photo by Denise Baratta