Ridgefield Raptors getting ready for opening day late this month

Gus Farah, the general manager of the Ridgefield Raptors, is counting down the days until opening day. The Raptors open the 2024 season on May 30. Photo by Paul Valencia
Gus Farah, the general manager of the Ridgefield Raptors, is counting down the days until opening day. The Raptors open the 2024 season on May 30. Photo by Paul Valencia

West Coast League baseball team thriving in Clark County

Paul Valencia

RIDGEFIELD — This is really the definition of a good problem to have.

The Ridgefield Raptors are going through growing pains.

“Our challenge right now is growth,” said Gus Farah, the team’s general manager. “The park knew we would grow. The city knew we would grow. None of us anticipated how fast we would grow. Putting 40,000 people through here last summer really puts a lot of pressure on the park.”

Later this month, the Raptors will hold opening day ceremonies for their fifth season of West Coast League baseball.

That first year, in 2019, was memorable, with the city and the county embracing the summer league that features college-eligible baseball players using wood bats.

The government’s reaction to the pandemic wiped away the 2020 season. The team returned in 2021, and every year since then, attendance has been growing.

“The opportunity is the challenge,” Farah said. “How do we deliver a good product for the fans with a growing attendance every year?”

Last year, Farah planned on having a food trailer at every game in the section of the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex just beyond left field. That would help offset the rush of people at the traditional concession stand beyond home plate, below the press box. Instead, it took just about the entire season for permits and the like to be issued.

That food trailer was set up for just two games before the season ended, but in those two games, Farah loved the sales numbers. That trailer should be at every game this season, serving tater tots and more.

Farah also said that for expected big crowds — say a weekend night with a big promotion — he will bring in barbecue food carts and/or other fan-friendly food selections to give fans more options.

For the fans, it has got to be more than just the baseball, Farah said. There has to be an experience at the ballpark. And food is a big part of that experience. 

“That first year, the average was right around 1,000 people,” Farah said of attendance. “Now we’re at 1,400.”

Which means some nights are 1,800 to 2,000 people, and that can put major pressure on the main concession area. Nobody wants to go to the park just to stand in line for two innings.

Another growing aspect of the Raptors’ fan base is children. This year, the team is starting a Kids Club for fans 12-and-under.

So far, more than 100 children have signed up and the goal is to get that number to 300, Farah said. With a partnership with Burgerville, the Raptors will have a lunch pail for the children as well as tickets to three games. The children will receive coupons for local businesses, as well.

At the park for those specific games, the children in the club will get on-field experiences such as being able to run the bases, or photo opportunities with the team.

As far as the product on the field, expectations are high for the Raptors. Not because of any guarantees of a winning season, but because of the leaders of the team, Farah said.

Chris Cota, the only head coach the team has ever had, is returning, along with assistant Nick Allen. Cota and Allen have worked with each other for the Raptors since the beginning of the franchise. Allen also is the head coach for the Ridgefield High School team.

“People ask me how good the team is. The answer is, I’m not sure,” Farah said. “You don’t know how they are going to do until they get here, how they mold, how the culture is built. It’s a quick turnaround.”

Keep in mind, these are college baseball players from all over the West, traveling to Ridgefield and, in many cases, meeting each other for the first time. Then they start playing baseball together every day for the summer.

With Cota and Allen, though, Farah said the Raptors have an advantage. They know what it takes to bring a team together.

“What we know is Chris has taken us to the playoffs three straight years. He’s a good leader who develops these kids,” Farah said. “He gets their attention. They like playing for him. … We are spoiled.”

Farah said he has filled most of the spots on the roster. A GM in the West Coast League has to keep a few openings for more pitchers as they become available. Farah also said he hopes to have at least one or two players from Clark County playing for the Raptors every summer.

The team’s first game is Thursday, May 30, a home matchup against the rival Cowlitz Black Bears. That is the first game of the Columbia River Cup. The teams play each other seven times during the season, and the team that wins four or more games claims the cup. The Raptors won the cup last season.

Ridgefield will hit the road that weekend, then return to the RORC for its first three-game home series against Edmonton from June 3-5. 

For more information on the Raptors and their schedule, go to: https://ridgefieldraptors.com/

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