Results tagged ‘ Northwest League ’
The first installment of our riveting two-part Eugene adventure ended just before the gates opened for Saturday’s game. Fans were lined up outside, in order to receive one of the bobbleheads contained within this intimidating stack of boxes:
But who was the evening’s honoree? What, exactly, was in the box? A significant clue soon appeared in the form of this distinguished guest, seen here posing with a local on-air personality who was in the employ of the evening’s media sponsor.
That’s Neta Prefontaine, older sister of track and field luminary Steve Prefontaine (a highly-influential and record-setting University of Oregon superstar who died in a car accident in 1975 at the age of 24). As you can see, Neta was decked out in a shirt and hat honoring her brother. And, of course, it was Steve Prefontaine who was the evening’s bobblehead honoree.
But the “pre”scient among us could have already “pre”dicted this.
Here’s another pic (provided by the team) which offers a better sense of scale as well as a view of PK Park’s artificial playing surface.
As part of the evening’s festivities, the scoreboard featured the following display throughout the game (“Stop” were the opposing Salem-Keizer Volcanoues and “Pre” were the Emeralds).
The scoreboard graphic is a nod to the famous “Stop Pre” t-shirts, which were made in response to the legions of fans who yelled “Go Pre” at every race (and often wore “Go Pre” t-shirts). It’s all a little confusing, as the “Stop Pre” shirts were worn by fans of other runners but, also, by irony-adept Prefontaine fans (as well s Prefontaine himself).
The on-field MC (whose name, I want to say, was Alex) was certainly in the Prefontaine spirit.
Neta Prefontaine, a most exuberant woman, threw out the first pitch. (The successful delivery thereof was a cause for celebration.)
Sluggo’s embrace came just after he had made his first on-field appearance, following an intro video that had something to do with his contentious relationship with a tree (really).
Another notable on-field character was the 11-year-old son of Ems manager Pat Murphy — I am having trouble finding his name anywhere in my notes, but as you can see he is quite at ease amidst the professional baseball environment. This kid (who at the time this picture was taken was talking about how he’d one day have his own San Diego Padres bobblehead, in which he’d be “pimping” a home run) has style to spare.
Too much style, perhaps. For shortly after this picture was taken his father (a legendary head coach at ASU before entering the pro ranks) declared that the flamboyant bright green shoes seen above had earned him a “Johnny Junior College” fine. This is the Ems version of kangaroo court, in which those who have earned the manager’s ire must differentiate themselves on field during the National Anthem by standing ahead of the rest of the team.
And, wow — it took me 1500+ words over the span of two posts, but we’ve finally made it to the ballgame’s first pitch! Things slowed down from here on out, as evidenced by the fact that I missed the first inning and a half in order to drive back to the hotel for my “back-up” camera (the original was running low on batteries). When I returned I was pleased to find that a robust crowd had settled in, and that the Minor League antics we’ve come to know and love were in full swing.
The view from the press box was even better.
I’m running the poorly-composed photo seen below only because I want to make a quick note of the gentleman on the right. That’s official scorer George McPherson, who played for the Emeralds from 1974-77 (the team won the Northwest League championship in each of those first two years). If I’d been in Eugene for longer, I surely would have made McPherson the focus of a story. Very few people could be provide that sort of first-hand knowledge, regarding the immense changes that the franchise has gone through over the past four decades.
Another interesting press box denizen is a new addition this season: Jonathan Bilenki, organist.
Bilenki plays a Roland organ from the mid-90s, which is in wedged sideways at the far end of the press box. He plays throughout the top (visitors) half of each inning, and ends his evening at the seventh-inning stretch. Bilenki, a Eugene-based music teacher, explained to me that the music that he plays falls into four categories: clapping prompts, short riffs, long riffs, and songs. He was hired by general manager Allan Benavides prior to the season, and while it was a bit awkward at first due to the difficulty of coordinating PA announcements, pre-recorded bits and the organ music, on the evening I was there it was a smoothly-functioning operation.
I am of the belief that more teams should do this — the organ helps create an old-time ballpark ambiance , serving as a nice counterbalance to the barrage of sound effects and pop music hits that are now such a huge part of the Minor League experience.
Alright, you knew it had to happen eventually: dinner time! At the suggestion of Benavides, I decided to visit a stand run by Hole in the Wall BBQ, which has locations in Eugene and Seattle. Here’s a horrible photograph I took of the stand earlier in the evening.
While sandwiches are off-limits for me due to (all together now) celiac disease, a nice sampler platter was arranged featuring pulled pork, brisket, cole slaw and potato salad. I can’t say for sure that this was all gluten-free, but let’s hope so. I must admit to a bit of laziness as of late on that front, as bun-avoidance has constituted the bulk of my ballpark eating strategy.
But anyway, here are the eats!
Getting set to dig in and, for whatever reason, looking more feminine than usual while doing it.
This was a fine plate of food, but not transcendent. The pulled pork was tender and altogether wonderful, but the brisket was a little tough and, overall, everything was a bit on the bland side. I wanted more bite, more spice, more tang. Benavides, a California native who has never been
west east of Cleveland, told me that the Ems made a great Philly-style cheesesteak. I was all for documenting such an item, and swiftly appointed him the evening’s designated eater (meaning he who eats the foods that I, stricken with celiac disease, cannot).
The cheesesteak, which looks pretty good for a Philly-emulating product in the Pacific Northwest:
The general manager chowing down, as cartoon t-shirt Prefontaine looks on (those shirts, which featured the word “Eugene” in Ems font below Pre’s face, were worn by the staff and got a great fan response. Perhaps another batch will be produced?)
Okay, enough with the food. Let’s move on to the next order of business.
The following photo is the worst one in the post thus far, and Lord knows that’s saying something.
That was Salem-Keizer’s Stephen Yarrow, just after striking out. He was the ballgame’s “beer batter,” and as a result of his strikeout 14 ounce beers would be $3 for the next 15 minutes. A stampede ensued, and soon this was the scene at the beer stands.
Say what you will about Eugenians, but they sure love their discounted beer!
Eugenites (I’m pretty sure this is the name of a book in the Old Testament) are also engaged and knowledgeable baseball fans. There was a pulsating energy at the ballpark all evening, and a palpable sense that those in the stands actually cared about the game’s events (this is not always a given in Minor League Baseball, as many of you know).
Engaged partisan alert!
These fans saw a home team victory, which was followed by little “closest to the pin” launch-a-ball action.
And, with that, a long day in Eugene finally came to a close. It’s time to go home, guys. It’s time to go home.
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.
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.
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.
Sluggo (who, I learned, got his name because there are a ton of slugs in Eugene), will help you carry your beer.
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?
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?