Tag Archives: oregon ballparks

Hillsboro Hops Ballpark/Ron Tonkin Field, Hillsboro, Oregon

Hillsboro Hops Ballpark/Ron Tonkin Field, Hillsboro, OREGON

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Number of states: still 31
States to go:  still 19

Number of games: 18
First game: June 17, 2013 (Hillsboro Hops 12, Eugene Emeralds 0)
Most recent game:  September 4, 2015 (Hillsboro Hops 2, Eugene Emeralds 0)

I went three years without baseball anywhere close to where I live.  Three.  Long.  Years.  When the AAA Portland Beavers bolted town in order to allow the charming, perfectly-serviceable PGE Park to be made into a soccer-only facility and

rechristened Jeld-Wen Field, the closest professional baseball to my Vancouver, Washington home was the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, who play in lamentable, ugly surroundings and are an hour drive without traffic (which isn’t often).  But I knew the Portland market would not stay empty—it was the largest market in the US without professional baseball, and someone had to figure out a way to make a stadium to make some money out of that vacuum.

For a short while, it looked like that would be Vancouver, as the Yakima Bears Northwest League team looked for an upgrade from Yakima County Stadium.  A good plan for a gorgeous stadium within walking distance of my house came into being.  The Bears would pay a good chunk of the

money, but wanted taxpayers to foot some of the bill—and (in what I liked most) the county would own the stadium, with the minor league team leasing the ballpark for their 38 days a year.  I walked the site of the potential ballpark with my wife, and we anticipated being regulars there.  Alas, the never-tax-me-for-any-reason-whatever crowd won the day.  Hillsboro, Oregon, a suburb west of Portland, pounced, and as a result they became my “home” minor league team, about a half hour drive away (in good traffic).

The result is Hillsboro Hops Stadium, and I like most of what they’ve done with the place.  The ballpark is the center of a high school sports complex, right next door to the football

 stadium.  The designers did a fabulous job of integrating the colors and designs of the football stadium right into the baseball stadium.  The bleachers for the football stadium actually form a canopy above the pavilion down the left field line: a welcome feature in the event Oregon gets a little rain.  The concession stands for the football stadium double as concession stands for the baseball stadium.  It was a smart little maneuver, and it leads to a nice, integrated experience.  The field is surrounded by active softball fields–if a spectator goes up to the concourse and cranes a neck in nearly any direction, he or she can watch a coed slow-pitch game in progress.  Then, to get back to the car (quite a hike, by the way), one walks past several softball games into the night.  I like that.

Alas, there are negatives with any positives, and the artificial turf on the field are the negative.  Since the ballpark will be used by high

 schools during the 327 days a year the Hops are not around, they wanted a resilient surface, and the ground-up tires therefore made a lot of sense.  While I’d have made the same decision myself, what is gained in utility is lost in attractiveness.  With the exception of the  pitcher’s mound and the area around home plate, the infield “dirt” is simply the same rubber turf as the outfield, only painted reddish-tan.  It’s a bit off-putting, and I wish there were another way.

Opening night was a nice, cathartic experience for me.  I was pleased to see that the Hops understood the importance of the night to those of us who would care to show up for it.  They had several nice touches:  a display honoring the Portland Beavers, for instance (including lineup cards for their final game: a rare case where I saw a display for a game that I was actually present for).  Local kid baseball players had dug up home plate at

 PGE Park after the final game, and they returned with the same home plate at Hillsboro, actually running it around the bases to put it into the ground and be used in Hops Stadium.  The team hired Rich Burk, the very able radio announcer for the Beavers, for the same job with the Hops, and he donned a tux to do all the pregame duties.

Once the game got going, it appeared that the Hops could have used a little more rehearsal.  The scoreboard had a few problems:  for starters, they could have figured out how to do better than the

 generic “Hops” and “Guest” on the scoreboard.  Also, at least twice as the Hops crushed the Emeralds 12-0, the scoreboard operator put up an incorrect number of runs in a half inning.  The only way he/she could fix it was to reset the entire linescore and put in all the numbers yet again, even running through the outs.  It was rather funny to watch.  Also, the PA system was far too loud.  (To be fair, many of these were fixed by the time I attended the team’s third home game two nights later.)

