Now in its 13th year of existence, the Bend Elks have produced more than their fair share of highlights over the years.
The club has cultivated major league players (Jacoby Ellsbury, Eric Sogard and Brian Barden), led the West Coast League in attendance multiple times and has earned a spot in the league playoffs each of the past four seasons.
Bend's one glaring omission on its resume? A WCL championship.
The Elks, who celebrate their 2012 home opener tonight at Vince Genna Stadium against WCL West Division rival Klamath Falls, are again gearing up for another shot at the league title.
Bend, which typically is carried by its pitching, looks especially strong this year on the mound. University of Portland left-hander Travis Radke went 7-4 with a 2.09 earned-run average this spring — he was the West Coast Conference freshman of the year and a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American — while right-hander Clay Bauer, a sophomore at College of San Mateo who has committed to play at Oregon State in the fall, struck out 68 hitters in 661⁄3 innings this spring.
The Elks, who lost in the WCL West Divisional Series last summer to eventual WCL champion Corvallis, also have two pitchers on their roster who were selected in this week's MLB draft. Andrew Sopko, a Montana high school standout, was picked by the San Diego Padres in the 14th round, and Bauer's teammate at the College of San Mateo, Daniel Grazzini, was selected in the 35th round by the San Francisco Giants. If either Sopko or Grazzini pitches for Bend this season, the Elks could have one of the best rotations in the league.
Bend also should have plenty of pop at the plate. Ryne Clark, a former NCAA Division I quarterback at San Diego State, will likely be a top-of-the-order hitter after leading the College of the Desert in Palm Springs, Calif., in most offensive categories this spring. Clark, a right-handed hitting outfielder, hit .331 as a sophomore this year. Gonzaga shortstop Steven Halcomb, St. Mary's College infielder Darian Ramage and Oregon State outfielder Joey Matthews all expect to be major contributors at the plate this summer.
Spectators this season at Genna Stadium could also see some familiar faces in Elk uniforms. Bend High graduates Grant Newton (Seattle University) and Michael Hirko (George Fox) are on Bend's early-season roster, as are Linfield College teammates Justin Huckins (Summit) and Jo Carroll (Mountain View).
The Elks, who had six players from its 2011 squad drafted by major league teams this week, open a five-game homestand this evening at 6:35 p.m.
— Beau Eastes