Rogues enjoy season of independence
As Medford Rogues manager Bill Rowe eagerly awaits time to get his first postseason fishing trip in, it’s given him the chance to reflect on a summer campaign that wrapped up this past weekend.
He summed it up in two distinct words.
“Very promising,” said Rowe, who just finished his third season at the helm.
There is, of course, more to it than just that.
And after a two-month sprint that is always the summer collegiate wood-bat baseball season, there’s plenty to reflect on following an independent schedule that featured increased competition and more close games.
“It was just more exciting for everybody,” said Rowe. “The quality of at-bats for our athletes went up and the high-pressure situations for our pitchers went up, so from a coaching standpoint and a player standpoint it was really, really amazing.”
An increased level of competition is what Rowe and Rogues owners Dave and Tabitha May set out to accomplish entering the summer of 2022.
Not only was there a desire for better opponents, but also better games overall, something that would boost the development of the players in Medford this summer as well as down the road in an effort to attract quality talent in subsequent seasons.
The Rogues’ record of 25-16-1 this summer was an eight-win drop from last year’s 33-11 squad, one that included a franchise-record start of 21-3.
But Rowe was quick to attribute that to a tougher schedule, with late-season opponents like the Lincoln Potters and the Humboldt Crabs providing something a little different compared to some of last year’s opposition.
“All around the quality of baseball was higher for everyone,” said Rowe. “I think we played better baseball, our players worked super hard and I think the competition we faced was better. I think that’s what’s going to need to happen, and when you look back at how many one-run baseball games there were, I think going into those games and knowing what kind of opportunities we had our record could have been a little bit better.
“That’s just going to happen in baseball, though, and in close games.”
Not all of those one-run games went Medford’s way, especially through the month of June when Rowe and his club were hovering around the .500 mark.
But it was the last 15 games in which things started to click for the Rogues, according to Rowe.
“Just learning how to finish a game and not letting the energy drop and trying to play a complete nine-inning game of quality ball instead of letting the energy lag for any part of the game,” said Rowe of what changed for his team. “The guys were always getting along, but sometimes it can be tough turning adversity into motivation to get better and want to win more rather than pouting about bad calls an umpire is making or turning that into talking trash to the other team. Really trying to get that mental switch in guys’ brains is the one thing we really pushed the hardest throughout the summer.”
The Rogues finished the season on a seven-game winning streak, sweeping their season-ending homestand and giving the players a high note to go out on.
That was especially true for last Saturday’s season finale, when infielder Emiliano Alarcon made his way around the diamond as he played one inning at each position, the last of which came on the mound in getting the final out and the save in an 11-8 win over TKB Baseball.
There was, however, a little bit of a tightrope to walk with the game tied 8-all late. The Rogues were able to get the lead back, allowing Rowe and assistant coach Parker Berberet to feel a little more comfortable that they could get Alarcon in to pitch.
“It just worked out really well for us to get him in for that moment,” said Rowe. “Parker and I hadn’t won the game to end the season in our previous two seasons and that’s in the back of our minds, but we’re not saying that to the players because we want it to work out with Emiliano. We don’t want it to matter if we lose in a moment like that because it’s bigger than baseball, but at the same time you want your icing and you want your cake, you want the cherry on top and you want it all. We got it all that night and it was really special.”
Alarcon, one of 10 returners from the 2021 squad, finished with the second-highest batting average on the team, hitting .341 in 33 games this summer. It was an 80-point improvement on his .261 batting average from a year ago.
Rogues infielder Reece MacRae finished as the team leader in hitting, recording a .347 batting average in 34 games. He also led the team in hits, with 43 in 124 at-bats, and runs with 28. Alarcon was second with 42 hits.
Outfielders CJ Colyer and Ben Pajak — who joined the Rogues midway through the summer — each hit a team-high four home runs. Colyer also finished as the team leader in RBIs with 29.
As a team, the Rogues hit .287.
“A lot of growth, and a lot of growth from guys who weren’t necessarily changing their mechanics but just really getting deeper into an approach,” said Rowe. “I know a lot of our hitters just felt like they got better during the summer — which is something that not always happens when you play summer ball.”
Pitching-wise, there were times this summer in which it was a struggle. Rowe won’t deny that, with the Rogues’ final team ERA of 3.94 very much representative of that.
The Rogues, however, finished the season with 10 straight games of double-digit strikeout totals, including a whopping 18 punchouts in the season finale.
Adam Shew (3-3, 3.48 ERA) and Eamon Velarde (3-0, 2.85) each started a team-high nine games and threw at least 41 innings.
“It was nice to have certain guys step up for us throughout the season and into key roles,” said Rowe of his pitching staff. “Just really gritty performances from players and especially when it was so easy for kids to walk away and bail on the summer when the slightest bit of pressure hit them.”
Finishing the summer strong was important for Rowe’s team because it was a reflection on their growth as a squad, he said.
He hopes that it’s that kind of environment that can be replicated in summers to come.
“Super promising and I’m excited for the years to come,” said Rowe. “It was just great to see the guys who stuck around and see how much they cared about each other and how they were really pulling for each other at the end. I think the tighter the bond you can create and the more family-like that culture becomes then the better results you can get out of the players.”
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.