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Rogues hire Church as new GM

The Medford Rogues took another step forward in preparation for their third season in the West Coast League on Wednesday, with the college wood-bat franchise announcing the hiring of Ian Church as the team’s new general manager.

Church takes over for former GM Chuck Heeman, who two weeks ago left the team after two seasons to accept a position with the City of Yuma, Ariz., as general manager of the Yuma Civic Center and Ray Croc Baseball Complex.

“It’s kind of a dream job for me,” Church said Wednesday night. “I’ve always wanted to do something along these lines, whether for a college wood-bat or independent league.”

“I’m just excited to take this on,” he added. “I know the market is strong here for it, I know the people are hungry for it and they want a winner and that’s what I want to provide while also providing that fan-friendly atmosphere Rogue Nation is used to.”

The Rogues reached the WCL playoffs in their debut 2013 summer campaign and had the seventh-best record overall last year (26-28) despite placing third in the WCL South Division. Medford ranked third in the 12-team WCL in average attendance at 1,387 for 27 home games.

“Chuck’s done a great job of building the culture here and hopefully we can expand on that,” said Church, whose official starting date will be Jan. 15.

Church, 33, was among four finalists selected by Heeman for the job and was the departing GM’s recommendation as a replacement to Gary Gelinas, President of the Rogues’ ownership group CSH International.

“When I first talked to him,” Heeman said Wednesday, “the first thing that got my attention was that he’s sharp, he’s well-spoken and he’s very high-energy guy who speaks the language we need him to speak. He can talk baseball all day and business all day. He has a lot of energy and good ideas to add on what we’re doing already and I think he’ll do well.”

The foray into the role of GM for a baseball organization will be a first for Church but definitely not something out of his wheelhouse.

Church spent six years as a minor league baseball player and more recently successfully opened indoor athletic training facilities in Westchester, N.Y., and Mount Pleasant, S.C. During a breakout campaign in 2006, Church was named Baseball America’s Independent Player of the Year and Frontier League MVP after belting 31 home runs for the Kalamazoo Kings.

“I still think of my college wood bat days and I relish them,” said Church. “I’m just going to try to draw from those experiences and draw on what the fans love about it.”

Heeman said it was Church’s background in business, sales and marketing, combined with his baseball pedigree, that helped elevate him as the best candidate to take over the young Rogues franchise.

Making the transition a little easier is the fact that most of the elements for the 2015 season are already in place when it comes to the coaching staff, once again headed up by manager Josh Hogan, the player roster and special event dates this summer.

“He’s not going to be walking in cold; he’s going to have a lot in place,” said Heeman. “The thing that’s really going to help him, especially for the Rogues games themselves, is that there’s a really good set of gameday people in place already when you’re talking about the press box, concessions, ticketing and merchandising. He’s not going to have to reinvent that, and those people will help him a lot.”

The fact that so much was already in place was definitely appealing to Church, who had recently moved from South Carolina to St. Petersburg, Fla., for a job opportunity but simply couldn’t pass up his chance here in Medford.

Church said he had heard a lot of stories about Rogue Nation and the atmosphere in Medford from Aaron Nielsen, who was with the Rogues coaching staff in 2013 and befriended Church as part of his staff at the Pro Performance Athletics facility in South Carolina. Nielsen is slated to return to the Rogues this summer.

“From knowing Aaron, he told me all about Rogue Nation and how Chuck had put a quality program together with Gary Gelinas and it all sounded amazing,” said Church. “So when I heard of this opportunity I just put my name in the hat and to actually get it, it’s just really amazing that I have this chance and I just can’t wait to get my feet on the ground and get going.”

Church, his wife Viktoria and their 1-year-old son, Vladi, have been in Medford for the past eight days, touring Harry & David Field as well as the rest of the area in search of a home. He plans to return to Florida soon to gather the family’s belongings — fortunately everything is still packed and in storage — before returning to the Rogue Valley to begin his commitment with the Rogues.

In Wednesday’s press release by the Rogues, Gelinas said this of Church: “He has passion, excitement, he comes from the baseball world and, most of all, he is a quality family man. He will bring creative ideas, help find new revenue streams, continue to make the Rogues the thing to do in the summer while he builds to bring a title to Rogue Nation.”

The Rogues, who also lost volunteer coordinator Mayra Heeman when she returned to Arizona with her husband Chuck, expect to announce the hiring of an assistant general manager within the next couple weeks.

The 11th West Coast League season begins June 5, with the Rogues’ home opener set for June 8.

For more information on the Rogues, including ticket plans, go to www.medfordrogues.com, email info@medfordrogues.com or call 541-973-2883.

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