Heading into the 2022 season, the Ridgefield Raptors are no longer the new birds on the block.
The Raptors are set to embark on a full season in an expanded West Coast League. After COVID canceled the 2020 campaign and limited the 2021 season to 10 U.S. teams, four new franchises are on board for 2022.
Ridgefield opens the season June 1 at home with an exhibition against the Cowlitz Black Bears. From there, the Raptors will embark on a 54-game West Coast League collegiate wood bat baseball season.
The league includes new franchises in Springfield, Nanaimo, Kamloops and Edmonton. Victoria and Kelowna also return after taking 2021 off.
“It’s a growth year,” General Manager Gus Farah said. “The nice part about the additions is they didn’t feel forced. Any league can force expansion. The question is, can you sustain it? Getting to 16 teams didn’t feel forced. There was a demand to join the league.”
Last summer, the Raptors went 26-22 and earned the franchise’s first postseason berth on the last day of the regular season. Ridgefield was then swept by eventual champion Corvallis, which has won the last five WCL titles.
Farah said he and his staff became better at managing the roster and the many changes that happen as players meet their quota of innings or handle obligations with their college teams.
“We’re still learning every year,” Farah said. “Last year we had a super potent offense, the best in the league. But our pitching needed help at times.”
There will be a few familiar faces on this summer’s team. Will Chambers is set to return after clubbing a league-high eight home runs. His success last summer helped him earn a Division-I scholarship at Dixie State, where he hit .247 and appeared in 25 games this spring.
Outfielder Tafton Hensley and catcher Isaac Lovings are also back from the 2021 team.
A sizable portion of the roster hails from California. That’s thanks to the connections forged by coach Chris Cota, who has coached 22 years at College of the Canyons near Los Angeles.
Players scheduled to appear in 2022 hail from 12 different Division-I programs. There are also several players from two-year programs hoping to use their time in Ridgefield as a springboard to a four-year school.
“We’ve proven that we take care of kids physically and emotionally,” Farah said. “As relationships and trust deepens, colleges consider sending better players.”
Fans will notice a few new features at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex. “Three Dollar Tuesdays” will offer $3 general admission tickets and food/beverage deals. On Sundays, children under 12 get in free and can play in a new kids area that will include a bouncy house. On Wednesdays, concessions ordered through the fan app will be 15% off.
“Every year we want to focus on a few new things to give a better experience,” Farah said.