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News / Sports / Clark County Sports

Ridgefield Raptors baseball season starts Thursday

First game is exhibition vs. Cowlitz Black Bears, regular-season begins Friday at Portland Pickles

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 29, 2024, 8:32pm

RIDGEFIELD — As the Ridgefield Raptors further establish their foothold in the West Coast League, community interest in the collegiate wood bat baseball team is growing steadily.

The ongoing challenge for the organization is how best to serve that growth when fans return to Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex this week. The Raptors kick off the 2024 season with a home exhibition game against the Cowlitz Black Bears at 6:35 p.m. Thursday.

In 27 regular-season games last season at the RORC, the Raptors had an average attendance of 1,264, which ranked seventh among 16 WCL teams. Raptors general manager Gus Farah said that average typically grows by 100 each year, and they’d like to land somewhere in the 1,600 to 1,700 range in future years.

“The six years have shown us that we were surviving at first and now we have to put finesse into this,” Farah told The Columbian in an April interview, “because the quality of our delivery needs to go up in merchandise, in food, in all the options we offer at the park to make it more enjoyable for fans.”

“We can’t always satisfy every fan, but we have to satisfy the masses. As long as we remember it’s family-affordable entertainment, it’s a community-driven program and we have a responsibility to be good stewards of the community, that’s the filter of everything we do.”

The product on the field appears to be in a good place as well heading into the team’s fifth season in six years.

The Raptors reached the WCL playoffs for a third consecutive season in 2023 under head coach Chris Cota and assistant Nick Allen, both of whom have served in their current roles since the franchise’s inaugural 2019 season.

That continuity between the front office and coaches puts the Raptors a step ahead when it comes to building a roster and teaching players the team’s system each year.

“It’s been just huge, momentous for us to be able to have those guys (and) work with them throughout the whole year,” said Jason Krohn, the Raptors’ director of baseball and game day operations. “Chris and I are in touch multiple times a week, Nick and I see each other all the time and we’re always just talking shop (about) players and plans, what we fell short of last year, how we can do better and what tweaks we can make.”

Although the vast majority of Ridgefield’s roster is turned over each year, fans should recognize a few familiar faces returning from the 2023 team that posted a franchise-best 33 wins and reached the WCL South Divisional three-game series before getting swept by the Portland Pickles.

Starting pitchers Dylan Stewart (Pepperdine) and Blake Hammond (Northwest Nazarene), who were named to the WCL first and second team, respectively, in 2023 are set to return for their second year. The Raptors’ bullpen depth will also get a boost with the return of Camden Oram (Linfield), who tossed a team-high 51 innings last season, starting four games and earning three saves.

Also returning is outfielder Jack Salmon, a Hawai’i commit who just completed his sophomore year at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif. Salmon was a mainstay in Ridgefield’s 2023 lineup, appearing in 41 games while hitting .235 with 14 RBI.

Following Thursday’s exhibition, the Raptors will play a 54-game WCL schedule split into two halves with a midway break for the July 17 WCL All-Star Game. Ridgefield will face the Portland Pickles in a three-game road series beginning Friday, then return to the RORC on Monday for a series against the Edmonton Riverhawks.