Wednesday, May 5, 2021
May 5, 2021

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Ridgefield steps up to plate for Raptors

State’s fastest-growing city gains six-field Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, baseball team

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
10 Photos
Darcy and Jim Rourk were hopeful Clark County would get a minor league baseball team about a decade ago, but that deal fell through. With a new collegiate summer team starting in Ridgefield, the couple was already planning on attending many games this summer. In the coming days, they’ll start as a host family for a player from Kansas State University, their alma mater.
Darcy and Jim Rourk were hopeful Clark County would get a minor league baseball team about a decade ago, but that deal fell through. With a new collegiate summer team starting in Ridgefield, the couple was already planning on attending many games this summer. In the coming days, they’ll start as a host family for a player from Kansas State University, their alma mater. Nathan Howard/The Columbian Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — Darcy and Jim Rourk made a promise about a decade ago, and they’ll finally get to follow through on it this summer.

When Clark County was in the running to bring a minor league baseball team to Vancouver, the Rourks told Clark College President Bob Knight they’d take in a player. That team, which would’ve built a new stadium to also be used by Clark College, never arrived.

A new baseball team will take the field this summer in Ridgefield, and that’s where the Rourks now live. So in the coming days, they’ll open up their home to Joey Martin, a pitcher from Kansas State University.

“We told Bob all those years ago we’d take a player,” Jim Rourk said. “When we heard about the Ridgefield team, we told (City Manager Steve Stuart) we’d take in a player.”

Even better? The Rourks are both Kansas State alumni.

They know Martin will have a busy schedule this summer, but they hope to have some time to show him the natural beauty of the Northwest, especially since he grew up in Texas and now lives in Kansas. Darcy Rourk grew up in Kansas in a large family that loved baseball, and Jim Rourk grew up in Minneapolis going to games with his father to see Mickey Mantle, Warren Spahn and Harmon Killebrew.

For the Rourks, taking in a player is a way to share in the excitement about bringing baseball to Ridgefield.

“We have room, and we love Ridgefield,” Darcy Rourk said. “It’s a nice way to get involved in the community.”

Ten-year lease

The Ridgefield Raptors, the newest member of the West Coast League, a collegiate wood bat baseball league, will host its first home game Tuesday at the new Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, the six-field, $20 million joint project paid for by the city and located on Ridgefield School District property on Northwest Hillhurst Road.

The Raptors signed a 10-year lease with the city to use the sports complex between June 1 and Aug. 31. The team gave the city a $100,000 capital contribution to aid in construction and will pay a $6,000 annual user fee for the complex, which has brought excitement to the city since the snowy March afternoon Ridgefield High School students first used the complex while starting spring sports practice.

“Our practice had a lot of energy, not only because it was the start of the season, but they were champing at the bit to get on the field,” Ridgefield High School baseball coach Nick Allen said. “It snowed twice that week. It was cold, and we had to adjust practice because of it to keep the boys warm, but we stayed out in it. They bundled up rest of the week. That weather did not slow us down.”

The Spudders christened the new complex with a 3-0 victory against Kalama. The complex has since played host to softball, soccer, Ridgefield Little League and a regional baseball tournament featuring high school teams from around the state.

“There’s no way would we have been able to pull something like that off,” Allen said of the team’s old field, located behind the former site of View Ridge Middle School on Pioneer Street.

Ridgefield in the spotlight

Twice in the last five years, Ridgefield has been named the fastest-growing city in the state. The anticipated additional influx of people this summer has plenty in Ridgefield excited about showing off their changing city, while others remain skeptical about more growth as the city continues to spread out.

While the team is named for Ridgefield, ask anyone involved with bringing the Raptors to the city, and they’ll tell you the team belongs to all of Southwest Washington.

“This whole region’s been crying for baseball for a long time,” said Stuart, who was on the county commission back when the deal for the minor league failed. “It was going to happen somewhere. We’re glad it’s in Ridgefield.”

Raptors General Manager Gus Farah said it was important to connect the team to the city. The Raptors name and mascot was chosen to honor the nearby Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

“We feel at home (in Ridgefield),” Farah said. “We’re a long-term partner. We just find (the city and school district) to be extremely good partners. We’re really happy with the decision we made to go Ridgefield.”

Stuart is also quick to mention that while the new complex should bring economic benefits to the city with visitors for Raptors games and tournaments, the biggest benefit will be for the youth of Ridgefield.

“This wasn’t built for others,” he said. “This was built for the fastest-growing city in the state of Washington.”

