Victoria Jacobsen
The Bulletin

Notice someone missing?

The three University of Washington players on the Elks roster arrived a third of the way through the season, but Oregon State, the national champion, will not be sending any players to Bend this summer.

“If you look through the league, there’s not a lot of Oregon State players,” Bend Elks general manager Michael Hirko said, referring to the West Coast League. “It’s just because the Beavers went so far last year, and then won this year, so they’re giving their guys a break. I would love to have them, but they want to sit their guys for the summer to give them a rest.”

Summer league teams are allowed to have as many as four players from the same college on their roster. Hirko said the Elks typically have two or three Oregon State players on their roster each year. The 2017 edition of the Elks included Oregon State infielders Zach Clayton and George Mendazona — a graduate of Redmond’s Ridgeview High — and outfielder Joe Casey.

The Beavers won the national championship with a 5-0 victory over Arkansas on June 28 — the same day as the Elks’ 24th game of the season.

— Vicky Jacobsen, The Bulletin

Elks infielders Nick Roberts and Brandon Leitgeb and outfielder Kaiser Weiss were a little late getting to Bend this summer.

The trio had a pretty good excuse for their tardiness: All three play for the University of Washington, which reached the College World Series before being eliminated by Oregon State, the eventual champion, on June 18 — nearly three weeks into the Elks’ regular season.

“It’s a completely different atmosphere than the rest of the season,” Weiss said of the College World Series, in which the final eight teams in the NCAA baseball tournament meet in Omaha, Nebraska. “At our (college) games, we probably have 50 to 100 people attend. When we’d be playing (in Omaha), there’d be 24,000 there. You can’t hear anything — you can’t hear the coaches, you can’t hear the guy next to you.”

Reaching the College World Series is the goal of every Division I baseball team, but even so, Roberts, Leitgeb and Weiss said they were not sure if their summer teammates would be quick to embrace players who missed the first 21 games of a 58-game regular season.

“I definitely applaud the guys on the team for being so accepting to us, because we do know we’re here late, we were supposed to be here earlier,” Leitgeb said before a game at Vince Genna Stadium last week. “But they’ve really accepted us and brought us in, and we’ve created some pretty good friendships. We’re not outcasts, like we thought could have happened.”

When the three UW players joined their summer club in late June, they were jumping from a Huskies squad that had not lost a series since April to a struggling Elks team that had a record of 5-16. But due to the West Coast League’s unique playoff format, in which the teams with the best record in each division in the first half and the second half of the season each earn a playoff berth, the Elks are not out of the playoff picture just yet.

“Luckily in the WCL, it’s a two-season kind of deal,” Roberts observed. “After the first half, you can flush it, so we’ve got to forget about it and we have a whole new season.”

The Elks are now 3-3 in the second half, placing them in the middle of the second-half South Division standings, and 5-7 since the Washington players joined the team. Roberts has played the most games of the three, appearing 11 times and scoring four runs. Weiss has just four hits in 24 at-bats, but those hits include a home run and two doubles.

Much more awkward than settling in with a new team, Leitgeb said, is getting used to playing against his Washington teammates on other West Coast League teams.

“It’s been weird: We faced three (UW) pitchers last weekend on the Pickles, and one of them actually pitched against our team,” Leitgeb said, referring the June 29-July 1 series in his hometown of Portland. “So it was weird to see them in a different jersey. And my family is actually hosting a few teammates at home, so I went home, and I was kicked out of my own room by one of my teammates (with the Huskies).”

Leitgeb said he would have liked to play close to home with the Pickles, but he was happy to take an assignment with the Elks.

“It’s just where the opportunity was,” Leitgeb said. “My coach presented me with the opportunity to come to Bend pretty early, and I jumped on board with that, because it’s a pretty historic program in the West Coast League, and it’s a great facility. Great coaching here. And the opportunity with the Pickles didn’t really present itself.”

Roberts said he specifically asked to have his summer ­assignment switched so that he could return to the West Coast League.

“I played for the Cowlitz Black Bears last year, so I was kind of familiar with the West Coast League already,” Roberts explained. “As players at UW, we get our assignment about where we’re going for summer in the fall, and I was assigned to Humboldt Crabs in Northern California. It’s an independent team, so there’s no competition. It’s more like, get your games in and go. I kind of wanted that competition atmosphere.”

And even if that “competition atmosphere” is not as heightened as the College World Series, Leitgeb said he and his Elks teammates are focused on getting to the playoffs.

“I’ve talked to teammates — and especially pitchers feel this way — who say that going from every pitch meaning the world to summer ball, where everybody is working on stuff, is a little different,” Leitgeb said. “But it’s the same game, and we’re still here to win. And we’re trying to help this team win the second half and get to the postseason. The goal is still the same.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0305, vjacobsen@bendbulletin.com

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