Medford Rogues general manager Dave May tried everything he could to find a way to play his team’s Great West League playoff opener against the Lincoln Potters at Harry & David Field on Sunday.
Mother Nature, however, had other plans.
The Rogues initially pushed back their start time from 6:35 p.m. to 7:45 in conjunction with a weather report that said the air quality window might make the game playable but conditions only worsened Sunday, forcing the cancellation of the playoff game to the dismay of all on hand.
GWL commissioner Ken Wilson was on hand to make the final decision to cancel Sunday’s game and move the playoff series between Medford (31-24) and Lincoln (37-21) from a best-of-three situation to a winner-take-all contest tonight in Lincoln, California.
“We hoped that the air quality would improve as the sun went down and it appears that that’s not going to happen anytime soon,” said Wilson at 7:45 p.m.
“It’s very unfortunate and it’s tough on the players who want to play and tough on the teams who sell tickets and need revenue to exist,” he added. “When you don’t have games you lose a lot of money so it’s really unfortunate for our league members. Here in Medford tonight I can’t believe how many people are here wanting to see baseball. It’s really impressive. But unfortunately the air quality, we can’t wait until midnight to see if it gets better, so it’s just not good enough to play.”
At 5 p.m., the air quality index was at a “very unhealthy” level at 205 and only increased thereafter. It registered 259 at 6 p.m. and at 7 p.m. the AQI reached “hazardous” conditions at 306. It was 316 at 8 p.m.
“I haven’t seen it like this anywhere,” said Wilson. “I live in Portland and we had a fire in the Gorge last year and we had smoke, but as bad as everybody said it was, it was never this bad. It’s unfortunate. I feel sorry for the folks here that have to go through it but it’s nothing we can do, it’s out of our control.”
May, who has been in this situation too many times already this summer due to fires in outlying areas, was clearly frustrated by having to call for yet another cancellation but thankful for all those who held out hope throughout Sunday night’s wait for a decision.
As such, he scrambled to put together an impromptu Home Run Derby to at least put on some kind of a show for those in attendance Sunday.
“It’s real tough for us, obviously, to plan from an organizational standpoint if we’re going to play a game that night,” said May shortly after the cancellation was announced. “We’re always going to be a go until the very last minute. It’s 7:45 at the time we called the game, which is what we extended the game to, but it just never got better like we had hoped, and now it’s just time to have a little fun out here.”
Rogues players had been on the field playing games and tossing a football around while waiting to play Sunday, while Lincoln’s players remained at their hotel awaiting a decision. The Potters coaches were on hand up until about an hour before the extended start time but it was fairly obvious at that time that the game would not go on so they also returned to the hotel to await Wilson’s call.
“I’d estimate we have about 300 fans here and they’re here to watch the Medford Rogues,” said May. “These are obviously diehard fans. If they’re going to sit out here in this weather, we want to still put on a show for them.”
As such, May went out to his players and gauged their interest in a Home Run Derby, and there was overwhelming support for it.
“About four pitchers said we’re in and then a couple of the hitters said we’re going to beat you and then they were in and it just kind of grew from there.”
Roughly a dozen Rogues players took part in the derby, with most of the fans still on hand to watch the 45-minute exhibition. For the record, Mitch Neunborn edged Kody Garvin, 9-7, for the first-round lead and when the duo squared off in the finals, Neunborn again held the advantage by topping Garvin, 5-3.
Despite the hardships of the day, May said he was encouraged by the turnout and thankful for all the support his team has enjoyed this summer despite trying circumstances.
“What it makes me feel is this team is supported in this town,” said the first-year GM. “We feel so much support within this community. I wear Rogues stuff almost every day and I get stopped in public almost every day by people asking if I’m a player or I’m a coach or what I am. With the brand recognition, people know our logo and know who we are a little bit more now in our sixth year and it’s only getting bigger. Our season ticket numbers got bigger this year and everything is starting to grow a little bit more here and it has to do with the great fans we have and it has to do with the entertainment on the field.”
A change in the series from a best-of-three to a winner-take-all isn’t the best considering Medford has posted a 7-2 record against Lincoln this summer, but it’s beyond anyone’s control.
“It does shrink the series and for me being a baseball guy and knowing this team, I would’ve loved to play three games against them,” said May. “Anything can happen in one game and I have all the confidence in our guys in one game, for sure, but one bounce on their turf over someone’s head and we lose a ballgame. But you know we might get that same bounce, too, so it’s just one of those things where talking with coach (Tyler) Graham, our mind is now going to focus on one game and I still like our chances personally.”
Things could continue to get tricky from there, however, should Medford win tonight.
The best-of-three GWL Championship Series would theoretically start in Medford on Wednesday before moving to the Chico Heat’s home ballpark for games Thursday and, if necessary, Friday. Given Medford’s questionable air quality, and Wilson’s first-hand experience of what it’s like here these days, there is a chance that entire series could take place in California.
“It’s a one day at a time thing now,” said May. “We’re going to go to Lincoln tomorrow and take care of that first and then we’ll get the boys home Tuesday. Hopefully we’ll start a three-game playoff with Chico and then here we go. But we’ll take Wednesday when Wednesday gets here, just like we took tonight.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry