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RiverDawgs Johnny Omahen, left, of San Diego, and Shawn Freeman of Las Vegas kick off the summer baseball season with a practice Thursday at Harry & David Field.

Taking the next step

Starting with the name all the way down through the makeup of the roster and the schedule, the Southern Oregon RiverDawgs expect to offer fans a new experience this summer.

Entering their eighth summer in Medford, the RiverDawgs appear to finally have found a home as one of five first-year West Coast League Tri-State franchises. The collegiate wood-bat league includes teams from California and Nevada and joins the four-team WCL Portland as two new baseball leagues under the West Coast League umbrella.

Second-year RiverDawgs manager Chris Wolf says that affiliation will allow his team to field a higher level of up-and-coming talents.

"Just that whole name of the West Coast League is a huge factor for all the teams that are in our (Tri-State) league because everybody wants to play in that league because they all know the level of play," says Wolf. "They've had guys like Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox and quite a few other major leaguers come through there, so that (West Coast League) name has got a lot of substance to it."

Wolf says he's already enjoyed some of those perks as he's tried to entice collegiate players to play in Southern Oregon this summer.

"You just have more of a variety of players you're able to look at than just trying to get your local players," he adds. "We have quite a few players who will be coming in from all over the place. The level of play in this league includes Division I, Division II and some Division III players so you'll have more of a high level of ball being played."

That's not to say local athletes won't highlight the roster this summer, a staple of the organization since it first began play in 2001. Southern Oregon expects to return local standouts like Jeremy Cheney, Travis Wolf, Allen Smith, Jared Adamson, Zach Boskovich, Dustin Smith, Josh Camp and Tyler Davis.

The roster also includes returners Shawn Freeman, Mitch Garcia and Steve Candelaria from a team that went 22-11 last season.

"They're all going to bring us something a little different," Wolf says of his team.

Local fans will get their first glimpse at this year's version of the RiverDawgs at 5 p.m. Saturday when they play host to the Butte Sabres of Chico, Calif., in a season-opening doubleheader at Harry & David Field.

Season ticket prices are $30 or two for $50. Single-game gate prices are $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. Each ticket will cost $2 more for doubleheaders. Kids 12-and-under get in free.

With players still trickling in from their respective colleges, it likely will take a couple weeks before the team rounds into true form. But, especially with the WCL affiliation, Wolf says the overall vision for the RiverDawgs lies well beyond wins and losses.

"The whole idea of the league is to get players out there and noticed so they can get better scholarship opportunities and move on and hopefully someday get drafted into the major leagues," says Wolf.

Still, the ability to follow league standings and play for something more than just pride doesn't hurt, either.

"We definitely have more to play for now than we've ever had before," adds the manager, who also altered the team name this year so it would stand out more after finding thousands of "RiverDog" sites — from baseball teams to snowmobile clubs — in an online search.

Joining the RiverDawgs in the WCL Tri-State are the Humboldt (Calif.) Crabs, Redding (Calif.) Colt .45s, Folsom (Calif.) Pioneers and Nevada (Carson City, Nev.) Bighorns.

Although it's obviously too early to tell, Wolf says he expects big things from his players this summer, especially with a pitching rotation that includes Cheney, Camp, Sonoma State standout Jon Flinn and Chris Skaalen of California State San Marcos.

Wolf says Flinn stands about 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds and his fastball has been clocked around 90 miles-per-hour, while Cheney offered up a no-hitter last summer and has only gotten better after a season at George Fox University. Wolf says big things are also expected of Skaalen at his school next season, and Camp posted the top ERA of his team at Eastern Arizona.

"That's going to be kind of the catalyst for the whole situation," Wolf says of his pitchers. "I feel like our pitching staff is going to do a good job of keeping the scoring down on their part, and I feel like the offense is going to be explosive this year."

S.O. RiverDawgs Schedule

May 30 BUTTE SABRES (DH), 5 p.m.

June 6 HUMBOLDT STEELHEADS (DH), 5 p.m.

June 7 HUMBOLDT STEELHEADS, noon

June 12 REDDING COLT .45s, 7 p.m.

June 13 REDDING COLT .45s, 7 p.m.

June 14 REDDING COLT .45s, noon

June 20 at Humboldt Steelheads (DH), tba

June 21 at Humboldt Steelheads, tba

June 25 SAN JOSE SEALS, 7 p.m.

June 26 SAN JOSE SEALS, 7 p.m.

June 27 FOLSOM PIONEERS, 7 p.m.

June 28 FOLSOM PIONEERS (DH), 11 a.m.

July 3 at Redding Colt .45s, 7 p.m.

July 4 at Redding Colt .45s, 7 p.m.

July 5 at Redding Colt .45s, noon

July 6 at Folsom Pioneers, tba

July 7 at Folsom Pioneers (DH), tba

July 8 at Nevada Bighorns, 7 p.m., tba

July 9 at Nevada Bighorns (DH), 5 p.m.

July 10 at Nevada Bighorns (DH), 3 p.m.

July 11 at Nevada Bighorns, 1 p.m.

July 13 at Bend Elks, 7 p.m.

July 14 at Bend Elks, 7 p.m.

July 18 SAN JOSE SEALS, 7 p.m.

July 19 SAN JOSE SEALS (DH), 3 p.m.

July 20 SAN JOSE SEALS, 5 p.m.

July 21 HUMBOLDT CRABS (DH), 5:30 p.m.

July 31 at Humboldt Crabs, tba

Aug. 1 at Humboldt Crabs (DH), tba

Aug. 2 at Humboldt Crabs, tba

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

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