But I still am glad this is my home park because there’s a lot right with it.  The game can be seen from nearly anywhere on the concourse.  The history of Portland baseball is very much on display and

valued.  There is an honoring of veterans from all branches of the service at every game (who cares if they called it “a Hillsboro Stadium tradition” at the very first game…if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not a tradition, right?).  And, as if to reward all of us for our patience in waiting for a baseball team to return, the inaugural game featured a full double-rainbow past the left field foul pole and a fantastic sunset past first base.

It’s possible my perspectives on my home ballpark will change over the course of the chunk of games I’ll attend per year for the forseeable future, but my first impression is that the team mostly got it right.  They’re local, unashamed of being in the low level minors, and unashamed of being small.  That’s enough for me to overlook the negatives of the ballpark and look forward to quite a few games here over the years.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  7/10

The celebration of Oregon baseball makes a big impact here–looking back at the Beavers and tying it all together with past teams.  Plus lucking into a rainbow on opening night spoke to me.

Charm: 2.5/10

I like the nestling next to the high school stadium, being surrounded by local softball leagues, and there’s plenty to like here architecturally.  But oh, oh, oh…that turf.

Spectacle:  4.5/5

Lots going on between innings, but no interference with the game.  Marvelous.  Even if, on the very first day the park opened, they mentioned a “Hillsboro Hops Stadium Tradition.”  I only wish they’d said “We started this tradition at the beginning of this sentence, and have done it ever since.”

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

Barley the Hop is the mascot.  I like the idea of a kid high-fiving the main component in beer.  The name “Hops” may have been a little bit of a slap in the face to the team’s predecessors in Yakima, where they grow a lot more hops than near Hillsboro, but what the hell.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5

Would be 5 without the turf, but hey.

Pavilion area:  4/5

Quite nice.  Tough to watch the game from the outfield, however. (But possible to watch nearby softball games if you get bored with the Hops.)

Scoreability:  1/5

This may improve eventually, but the first two games I attended were really weak in this area.  The scoreboard operator would make really basic errors (like the number of outs in an inning), and I could see the umpire demonstratively displaying outs to counteract the incorrect scoreboard.  In fact, we in the stands started signalling outs to each other as if we were players on the field.  (“Two down, everybody!  Two down!  Play is at first!”)

Fans:  5/5

All that pent-up baseball love came out nicely.  I was glad to be a part of it.

Intangibles:  4/5

Pleased for this to be my home ballpark.

TOTAL:  35.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The debut game was a blowout for the Hops.  Jordan Parr hit the first home run in ballpark history while young Jose Martinez led four pitchers to a three-hit shutout.

I “see” my first inside-the-park-home-run ever here in July of 2013.  I say “see” because I lost the ball in the sun.  When I heard no response around me, I assumed a foul ball, and was then confused to look up from my nachos and see the runner crossing home plate.  It turns out the the Hops’ left fielder, Yogey Perez-Ramos, also lost the ball in the sun. It landed about 50 feet behind him near the left-field foul pole.  By the time center fielder Brian Billigen got to it, Everett’s Jack Reinheimer was crossing home plate.  Not a lot of excitement in the ballpark: mostly confusion (I had to check the news accounts to figure out exactly how that happened and how I missed it).

Both the 2014 and 2015 Hops won the Northwest League, and I had the pleasure of watching the clincher of the South Division series over Boise in 2014. I liked how businesslike the team was about it–they weren’t done. An already-scheduled trip took me away for the Northwest League Championship series that same week, but it was still a pleasure to watch.

Written July 2013. Updated April 2016.

PK Park, Eugene, Oregon

PK Park, Eugene, OREGON

Number of states:  still 31
States to go:  still 19

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 4, 2012 (Eugene Emeralds 9, Everett AquaSox 1)

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I can’t believe that 2012 was the 10th time that Michelle and I hit the road to do a July 4th Minor League Road Trip.  It’s getting a little harder to find a team within striking distance (since I eschew going to the same stadium twice…at least for now…), but since the Emeralds moved from Civic Stadium to their new digs in 2010, a

trip to PK Park was an easy decision in 2012.  We packed up two kids and headed down I-5 for some baseball and fireworks.

