On the Road: “Pre”lude to a Ballgame in Eugene

My current Pacific Northwest swing began in the city of Eugene, a college town with no shortage of cultural activities, natural beauty and eccentric characters. It’s the sort of place that almost immediately makes me think to myself that ‘Hey, I could be happy here.”

Instead of spending all of my time obsessing about the minutiae of Minor League Baseball, I could occupy myself in so many other ways. For instance, I could join Bagman in his noble (if not inherently self-hating) quest to rid the Earth of the scourge of plastic bags.

Or spend time in deep thought, listening to Father Yod on the headphones while interpreting the meaning behind psychedelic murals.

Or I could just say celiac disease be damned, and gorge on some of the most decadent donut creations known to man.

Froot Loops and Bacon

I’ll have more on all of the above Eugene attractions in a future post, as well as all sorts of stuff not even included in the above. But the whole point of this long and winding intro is not to prevaricate, it’s just to say that Eugene is great and, therefore, I was in a good mood when game time rolled around on Saturday evening. For on top of everything else, Eugene is a Minor League Baseball town. That’s the whole reason that I was there — to see Minor League Baseball! What a complete and total deviation from the norm.

The team in question is the Northwest League Emeralds, the Class A Short-Season affiliate of your (or someone’s) San Diego Padres. The Ems, as they are colloquially referred to, have undergone some major changes in over the past three years. In 2010, they moved from their longtime home of Civic Stadium (a now-crumbling edifice located in Eugene’s south side, more on that in aforementioned future post) in order to play in the shadow of this hulking behemoth:

That’s Autzen Stadium, which hosts University of Oregon football. The University’s sports teams are known as the “Ducks,” and as such you end up with signs such as this.

But where is the fan’s “bill” of rights?

The University added a baseball program in 2010, and a crucial component of this athletic initiative was the construction of a new stadium to accommodate these webbed denizens of the diamond: PK Park. This facility is also used by the Ems, who are in year three of a $2 million, 20-year lease agreement. (This agreement stipulates that the Ems receive access to the facility on June 1, although that didn’t quite happen this season.)

PK Park is located more or less next door to Autzen — the Medlar Field to its Beaver Stadium, if you will. (That analogy is 100% apt, as Eugene is indeed a very comparable situation to that which exists in State College.) And, even though I had hours in which to take a decent photograph, this is somehow the best exterior shot that I was able to take of the facility. (I have failed you, as I am wont to do. I won’t do it again, until I do):

The box office is located to the right of where this shot was taken. This area doubles as the Emeralds’ team offices as well.

And inside those offices, this was the sight that greeted visitors. If you’ve ever wanted to see what 1000 bobbleheads look like when they’re stacked in boxes on a ping-pong table (Lord knows that I have), then you’ve come to the right place.

Consider the above photo a “pre”view of what’s to come. And in addition to towering stacks of cardboard boxes, in the team offices one could find plenty of memorabilia related to past promotions as well.

But as for those mysterious boxes of bobbleheads — people were lined up outside of the park hours in advance of the gates opening, just so that they could procure that which was contained therein. I’m sure their enthusiasm contributed to a strong ticket “pre”sale.

See that dude in the middle of the line? He’s shirtless, and lying on his back directly on the asphalt. Like, “Well, if I’m gonna be waiting for this bobblehead than I may as well get some rays.” But I had no time for such lounging, instead opting for a short stadium tour with Ems GM Allan Benavides. The first picture I snapped on said tour was of one my favorite ballpark areas: the mascot changing room.

We then wandered into the Ems locker room, immediately after one of the worst attempts at “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” that the world has ever seen.

The training room was plastered with pictures of heartthrob reliever Matthew Chabot.

I later asked Chabot why his photo was so prevalent, and he explained that it was a “joke gone sour.” The gist of it was that he had jokingly (?) told an Ems employee that he had the prettiest face on the ballclub. In response these photocopied head shots were taped all over the stadium (including in some unlikely places), so that his teammates had as many opportunities as possible in which to appreciate his prettiness. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

I spoke with Chabot (now chagrined) on the field, as part of an informal “pre”-game chat. The scene:

From the field, I proceeded upward in order to procure photographs from various stadium elevations.

The line out front continued to grow.

Not everyone was on the outside looking in, as several hundred fans were inside PK Park as part of a group picnic for local healthcare employees.

I went downstairs for a closer look at the festivities, passing lounging players along the way.

I also perchanced to notice that the 1000 bobbleheads had migrated from their ping-pong table environs. In keeping with the sense of mystery that I have inexplicably tried to cultivate regarding these bobbleheads, please ignore what’s written on the boxes.

At the picnic area, the six players recruited to sign autographs for the assembled guests weren’t getting much attention.

12 o’clock, guys!

Sluggo (who, I learned, got his name because there are a ton of slugs in Eugene), will help you carry your beer.

Separated by a balloon

These sort of signs are common at ballparks nationwide, but I appreciated the creativity of “first base” being one of the destinations. You know, I’ve found myself in a lot of life situations where first base wasn’t nearly that close at hand.

We’re nearly 1100 words into this thing, and the gates haven’t even opened yet (yes, I am aware that I am consistently writing the lowest-stakes narratives to be found on the internet). You know what that means, right?

Right?

It means that this one is going to be a two-parter. Stay tuned for much more from Eugene (and then Salem, and then Yakima, and then Tacoma, and then Everett, and then Vancouver). I’m going to be writing about the 2012 Minor League season for the rest of my life, in other words. Could someone please fetch me a Pulitzer?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

7 Comments

I can’t wait for you to reveal the answer to who (or what?!) the bobblehead is!

Who really does know?

I particularly enjoyed the following: “I’ve found myself in a lot of life situations where first base wasn’t nearly that close at hand.” I feel your pain

You’ve really spun a “gem” with this one, Ben.

Pingback: On the Road: A “Pre”requisite Post in Eugene « Ben's Biz Blog

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Pingback: Return to the Road: A Beautiful Saturday Afternoon in Eugene « Ben's Biz Blog

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