Medford Rogues move to full capacity
Medford Rogues general manager Dave May was up at 6 a.m. Thursday, diligently working on his team’s online ticket system to open up seating opportunities at Harry & David Field.
Other than the monotony of the work, it was definitely a labor of love for May after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority gave a statewide OK to remove mask and social-distancing regulations effective July 1.
“Clicking 270 dots 22 times is just mind-numbing,” said May with a laugh, “but I’m happy to be doing it.”
Returning to full capacity at the ballpark is something May and company have been waiting more than a year to do.
The Rogues battled through the cancellation of the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League season in 2020, operating a shortened season with capacity capped at 250 in the ballpark, and even went so far as to remove seats at H&D to make sure they were on top of regulations for 2021 that began with 15% capacity available and moved to 20% amid COVID-19 protocols.
Seats have been restored to their proper placement in the last three days, and now the Rogues are eager to welcome their fan base back in full order for a final month of the season that includes 22 home dates before the collegiate wood-bat summer season is complete.
“Our goal from Day 1 was to see this thing through until we got back to normal, I guess with quotes on the normal there,” said May. “We said from Day 1 we weren’t going to go anywhere and that the pandemic wouldn’t stop what we were trying to do and what our vision was and now that we’re through it, it’s a sense of relief.”
“A lot of restaurants and small businesses here locally went out of business and it was in our minds the entire time that wasn’t going to happen,” he added. “Playing last year with 250 people here obviously doesn’t help the bottom line from what our normal attendance was pre-pandemic, but now we get the full green light and we get to really show off what we do and highlight a team that’s probably one of the best teams we’ve ever had.”
Medford opened a four-game homestand with the California Bees Thursday night sporting a 17-3 record and in position to equal the best start in franchise history. The Rogues went 20-3 to open a 2019 season that included a runner-up showing in the GSCBL championship and 39-14 final record.
“It’s a real quality team that is going to do some good things here down the stretch,” said May of his Rogues. “They’ve been a lot of fun to watch.”
Besides 6:35 p.m. starts Thursday and today, the series includes a 5 p.m. doubleheader Saturday that features a 15-minute fireworks display upon completion of the second game. It will be the second fireworks show this season by the Rogues.
“The Medford Fire Department is on board with it as recent as this morning,” said May, noting department officials will be on hand Saturday as well as trained professionals handling the fireworks. “Our show is still a full go but obviously that’s subject to change if a big fire breaks out before Saturday or conditions worsen, which we all hope won’t happen.”
“I think it’s going to be a perfect way to kick-start the Fourth of July weekend and kick-start the summer,” he added. “Hopefully we can put on a good show, not just with the fireworks but a good show on the baseball field as well.”
Under second-year manager Bill Rowe, the Rogues enjoyed a walk-off win in their season opener courtesy of Jake Gentry and haven’t stopped with the theatrics. From comeback wins to nail-biters where Medford has had to snuff out potential last-inning rallies by their opponents, this summer has already seen a little bit of it all.
“We really just preach that it doesn’t matter what happens, it’s how you respond to what happened,” Rowe said of the roller-coaster nature of summer baseball, “and I think our guys have done a great job of that. We’ve even been switching up the lineup almost daily and getting production and team wins out of almost all of those lineups, which is really exciting to see as a coach. You never know what part of the lineup is going to open up and win a game for you.”
One glance at team leaders definitely bears that out, with nine players boasting a batting average at or above .300, and another two just barely off that standard.
Gentry, a junior at Cal State Fullerton, has led the charge all summer with a .417 batting average to go with 21 runs and 25 RBIs and has gotten considerable help from returning Rogues players Jason Dumont (.394, 17 runs), Omar Ortiz (.367, 13 RBIs), Drew Steelhammer (.348, 13 runs, 23 RBIs) and Emiliano Alarcon (.303).
“Getting that kind of veteran leadership and having those anchors is really pushing the younger guys to come and train harder to try and play up to their level,” said Rowe. “All our high school seniors who have just graduated and are getting on a college baseball team for the first time, you can see how hungry they are.”
Some of those players stepping up to the new challenge have been freshmen Austin Smith, who has five hits in his first two games as a Rogue, Jesse Brown (.296), Crosby Albee (.286) and Carson Lydon (.238).
Ruben Cedillo (.367, 24 runs, 26 RBIs) has been right on pace with Gentry in all categories this summer, while Grant Sherrod (.344, 17 runs, 12 RBIs) and Mike LaVigne (.302, 22 runs) have been particular spark plugs during Medford’s recent stretch.
When asked what has led to the Rogues’ hot start, Rowe said it’s had to do with buy-in by the players and great coaching by his assistants Parker Berberet and Braden Wells. All three coaches share Oregon State University ties.
“Parker Berberet and Braden Wells are incredible,” said Rowe, “and I think all of these players are realizing what level of commitment those coaches are giving and the information they’re getting from both of those guys is helping them to perform in a way that they’ve never experienced before, and that’s exciting for them.”
On the mound, Medford has enjoyed solid action from a host of pitchers as they work to dial in their release points and practice new pitchers during the summer slate.
Leading the charge has been Josh Sandoval (3-0, 3.86 ERA), Griff Henry (1-0, 2.65), Ryan Brown (2-0, 2.77), Van Larson (2-0, 1.01), Kaden Miller (1-0, 1.46), Matt Ager (1-0, 2.45) and Skyler Gaudern (3-0).
Arizona-bound Hunter Cope has an impressive 15 strikeouts in five innings pitched, and Jack Erickson leads the team with two saves.
The fact that the Rogues will be able to hear a little louder support for the rest of the summer during home games is something all are looking forward to enjoying.
“We love having people in the stands to play in front of,” said Rowe. “I think that’s something that these guys have really learned to appreciate over the last two years playing at their schools without any people in the crowd. Even the 400-500 people that we had in the beginning of the season felt like a full capacity for us, so this is going to make it even more fun.”
After averaging around 1,000 on hand for games in the 2019 pre-pandemic days, the Rogues went from 250 last year to eventually up to around 450 this summer. Adding an 80% boost to that not only helps the atmosphere, it certainly comes at a needed time when it comes to the franchise’s bottom line.
“To be honest, I’m more happy for our front office and our ownership for sticking it out,” said Rowe. “I’m glad we’ve gotten to this point where we can finally start to maybe see a little bit of profit and maybe start getting some facilities improved for these guys.”
That’s not to say that everyone is ready to come running back to the ballpark, as May has learned over the past few days after it was announced that the state was re-opening to full capacity at sporting events.
“It’s a real interesting dilemma,” said May. “We have one set of people that say, ‘Open up, open up, open up,’ and there are still some that remain cautious because they still have concerns with everything opening back up.”
“I think as we continue to open and become normal again,” he added, “we’ll get back to where it won’t be weird sitting next to somebody. We’ve gone a year and a half without sitting next to somebody that you don’t know and now here we go July 1 and you’re going to sit next to somebody you don’t know. I understand the reservation on it, for sure, but at the same time the health departments have made the decision to open us up and we’re going to go right along with it.”
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