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All-Star Game puts Medford in spotlight

When it came time to coordinate plans for the inaugural Great West League All-Star Game this past spring, league president Ken Wilson had no doubt where to begin.

“When we looked at where we wanted to hold the first Great West League All-Star Game, it seemed like Medford was the logical spot,” said Wilson. “The team had already been there and successful and it’s as nice of a ballpark there (Harry & David Field) as you’re going to find at this level.”

The Medford Rogues set in motion what has been months of planning and preparation to host what will come to fruition at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday at Harry & David Field.

“It’s kind of a big honor to be selected to host the inaugural All-Star Game,” said Carolyn Birch, acting general manager of the Rogues. “We’re kind of setting the standard in terms of moving forward what this game will look like and what kind of celebration in the Great West League it’s going to be.”

“There’s certainly some pressure involved having all the GMs and owners of the league coming to town,” added Birch, “but hopefully we can do right by them and all the Medford Rogues fans.”

Medford Rogues manager Josh Hogan will be in charge of a 23-player North roster that was comprised through voting by the league and recommendations by major league scouts.

Hogan’s Rogues (29-11) entered Saturday with a 6½-game lead on second-place Chico and Marysville, whose manager, Mike Walker, will be in charge of the South squad.

Hogan will have plenty of familiar faces at his disposal after eight Rogues players were selected to participate. They are outfielder Derron Davis, infielders Johnny DeLaCruz, Connor Lowrie and Cam Russ and pitchers Reece Green, Kyle Robeniol, Kade Wagner and D.J. Wilson.

“These guys definitely deserve it,” said Hogan. “Our pitchers have been outstanding this year, our hitters have just been grinding out quality at-bats after quality at-bats and our defense has been very, very good.”

“They’re all very mature, hard-nosed players and they know how to play the game right and they play for each other,” added the fourth-year Rogues manager. “There’s selflessness in all of them.”

The North team is made up of players from the Medford Rogues, Portland Pickles and Chico Heat, and the South consists of players from the Marysville Gold Sox, Lodi Crushers and Sacramento Stealth. Each roster features 13 position players and 10 pitchers, with none expected to throw more than one inning in the nine-inning All-Star affair.

When making up his Tuesday lineup, Hogan said he will go off season statistics as well as the input of assistant coaches J.J. Altobelli (Portland manager) and Fred Ludwig (Chico manager).

“I’ll try and be as fair as I can,” said Hogan. “In the end, though, I’ll make up the roster so I’m sure there will be some Rogues starting.”

For Green, making the All-Star team was a personal goal for the summer, and almost a necessity given his Winthrop University and Rogues teammate Davis earned a spot in last year’s West Coast League All-Star Game.

“It’s a competitive thing,” Green said with a laugh. “We both came out here from Winthrop (in Rock Hill, South Carolina) and were talking about how if only one of us makes the All-Star Game we’re not going to hear the end of it from the other, so we both had to make it.”

Green entered Saturday with a 5-0 record and 1.08 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 11 walks in 50 innings this summer, while Davis ranks third in the GWL with 23 RBIs to go with 26 runs scored and a .286 batting average.

Wilson (6-0, 2.57 ERA, 21 strikeouts and three walks in 49 innings), Wagner (4-1, 1.80 ERA, 40 strikeouts and five walks in 40 innings) and Robeniol (3-1, 1.76 ERA, 34 strikeouts and 10 walks in 35⅔ innings) have also been dominant on the mound for Medford.

“It’s a huge honor to be selected to the All-Star Game,” said Wilson, “and it’s even better that we’re going to be able to perform in front of our hometown fans. It just makes it that much more special.”

Lowrie is tied for the GWL lead in home runs with three and has proven to be one of the most versatile Rogues this summer, earning time in the infield, outfield and on the mound. He is batting .250 with 17 runs and 21 RBIs.

Russ has helped anchor the infield with stellar play at shortstop to go with a .297 batting average with 18 runs and 15 RBIs, while DeLaCruz has been steady in his debut campaign at first base to go with a .267 batting average, 19 runs and 20 RBIs.

The balance of the North roster includes nine players from Chico and six from Portland, including Heat catcher Clayton Hubbard, who is fourth in the GWL with a .330 batting average, teammates Adam Davenport (first with 48 strikeouts) and Keaton Kringlen (sixth with .318 batting average) and Pickles relievers Declan Kearney (first with 0.78 ERA) and Jacob Allbee (seven saves).

“Hopefully the North wins,” Robeniol said of his All-Star prediction. “I think we’ve got a really good team to make it happen.”

On the flip side, the South squad boasts the GWL’s leading hitter in Marysville outfielder Chris Papapietro (.350) and Gold Sox standout catcher Hunter Stratton, who ranks third with a .333 batting average, is tied for first with three homers and ranks second by one RBI to Lodi outfielder Chris Williams — also a South All-Star — with his 24 RBIs.

Williams is also batting .320 to go with his 25 runs and 25 RBIs for the Crushers. Marysville starter Ryan McCarthy is tied for the GWL lead in victories at 6-0 with a 3.16 ERA, while teammate Kyle Merkel boasts nine saves with a 2-2 record and 1.74 ERA.

While the All-Star Game provides a spotlight for some the best players, it also gives league officials a chance to reconvene in Medford and take a breath before gearing up for a stretch run that could go down to the wire.

Wilson said he’s been pleased with early results from the field and beyond in the first-year league. GWL franchises are averaging 1,069 fans per night, led by Chico (1,593 average), Portland (1,474) and Medford (1,048).

“The season has been terrific,” said Wilson. “I think if you look at attendance numbers, they are excellent. The top four teams — Medford, Marysville, Chico and Portland — are doing as well or better than the top teams in the West Coast League, and we think that’s pretty good for a first year. We’re really pleased. There’s been a lot of general interest, attendance is better than expected and our level of play has been very, very good.”

All-Star players will be adorned in special jerseys for Tuesday’s game provided by Consolidated Sports Holdings International, which owns the Medford Rogues.

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

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Birch
Connor Lowrie of the Rogues is tied for the GWL lead in home runs with three. He's hitting .250 with 21 RBIs and 17 runs. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON