Elks 2019 Team Leaders

Batting average (minimum 75 at-bats): .313, Zach Needham

Hits: 59, Zach Needham

Home runs: 6, Zach Needham

Runs batted in: 25, Zach Needham and Justin Parsons (tie)

Earned run average (minimum 25 innings pitched): 3.40, Gil Luna

Strikeouts: 60, Ryan Kaser

Innings pitched: 52, Ryan Kaser

Wins: 4, Ryan Kaser

Saves: 7, Coen Wynne

(All data courtesy of Pointstreak)

After a 2018 season in which the Bend Elks posted a 12-42 record — the worst-ever record for the summer collegiate baseball team — a bounce-back could be expected. And although the Elks finished 2019 with another losing record, landing in the basement of the West Coast League’s South Division with a 21-33 record, it was an improvement over the previous year.

The record was not the only thing the Elks improved upon this summer: Kelsie Hirko, who has led marketing and sales for the team since 2015, said revenue and attendance rose as well.

According to Pointstreak, 32,150 fans attended the 27 Elks home league games this summer for an average of 1,191 per game.

That is a bump of 114 attendees per game compared with 2018, and it is the Elks’ highest regular-season attendance since 2014.

Hirko offered multiple explanations for the increased attendance, one being the team’s heavier investment in advertising through social media this summer, particularly Facebook. Reminders of when the Elks were playing at home proved helpful, especially given the array of summer recreation and entertainment options available in Central Oregon, Hirko said. Promotion is especially crucial, she said, for games in early June, when the weather is typically less summerlike and the kids are still in school.

“That’s always the hard part, reminding people (about us), especially when our season starts, since we start in the start of summer, especially if it’s not that warm yet,” Hirko said.

Hirko added that giveaways also helped draw crowds, both with tried-and-true promotions like free hats, as well as new freebies like foam antlers.

She praised the Elks’ most loyal fans, who she said turned out consistently despite the team’s losing record. Even during a long home game last week versus the Portland Pickles, a 6:30 p.m. start that did not reach the bottom of the fifth inning until 9 p.m., the stands were still crowded.

“I think we have a great group of fans that come out whether we’re winning or losing,” she said.

Coach Joe Dominiak said the Elks’ fans were a big reason why his players loved home games at Vince Genna Stadium.

“They were telling me that every place that we go, from Victoria to Walla Walla to Yakima to Longview, that Bend is the nicest place they could play in,” he said. “For them to say that, I tip my hat to the city and people of Bend.”

Although she was unable to provide exact numbers, Hirko said the Elks’ revenue also increased in 2019.

Part of that was due to more fans attending games, and therefore buying more concessions. And the team also made deals with a few new sponsors.

In July, Genna Stadium and the Elks also hosted the West Coast League All-Star Game and Home Run Derby for the first time ever. The All-Star Game drew 2,282 fans, according to Pointstreak.

Dominiak said throughout the 2019 season, his team fostered a strong bond that he called a “brotherhood.”

“The camaraderie they had together, everybody cared for each other, it was really cool,” he said.

Although the Elks lost most of their games, Dominiak said the players’ development through the summer was “very beneficial” to their young careers. He reserved particular praise for pitchers Gil Luna and Bradley Gonzales and infielder Zach Needham.

With Luna, Dominiak said he and assistant coach Doug Davis worked with the left-hander to slow down and not give everything on every pitch.

“Doug and I both talked to him about calming himself down and not trying to throw 100% the whole time, to try throwing 85% of his velocity,” Dominiak said of Luna, who will be a junior next season at the University of Arizona. “Once he started to figure that out, in three outings, he had 12 strikeouts, nine and then 12.”

Dominiak said he was confident in the potential for any player on the Elks roster to forge a career in professional baseball.

“Every one of them has an opportunity, it depends on how they play,” he said. “Given the opportunity and the right situation, I think any player on this team could go on and play (professionally).”

Dominiak called 2019 a “great year,” but he said he is setting his sights higher in 2020.

“I look forward to next year to see what we can get,” he said. “And we’ll go out and try to win a championship.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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