OGDEN -- The morning warmth is turning into afternoon heat, and Michael Drowne stands in shallow left field. The short left-hander takes a look around him, up to the peaks of the imposing Wasatch Mountains, down to the green grass, nestled in one of the low minor leagues' finest ballparks.
If you have to repeat a rookie league, Drowne surmises, Ogden isn't such a bad place to do it.
"This is the place to be," Drowne said Saturday during Raptors' preseason workouts at Lindquist Field. "I loved it here last year -- the fans are awesome, it's one of the nicest fields in the league, and you've got a great atmosphere. Yeah, I was a little upset that I didn't get called up, but once I found out I was coming here, all that got erased from my mind."
Drowne is one of 10 players returning from last year or a previous season for the Raptors, who open their season at home Monday against the Grand Junction Rockies. Other returners include pitchers Derek Cone, Carlos De Aza, Kazuki Nishijima, Carlos Frias and Jason West; infielders Tae-Hyeok Nam, Justin Boudreaux and Kevin Thompson and outfielder Devin Shines.
For many of them, this is a crucial season, a potential make-or-break period in their careers. Have success, and they may find themselves one step closer to the majors. Fail, and they might come dangerously close to having used up all the chances the organization is going to give them.
"They've had opportunities to go up," said Raptors manager Damon Berryhill. "Be it number of players, draft status, whatever that got them back down here, they have to come back here and realize, 'I've still go to compete, and I've still go to work hard and get better.'
"It's one of those things where you can get complacent coming back to Ogden. If you have that attitude, you're going to struggle. Things aren't going to go well."
Epitomizing the importance of maintaining the right mindset is Boudreaux, a shortstop who hit .265/.400/.442 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) in 32 games last year with the Raptors, but struggled this season in Class-A Great Lakes. The shortstop acknowledged that, like everyone else in his situation, he'd rather be playing at a more advanced level of the minors, but said that's no reason to be dispirited.
"I wouldn't call it disappointment," Boudreaux said of coming back to Ogden. "I'm just out here to work. If I climb the ladder, I climb the ladder, but I'm here to play hard, win games and win a championship."
Cone, a right-hander who will get the nod on the mound in Monday's season opener, has spent parts of the last two seasons with the Raptors and said it's not just the fans, mountain setting or ballpark that makes playing in Ogden a desirable assignment, even for guys who'd rather be further along in the organization.
"In addition to the fans, you've got great host families set up," Cone said. "Me being married, it works out great to be here. Obviously from a baseball standpoint, I'd like to be moving up, but for rookie ball this is a great place to be."
While the ultimate prize for each player spending another season in Ogden is to earn a promotion, as long as they're here, there's one thing they'd like to accomplish.
"The only real goal I have here is to get a championship," Drowne said. "The team these past two years has been in the championship and lost, so I'm just trying to get a ring this year."