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News / Sports / Clark County Sports

Ridgefield Raptors maintain same goals for 2024 season: Develop, have fun, win

Ridgefield opens West Coast League season Friday at Portland Pickles

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 30, 2024, 10:15pm
11 Photos
Ridgefield Raptors pitcher Travis Gibson, a Washougal High grad and Clark College pitcher, delivers against the Cowlitz Black Bears during an exhibition game Thursday, May 30, 2024, at Ridgefield Outdoor Athletic Complex.
Ridgefield Raptors pitcher Travis Gibson, a Washougal High grad and Clark College pitcher, delivers against the Cowlitz Black Bears during an exhibition game Thursday, May 30, 2024, at Ridgefield Outdoor Athletic Complex. (James Rexroad for The Columbian). Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — From day one of the season to the final out some two-and-a-half months later in August, Jack Salmon got the full experience of life as a Ridgefield Raptors baseball player last summer.

The Raptors won a franchise-record 33 games, claimed the West Coast League South Division first-half title, reached the WCL playoffs for a third consecutive season in 2023 and Salmon, a Hawai’i-bound outfielder, was there for all of it, appearing in 41 games with the team.

When it came time to finalize his plans for the 2024 summer, the choice to return to the Pacific Northwest was an easy one for the Southern California native.

“I love the coaching staff here, I love the players and a lot of guys are returning, so I wanted to come back and be in this same kind of atmosphere,” Salmon said.

Salmon is the kind of player the Raptors covet, an even-keel personality who brings the same approach to the ballpark every day.

Yet even in the best of circumstances, playing for a collegiate wood-bat summer team can be a grind at times. After Ridgefield opened the season Thursday with a 4-1 loss to the Cowlitz Black Bears in an exhibition game at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, the team will play a 54-game WCL regular season schedule, plus the possibility of extra days for the playoffs, with few off days in between.

“You gotta get prepared for the next level,” Salmon said. “You gotta call your parents, everyone gets homesick and they want to go back home. You’re playing year-round baseball in college, then you come out here and it’s every day, but it’s a lot of fun. You’ve gotta love it.”

One of the organization’s takeaways from 2023, amidst a handful of players leaving early toward the end of the season, is to foster an environment where players can thrive and find a home away from home.

“Our real tweaks have been culture-wise: what can we do to make sure these guys are fresh (and) they’re not mentally or physically grinding too hard? Make it so that they want to stay here all summer,” said Jason Krohn, Ridgefield’s director of baseball and game day operations.

“Even though this is summer ball, (we want) kids look at it and say, ‘Hey, I’m part of the Raptors and that means something.’ They don’t want to leave the other guys hanging on the team. So, trying to build that fire in them, that camaraderie between them is, I think, one of the biggest things we’ve learned.”

The setup of a college summer baseball season is, in many ways, a test run of a professional baseball schedule, according to Ridgefield head coach Chris Cota, who’s entering his fifth season with the team.

Junior college and four-year college programs send their players to Ridgefield, entrusting Cota and assistant coach Nick Allen to help them along in their development before players return to their schools. It’s up to the coaching staff to strike the right balance between player development and putting a winning product on the field.

“It’s a long summer for these guys, a long summer for them to be away from home, but if their aspirations are to play professional baseball, it’s a lot longer than that,” Cota said. “It’s very important we try to tell them that the experience of the whole summer, you get the most out of it, whether you’re playing well or not. That’s just the way baseball is. If we can get guys that can stick it out the whole summer, we like that.”

The Raptors suited up 23 players for Thursday’s exhibition game and expect more to trickle in over the coming days.

In addition to returning players like Salmon, the Raptors also featured a small group of players with Clark County roots including Kyle Memarian (Skyview/Gonzaga), Dillon Kirksey (Ridgefield/Centralia College), Jacob Swenson (Camas/Linfield), Dylan Richardson (Union/Edmonds College), Joey Wilcox (Mountain View/Mt. Hood CC) and Travis Gibson (Washougal/Clark College).

The regular season kicks off Friday with a three-game away series against the Portland Pickles, the same team that eliminated the Raptors from the 2023 WCL playoffs.

The Raptors have enjoyed a newfound level of success with three straight playoff appearances and twice setting a record for wins in as many years. It’s a list of accomplishments the team hopes to add to this season, but as Cota points out, it’s only one part the equation in managing a summer baseball team full of up-and-coming players.

“Our goal is for guys to get better throughout the summer, and if that includes us going to the playoffs, great,” Cota said. “The coaches’ goal is to go to the playoffs, but they’re also to get these guys reps, get them better and hopefully get them back to their programs a better player.”