Turnover is a regular part of the summer baseball scene, but seldom is the overhaul as extensive as that which the Medford Rogues have endured as they prepare for their sixth season in the Rogue Valley.
With a new general manager, entirely new coaching staff and only one returning player, the Rogues most definitely will have a new look this summer.
Still, the goal remains the same for the defending Great West League champions, who own more wins in the league’s two years than any other franchise at 85-40.
“We think that we’re going to be right there in the mix again for the championship,” said first-year Rogues GM Dave May, “but until everyone gets here and the kids gel, it’s a waiting game. But we always expect to be near the top, that’s just how it is around here. If we’re not near the top, it’s a disappointing year.”
May is a name familiar to those locally. He played baseball and was a wrestler at Phoenix High before becoming an assistant softball coach with the Pirates and then head softball coach at South Eugene. He served as director of sales for the Rogues last summer under acting general manager Carolyn Birch before being promoted to GM in the offseason.
“I wake up every morning and say that I have my dream job, I really do,” said May, who at 31 is the youngest GM in the league by about 18 months. “I’m around baseball, I’m around college athletes and this is the area I love. I’m OK not doing the coaching side of things anymore. I’m a numbers guy so I love the business side and the administration side. I think that’s what drew me to this promotion.”
Making things easier for May is that the Rogues retained the rest of the management staff, giving him an experienced crew that has helped Medford finish among the top of the league in average attendance and in-game experience.
“It’s been a really easy transition with everyone returning,” said May. “That makes my job so much easier because I think the shortest tenure out of those managers is three years.”
“The only thing that’s really changed with me from last year is now I have a stronger focus on the dollars and cents in the business and the promotions and how to make this place full every night,” added May. “That’s my big concern is how do I get this place filled up every night and make sure everybody has a good experience.”
As such, the Rogues have big plans right off the bat for Tuesday’s season opener against the Lincoln Potters with $2 bleacher tickets, a magnet schedule giveaway to the first 1,000 fans and opportunity to pose for a photo with team mascot Rowdy and the 2017 GWL championship trophy.
On Thursday, Medford will be in throwback mode wearing 1951 Medford Rogues uniforms — with red and blue colors — to represent the former Class D affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. That night also features discounted adult beverages ($3) to go with $1 hot dogs, nachos and soda.
“I can’t do it like it was in the 50s and give it away for 5 cents,” said May, “but we can get it down to a dollar and really appreciate our fans and get back to that throwback time. We’re going to turn back the clocks the best we can that night.”
On the field, the Rogues turn to current Oregon State assistant coach Tyler Graham to replace the departed Josh Hogan, who skippered the franchise to a 168-121 record and three postseason appearances in its first five years. Hogan, assistant coach Jeff Lyle and a few 2017 Rogues joined former Rogues GM Chuck Heeman in his startup venture with the Casper (Wyoming) Horseheads this summer.
Graham, 34, is in his fourth year with the Beavers baseball program and played for OSU for 2003-06, winning a national championship his senior season. Drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2006, Graham made his MLB debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012 and wrapped up his professional career in 2014.
The Great Falls, Montana, native coached the Okotoks Dawgs of the Western Baseball League the past two summers.
“It’s just nice to be closer to Oregon,” said Graham of joining the Rogues. “Canada was an unbelievable place and experience but the opportunity with the Rogues came about and I jumped on it.”
“I think Medford is a great place and a great place for baseball,” he added. “The fans and the community seem like they support the program really well. It’s just an honor to be part of a program that actually appreciates baseball and with a community that loves to come to the games.”
In Graham, the Rogues get a manager who has a broad reach and connections due to his relationship with Oregon State and travels throughout his own career. One drawback, however, is that Medford cannot field any Beavers players because it would be an NCAA violation to have them play for Graham in the offseason.
“That’s unfortunately the way it goes,” said May. “We kind of had to make a decision, do we want the coach or do we want the player, and we chose the coach in that particular case and rightfully so. Coach Graham is a really good guy and we’re fortunate to have him here.”
Due to Graham’s duties with the Beavers, there is a chance he will be unavailable for full-time duty until mid-June should OSU make a return trip to the College World Series. He expects coach in Tuesday’s season opener, but when he’s absent, assistant coach Danny Sales will handle team strategy and be aided by assistant coach Mike Takamori and pitching coach Anthony Balderas.
“We won’t see a dropoff when coach Graham’s here and when he’s not,” assured May. “I think everything’s going to run pretty much the same because coach Graham and coach Sales are two very similar people in their approach to the athletes, their approach to the game and everything in between on that.”
Graham said he’s particularly excited about Medford’s pitching staff this summer, including Tyler Burch and Tanner Simpson of Lewis-Clark State, and looks for good things from a quartet of Linn-Benton Community College players (Medford’s Cole Carder and Tate Cowden along with Michael Moore and Josh Congdon).
Oregon’s Cameron Campbell was Graham’s No. 5 hitter for Okotoks last year, and Iowa Western’s John Hawk (catcher) and Brandon Bena also were on that squad.
Oregon is also sending AJ Miller and James Bell to Medford, with Californa commit Cole Elvis and San Jose State’s Walter Brinkman and Brandon Ross also adding to the Division I flair for the Rogues.
Ryan Carle is the Rogues’ lone returning player, with the former South Medford High standout coming from Pacific University to add depth to the bullpen.
Other familiar names coming to town include Shea Scott (Ashland/IMG Academy), Cody Coggins (Cascade Christian/Simpson University) and Chase Fernlund (Henley/Feather River), as well as catcher Joe Bath, who played for the GWL runner-up Chico Heat last summer.
“We’re going to put a competitive team on the field and it should be a fun group of guys to watch,” said Graham. “I’m excited about all of them, honestly. I think we put together a roster of winning kids from winning teams so the expectation when you come in is to win.”
Changes coming for the 2018 season:
LIVE STREAMING: Partnering with Table Rock Sports, the Rogues will offer free webcasts throughout the summer for all home road games when possible. Links to the Rogues games can be found at tablerocksports.net or medfordrogues.com.
FIRST-BASE CONCESSIONS STAND: Open a few days per week last summer, the Rogues plan to have this open for each game night with grab-and-go items like popcorn and candy bars to lessen the need to visit the main concessions stand.
MERCHANDISE SHED: A new 14x16 building is being built just inside the first base concourse to house all Rogues merchandise and allow for a walk-in shopping experience with mirrors.
BEER SHED: The former merchandise shed will move to the beer garden just inside the third-base concourse and be refrigerated, with tap handles on the outside and a cooling system to house drinks in storage.
BEER TOKENS: At $6 per token (regular price for a beer), adults can bypass the main service line and utilize the quicker cash/token line. Tokens can be purchased up front. There is no limit to the number that can be bought.
SAFETY UPGRADES: Yellow safety tubing has been installed on sideline fences to protect players chasing fly balls. The Rogues clubhouse has also been renovated, with revamped batting cages and L-screens and new hitting mats.
For more information, go to medfordrogues.com, call 541-973-2883 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry