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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.