Growth has caused issues around Ridgefield already. The complex was promised to voters in a $78 million bond passed by Ridgefield School District voters in 2017, a bond that was put up for vote to deal with overcrowding in the district. Ridgefield Superintendent Nathan McCann said the district has roughly 3,200 students, with an anticipated 1,760 new kids coming in by 2023.

“It’s like taking a school district the size of Hockinson or La Center and dropping it in Ridgefield,” he said. “With the growth we’re experiencing, the fields were a need. We did not have sufficient fields for the population we were serving.”

Connecting to downtown

As the city has grown, amenities have spread out. The sports complex is located on Hillhurst, along with two new schools and the expanding Ridgefield High School. Clark County Fire & Rescue is in the process of purchasing land on Hillhurst to move its station from downtown Ridgefield.

Rosauers, the city’s long-awaited grocery store, will open later this year as part of the Discovery Ridge project at 45th Avenue and Pioneer Street. The first phase of the four-phase plan will be anchored by Rosauers, a credit union and fast-food restaurant. Plans for that same roundabout include a mixed-use development with roughly 300 apartments, a new park and commercial offerings, similar to Felida Village.

Still, Ridgefield Main Street President Judy Hinz said the best way to connect to Ridgefield is through the downtown.

“The downtown is very sensitive to anything that appears it’s going to take people away from downtown,” she said. “There was concern about that.”

Hinz said Raptors officials have talked to merchants about how they hope to drive people to downtown businesses. One way is by giving away “Main Street Moola” dollars between innings. Two years ago, Ridgefield Main Street started the program, which hands out $5 bills that can be redeemed with downtown merchants.

“New people will be coming to the area,” said Marykay Lamoureaux, executive director of Ridgefield Main Street. “Once they’re in the area, we have to make them aware of downtown. We’re going to put up some more signs. We’re getting ready for things to sparkle down here. We’re going to get people downtown.”

Lamoureaux also said that like the rest of Ridgefield, the downtown is growing. There are more storefronts and offices, she said, including a new police station and expanded library.

Hinz said it’s an exciting time to be in the city, and the new sports complex and Raptors are a catalyst for that.

“The more we grow, the more focus there is on making sure we don’t lose ourselves in the growth,” she said.

Farah said he wants to show off downtown and all Ridgefield and Southwest Washington have to offer. He wants the players to go home after this summer and tell their teammates what a great place Ridgefield was so they’ll want to come play for the Raptors in the future.

Lamoureaux said it’s that enthusiasm for the city that has merchants and residents excited for the inaugural season.

“I don’t think you can fake that,” she said. “It’s genuine.”

Now that it’s built, how will they come?

Another way to connect to the local community is through public transportation. With the start of the Raptors season, the team has partnered with C-Tran to provide a free shuttle to three games this year: opening day on Tuesday, June 29 and July 19.

The shuttle will stop in three locations:

• 99th Street Transit Center, 9700 N.E. Seventh Ave., Vancouver

• Ridgefield Park and Ride, Pioneer Street and 65th Avenue east of Interstate 5, Ridgefield

• Simons Street and Third Avenue in downtown Ridgefield

Stuart said the city has had discussion on another public option to bring people to Raptor games from downtown Ridgefield: Ryd, a Vancouver-based shuttle service created in 2017 by employees of LSW Architects. Casey Wyckoff, LSW Architects president and CEO of Ryd, said the company is working on developing its app, which should be up and running in July.

“This season, we’d love to introduce the opportunity to connect downtown Ridgefield and the roundabout at 45 to the baseball field,” Wyckoff said. “Like the baseball team, this year in particular is a growth season for Ryd. We’re looking to build up our fleet of vehicles and drivers.”

Ryd — an acronym for Rethink Your Drive — started with one electric commuter shuttle and now has four, and it is in the process of purchasing a fifth. Wyckoff said the company is focusing on its app while looking to expand. He said there have been discussions with Washington State University Vancouver and Gresham, along with Ridgefield. The company is looking at two potential options in Ridgefield, one which is a free ride from designated stops and one subscription basis which would include a greater pick-up area, but still limited to Ridgefield.

Ideas such as bringing people to downtown Ridgefield before they can get to Raptor games has many in the area anticipating a busy summer for the increasingly bustling small city.

“We have a great destination downtown,” Stuart said. “We want to show that off. We’re going to bring in at least 1,000 people a night here 32 times a year. We want people to have a good time and come back.”

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