'Dawgs set to open season on Friday

It's always a scramble to get the recruited players in town for the Southern Oregon RiverDawgs, but the Medford-based collegiate wood bat summer baseball team is certainly cutting it close in all phases as it ramps up for an 11th season.

Head coach Chris Wolf was busy flying in from California on Wednesday night, assistant coach Tim Alvarez got a first-hand look at about 14 players earlier that day and the RiverDawgs won't even get to step on their home field until Friday's season opener against the Healdsburg Prune Packers at Harry & David Field.

And then there's the little issue of finding host families for the 30 or so players that will trickle into the Rogue Valley in the next couple weeks.

One would think the stress level is high around the RiverDawg camp but, as of late Wednesday night, Alvarez couldn't have been more excited.

"This is a labor of love," he insisted. "Some people coach for the fame, we coach for the kids. I get two months a year to throw (batting practice), take a few hacks and help these players become baseball men and there's just nothing better than that."

"We just want to go play some ballgames, win as many as we can and hopefully entertain the fans," added Alvarez, in his fifth year with the program that was formed in 2001 but took one summer off after the demolition of Miles Field.

Adding to the excitement is a solid blend of returning players and newcomers for Southern Oregon, which finished third in its Far West League division last year and 24-20 overall.

Ryan Hayden, a Hidden Valley product who was one of the team's leading hitters a year ago, stands to return to the squad and will be joined by center fielder Kyle Secciani, who was a leading RiverDawg player two years ago. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Hayden hit .286 with 42 runs and 37 RBIs this past spring as a sophomore at Oregon Tech, while the 6-1, 200-pound Secciani batted .288 with 33 runs and 22 RBIs in his junior season for Cal State San Marcos.

The RiverDawgs also return one of their leading starters in right-hander Bruce Sanford, a former Crater High standout who was steady throughout the summer for Southern Oregon, and will complement him with hard-throwing Zach Morgan, who starred at Grants Pass and was a 2008 graduate. Morgan made six starts in 12 appearances for Sacramento State this past spring, going 0-2 with a 5.58 ERA, and has pitched for the Humboldt Crabs.

Catcher Andrew Volk is also slated to return to the RiverDawgs, while former North Medford High pitcher Michael Bradshaw will be making his first run with the program this summer after watching his older brother Chris excel on the team the past few years.

After Riley Welch enjoyed a successful summer with the RiverDawgs one year ago, the University of Hawaii will be sending a pair of players to town for the season in catcher/infielder Billy Nottingham (6-2, 210, junior) and infielder Ty Pedretti (6-2, 205, junior) to get some at-bats. Welch and former RiverDawg Jon Flinn pitched for Hawaii this past spring and won't be returning to Southern Oregon, while the newcomers saw limited action with the Rainbows.

The RiverDawgs will also be bringing to town a pair of promising freshmen from Montana State Billings in infielders Brody Miller (5-8, 165) and Ty Gilmore (5-9, 170). Miller broke just about every single-season record at Sentinel High School in Missoula, Mont., during his senior season and displayed good power at the plate and hit .288 with 20 runs and 24 RBIs in his first collegiate campaign. Gilmore led MSU-Billings with a .373 average to go with 34 runs and 21 RBIs.

Other names of note that will be on the RiverDawgs' fluctuating roster are former Roseburg standout Vince Ampi, Grants Pass' Nathan Etheridge, North Medford's Gerardo Herrera and Ross McGrath from Brookings. Alvarez said he also expects good things from first baseman Ted Dilts (6-2, 215), who was a promising redshirt freshman at Cal State San Marcos.

Alvarez said he expects 20 players to be on hand for this weekend's opening series with Healdsburg, with another 10 or so filtering in once their collegiate seasons are complete.

The RiverDawgs boast a 44-game schedule, with 32 games set to be played in Medford. With Harry & David voted the best field and playing surface of the FWL last summer by the teams — and the umpires also voted the best in the league — RiverDawgs marketing director Greg Roberts said there will be some games or even league series where Southern Oregon plays as the visitor in its home park to promote competitive balance.

A limited number of reserved seat season tickets are on sale for $50, with general admission season tickets available for $40. Single-game tickets are $10 for reserved seats, $5 for general admission adults and $3 for general admission kids and seniors. A family pack of general admission tickets is available again this year for $14 and works for two adults and four kids age 6-16.

Southern Oregon already has one sellout this season, according to Roberts, with only season ticket holders able to get in for the July 28 game against the Reno Bullets.

To become a host family for a player or more, contact Alvarez at 541-973-9485. For more information on the RiverDawgs, including a season schedule, go to www.ballcharts.com/riverdawgs.

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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