Are you ready for some baseball?
Umpqua Community College will return to the diamond for the first time since 1985 on Saturday, hosting Olympic College in a nonleague doubleheader at Bill Gray Stadium at Champion Car Wash Field.
The first game will start at 1 p.m. on the new turf field. The twin bill will be broadcast on KSKR-AM (1490) and FM (92.3), and 541radio.com is streaming the contests.
The two clubs will also play a pair of games Sunday, beginning at 11 a.m.
To say the Riverhawks — guided by Douglas High School graduate Jeremiah Robbins — are ready to get their 2020 season underway would be an understatement.
“We’re really excited,” Robbins said. “Getting the guys back from winter break (in early January) and seeing what’s in front of us ... the way they’ve attacked it, how the field got done. We’ve been outside quite a bit getting reps, so they’re definitely chomping at the bit to play a team with a different colored uniform.”
Umpqua has 28 freshmen and three sophomores on its roster. Among them are three former Douglas County high school players: third baseman Riley Westbrooks (Sutherlin), second baseman Jacob Luther (Umpqua Valley Christian) and pitcher Payton Hope (Sutherlin).
“Everyone’s thrilled. It’s hard to hold in how excited we are,” said Charlie Updegrave, a freshman first baseman/designated hitter from Oakridge. “The guys from last year have been holding it in for over a year and the guys this year know what it means to get going and play (the school’s) first game in 35 years.”
Robbins plans to get a look at plenty of players this weekend.
“I think the big thing is to compete and play hard,” he said. “We’re going to have our ups and downs throughout the season, especially here. We want them to be excited and proud of their community and the college they’re playing for.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids. We just need to stay in the moment and play the game hard. Be calm and enjoy it. Opening day just comes around once, so be confident and play the game the right way.”
The Riverhawks will compete in the Northwest Athletic Conference South Region along with Clark, Clackamas, Mt. Hood, Chemeketa, Linn-Benton, Lane and Southwestern Oregon.
The league season doesn’t open until March 27, when SWOCC visits for a doubleheader.
“We have depth at all positions,” Updegrave said. “I think we’ll be good at every position. We have guys who can play at more than one position, so we can move people around if needed.”
Pitching depth is the biggest concern to Robbins.
“Any coach has concerns about walks,” Robbins said. “We’re not afraid to give up hits, we have to pitch to contact. If our guys do that, we have a really good defense behind them. Pitching is what makes or breaks us. The guys have been working really hard and we have to focus on throwing strikes.”
After using aluminum bats in high school, the players are making the adjustment to wooden bats.
“The big thing is how they’re weighted,” Robbins said. “It’s a strength issue piece with swinging wood. The guys have adjusted well, they’ve done a phenomenal job in our strength and weight conditioning program. It’s a developmental process at this age.”
All former UCC players are invited to attend the season opener. Dan Withers, who was the head coach from 1976-85 and still lives in the area, is expected to attend.
“I was talking to coach Withers yesterday and he thinks there will be between 20-30 (alums) showing up,” Robbins said. “That would be awesome. They started this program and we get to pick it back up.”