For Bryce Rogan, sulking wasn't an option. And neither was acceptance.
He had received the news via a phone call from Medford Mustangs head coach Nate Mayben. Yes, Rogan had made the American Legion AAA team for the second year in a row — no surprise there. But, Mayben added, Rogan would start the season as the fourth outfielder. As in, riding the bench. As in, not quite good enough to start until you prove otherwise.
So when the Mustangs opened their season June 9 at Klamath Falls, Rogan was in the Mustangs' dugout, cheering and waiting. He didn't have to wait long. Rogan was inserted into the starting lineup for the second game of the doubleheader. It was only the first few steps of Medford's marathon summer schedule, but for Rogan, a recent Ashland High graduate who will continue to play baseball at Pamona College in Claremont, Calif., it qualified as a moment of truth.
"Obviously I want to support the team," he said, "but when I got my first opportunity ... I knew I had to do something, and that was kind of like motivation for me."
Rogan, who throws right but bats from the left side, made the most of the opportunity, belting a double to help the Mustangs win 7-5 and complete a sweep. The big hit earned Rogan more chances, and again and again he delivered. He went 2-for-3 with an RBI in Medford's 6-3 win over the Withnell Dodgers on June 20, and had two more hits, including a double, in the second game of another Medford sweep, this time over Roseburg, on June 22.
As the hits piled up, Rogan's position in the lineup slowly improved. That trend continued through the rest of June, through a pair of tough-luck losses at Grants Pass to start July, and through a six-game tournament in Reno later that same week, which is why when the Mustangs hosted Grants Pass for a crucial Area 4 rematch last Wednesday, a player who began the season high-fiving teammates and waiting for a chance was batting cleanup for them.
"Anything can happen during the summer, obviously," Mayben said, "and the lineup that we projected to have at the beginning of the year is not the lineup we have right now.
"The reason why (Rogan's) there is because he's been consistent. We haven't had much consistency in our lineup from the beginning of the year to where we're at now, and that's exactly what Bryce has done — be consistent."
Heading into Monday's Area 4 doubleheader against the Eugene Challengers, Rogan was at or near the top of the list in nearly every offensive category for the Mustangs. He had a team-high .356 batting average, ranked first with 36 hits and was tied for the team lead in both doubles (eight) and triples (two). The starting left-fielder also had the second-best slugging percentage (.475) and the third-best on-base percentage (.416).
Where did this offensive explosion come from? Rogan, who's soft-spoken but cerebral (he had a 4.0 cumulative GPA in high school, was the class co-valedictorian and scored 2,220 on his SAT), believes it began with an attitude. Last summer, as a first-year Mustangs player, Rogan started the season hot but tailed off and eventually found himself sitting on the bench, wondering what went wrong. Looking back, he believes he was a little too complacent, a little too comfortable. That passivity bled into his at-bats. Next thing he knew, he was going through something he rarely experienced while batting .344 for the Grizzlies as a junior: a slump.
"Last year, I was kind of happy to be on the Mustangs and I think our whole team was — we were a young team," Rogan said. "This year I didn't just want to be on the team, I wanted to be successful on the team. Going up to bat has been a lot different for me because I know I can beat these pitchers. I've hit off those guys like (Ty) Fox and (Nolan) Bastendorff like a hundred times, and just knowing that I want to do something here and not just be on the team has been a big step for me."
It doesn't hurt that Rogan, who stands 6-feet and weighs 185 pounds, also happens to have one of the quickest bats on the team, a sharp eye and tremendous opposite-field power. Yes, he can certainly pull the ball — which he proved when he tomahawked a shot to the wall against Fox and Grants Pass to put Medford ahead to stay last Wednesday — but many of those 10 extra-base hits have sailed into the gap in left-center, the mark of a balanced, disciplined lefty slugger.
"He uses the whole field and that's really nice to have in the four hole," Mayben said. "A lot of times in those three-four holes you have pull guys and stuff like that. But to have a guy that can use the whole field with power like he does, it's nice to have."
Rogan showed why again on Friday against Klamath Falls, slapping a run-scoring single through the left side of the infield in the fourth inning then chopping a single through the right side in the sixth. He had two more hits, including another opposite-site field single, the following day in the first game of a doubleheader against the Post 20 Dirtbags.
"I've tried to calm my swing down a lot, instead of getting big loads and coming down hard on my front foot," Rogan said of his mechanics. "I've just tried to quiet it all down and just go right to the baseball. I've been hitting most of my balls to the other side of the field, which has been a lot different for me because I've been a big pull guy my whole career, and I think that's really helped me out."
It's a classic take-what-they-give-you approach, and Rogan has been unapologetically greedy.
"At this level, even in high school, everyone's just pounding the outside — that's what everyone looks for," he said. "When they just lay a fastball outside they expect kids to take or just roll over, and if you just stay on the ball and hit the other way it's good. Obviously not every time — it's still a work in progress — but having the mindset that when the ball's out there I can hit it and drive it into the gap, that's what's changed this year and especially this summer."
Now, Rogan is hoping that the enigmatic Mustangs (22-13, 8-4 Area 4), whose ups and downs have been difficult to predict, can catch fire in time for the postseason. They don't have much time left. Medford has six games remaining on its regular season schedule, including four crucial Area 4 tilts. The first two are today at home against Roseburg.
The pressure is high. Depending on how they finish, the Mustangs will either lock up an automatic berth to the state tournament, set for July 30-Aug. 3 at Grants Pass, or get bumped into a best-of-three super regional series that will send the winner to state and the loser home.
What will it take for the Mustangs to pull it together and go on a long postseason run?
"I think for a lot of us it starts with our defense," Rogan said. "When we struggle on defense it kind of carries over to the plate. And when we get those high-energy plays in the field ... it picks us up and we get our energy high and we keep our energy high. Then we're attacking the baseball, and of course hitting's contagious."
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.