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Medford Rogues RHP Tanner Simpson started on the mound against Chico Heat at Harry and David Field on Friday.[PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR]

GWL BASEBALL: Rogues aim for strong finish

What the Medford Rogues have endured this Great West League season because of cancellations due to air quality and opponents unable to field teams has been exhausting for all parties, but the home stretch of the season is here and the Rogues are optimistic for a strong finish as they strive to defend their GWL title.

Makeshift scheduled changes have allowed for Medford to be able to play a pair of home games Friday and Saturday, each beginning at 6:35 p.m. at Harry & David Field, against the Yuba-Sutter Gold Sox before opening a best-of-three GWL playoff series at home at 6:35 p.m. Sunday against the Lincoln Potters.

All tickets for canceled Rogues home games are eligible to be exchanged for equal or lesser value tickets on a first-come-first-served basis for any of the coming three home dates by contacting the team’s front office at 541-973-2883 between 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

“We’ve been at the mercy of a natural disaster, unfortunately,” said Rogues general manager Dave May. “Basically what was decided at the league level is they didn’t want us to lose more games because we’ve already lost so many and they didn’t want us to lose more revenue and missed ticket opportunities for our fans.”

The changes haven’t been easy for Rogues fans and staffers, and certainly those putting in the work on the field.

“I’ve never been a part of any uncertainty like this as far as when we’re going to play and who we play and how many games we’re going to play them,” said Rogues manager Tyler Graham, whose team hasn’t played a game since last Sunday. “I know these decisions aren’t easy for anyone. We’ve just got to keep the kids focused regardless of how many games we play and who we play.”

“We’re just kind taking it in stride,” added Graham. “I don’t think anyone’s ever been used to this or had experience with what we’re going through right now. The kids are just coming in and getting their work in and we’re just focused on these next couple games to get ready for the playoffs.”

A series of nearby fires that have filled the Rogue Valley skies with smoke and created unhealthy and sometimes dangerous levels in the air quality index continues to affect what would have been an interesting stretch run for playoff position in the GWL.

Medford (30-24) entered Monday four games back of Lincoln for the No. 2 spot in the standings behind league-leading Chico, and the original schedule had the Potters in town Monday to Wednesday before Medford played host to Klamath Falls to close out the regular season.

With so much concern over potential cancellations, league owners and officials agreed to move the schedule around to have Medford play host to the Gems for five days this week entering the playoffs so no team would be out revenue for hotel bookings and cancellations.

Unfortunately, Monday’s game was canceled due to poor air quality and Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s matchups were forfeited by Klamath Falls, which only had eight players willing to come over and play in the uncertain air conditions. That left today and Saturday up in the air, and San Francisco graciously accepted a request to release Yuba-Sutter from its schedule so the Gold Sox can play in Medford this weekend. Medford and Yuba-Sutter (15-39) are both owned by CSH International Inc.

“It did kind of change the outlook of our season,” May said of the late schedule moves. “That was our biggest bummer to the whole thing, that we lost our opportunity to catch Lincoln by the schedule change and maybe get to host that opening playoff series. But we get the schedule change and it makes complete sense and we didn’t fight it in any way, it’s just a bummer. If the smoke hadn’t come, who knows what could have happened?”

That said, the lineup for the GWL playoffs has been relatively clear all summer with Chico (43-12) owning the No. 1 spot while Medford and Lincoln (35-21) have bounced back and forth between the Nos. 2-3 spots. Given issues with fielding teams this season in Klamath Falls (20-34) and San Francisco (20-33), the GWL owners opted to eliminate the No. 4 team from an opening series with Chico and instead the Heat will get a bye into the GWL Championship Series.

Graham said he and his team are looking forward to getting back to action today, and that the recent cancellations may not have had as adverse of an affect on his team as some might think after coming off a long, hot road trip to California against Chico and Yuba-Sutter.

“The kids, I think, kind of got burned out on that road trip so I think maybe these two or three days off is something that may be something that benefits the kids as long as we get these next two games in (today and Saturday).”

Graham said he’s liked the way his team has looked in recent weeks, with the pitching coming together and the defense — especially in the infield — shoring up.

“I think late here in the season we’ve found a pretty good lineup that we feel very competitive with,” said the first-year manager.

“Anytime you play baseball you want to be playing your best baseball at the end of the year,” he added, “and I think we’ve started to put all three aspects together — pitching, hitting and defense — in the same game. We’re just looking for the kids to keep getting better and we’re excited for what the playoffs look like for them.”

Medford’s Cole Carder (.357), Tommy Ahlstrom (.338) and Riley Kasper (.318) remain among the leading hitters in the GWL, with Bobby Voortmeyer (3.59 ERA) leading the league in pitching ERA with teammate Kolby Button (4.28 ERA) not far off the pace. The Rogues have posted a 7-2 record against Lincoln entering the playoff series.

“I think if we just play good baseball we’re going to be happy with the series,” said Graham. “I know Lincoln’s a good team but we’ve played well against Lincoln the entire year. I think if we just come out and throw strikes and play good defense, I think we’re going to have a good series.”

May has ramped up promotions for the final week, starting today with the annual “Bark in the Park,” where fans are encouraged to bring their dogs to Harry & David Field for just $5 a tail. All proceeds from the dog tickets benefit Southern Oregon Humane Society.

On Saturday, it will be “Christmas at Harry & David Field,” where players will be wearing special Christmas-themed jerseys, which will be up for auction during the game. All proceeds benefit Access in Medford, and fans are invited to bring canned goods to Harry & David Field to be donated to Access. For each canned good item donated, fans will receive $1 off the price of admission (limit 12).

On Sunday, the first 500 fans will receive a free 2018 Rogues team poster and can use it to collect autographs after the game.

“We should have good crowds because our fans have six games worth of tickets out,” said May, “so we’re hoping that people will come out because we really do have a loaded weekend with a lot of promotions and a lot of things going on for them.”

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

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