I had such mixed feelings about Civic Stadium, and those mixed feelings re-emerged about the new ballpark.  I really enjoyed the rustic feel of the old place, but didn’t enjoy the cramped feel or the sense that I could burn to death at any moment.  A new ballpark was absolutely essential, and yet I was worried that a new ballpark would be so similar to other places that I would no longer feel like I was in a special place.  Additionally, I had some concerns about the Emeralds sharing a facility with the Oregon Ducks.  PK Park was built primarily on the emotion of envy.  When Oregon State won a couple of College

World Series, the Ducks, who had played baseball as a club sport for years, suddenly wondered “why not us?” and built a state-of-the-art facility to attract talent to try to duplicate the Beavers’ success.  (As of 2012, that success looked like it was on the edge of coming: the ’12 Ducks were within one win of making it to Omaha.)  In fact, according to the Ducks’ athletic department web site, PK Park is named for former duck AD Pat Kilkenny.  This fact surprised Michelle and me, who would have bet a C-note on the PK standing for Phil Knight.  He’s built everything else related to Duck athletics…why not this?

In any event, I was concerned that PK Park would have the same shortcomings for Northwest League ball as some spring training ballparks (such as this one) have for

Florida State League ball.  In other words, I don’t like the minor league team to look like they’re just there at the whim of the REAL home team.  But the Emeralds (and, I think, the Ducks) did well to nearly scrub the place clean of any Duck identification.  There were some that could not be avoided:  the looming presence of Autzen Stadium next door, for instance, or the green-and-gold decor, or the Pac 12 decals on the walls behind home plate.  But this felt like the Emeralds’ home rather than a sublet.  The Emeralds’ Hall of Fame was quite well-done: huge banners honoring great Emeralds of the past.  It didn’t matter whether the players went on to greatness with other teams (Ryan Freese, Mike Sweeney) or if they were just MVP for a Northwest League season, never to be really heard from again.  Everyone got a huge banner, and I liked that.  I am pretty sure that those banners are replaced by Duck banners during the NCAA season, which is fine.

Perhaps most telling were two busts of ballplayers I spied…BEHIND a table where an Emeralds worker played the spin-the-wheel-and-get-a-prize game.  I asked her if I could go back there to see the sculptures, and I did…where I found two Ducks.  Net result: they were actively trying to prevent spectators

from seeing Duck history.

Not that the crowd cared much.  This July 4 crowd was there to party.  One of the biggest cheers of the night was when it was announced that the beer sales would be extended through the ninth inning (I would imagine because they figured everyone could sober up during the fireworks show).  And I had this bizarre exchange with a random fan when I was walking 3-year-old Steven around to look at the Emeralds Hall of Fame banners (the kid LOVES that shit).   We had just looked up at the banner commemorating Cory Luebke’s stellar 2007 season for the Emeralds when a fan with a beer talked to me.

FAN:  Is that the beer batter?
ME:  Huh?
FAN:  That guy up there.  Is that the beer batter?
ME:  No.  Not the beer batter.  A guy in the Emeralds Hall of Fame.

The more I think about that exchange, the stranger it is.  He had to overlook the “Emeralds Hall of Fame” label on the banner, the fact that the guy was wearing an Emeralds jersey, the “2007” label, and the fact that the dude was PITCHING in

the photo.  But even if you overlook all of that, his assumption that they’d make a 10-foot long banner for the Beer Batter (the dude on the opposition who reduces beer prices to $3 for 15 minutes if the Emeralds manage to strike him out) is comical, because they’d have to make a giant banner for every single game.  Seems like a breathtaking waste of resources.  I think that this fan is a little like my students who draw nothing but marijuana leaves on every piece of paper they see.  He just had beer on his mind so much that everything he sees became beer.

But I still feel that this was a good crowd.  I can forgive some non-baseball attention on July 4th Fireworks Night.  And I also was surrounded by some pretty awesome people playing with both of my children.  16-month-old Aaron looked over my shoulder and flirted with the entire row behind me at some point, doing high fives and “ET Phone Home” index finger touches with anyone who wanted to all night long, as well as playing “I’ll drop something, say ‘uh-oh!’ and smile at you until

you pick it up” until I put the kibosh on that.

The approximately 6- and 7-year-0ld kids on my left to a liking to Steven and played with him all night long.  They were blown away that Steven could read the scoreboard.  Listening to their conversations were hilarious.  The kids would read a baseball card to Steven, and Steven would tell them what team he played for, and even correct their pronunciation.  Then, one kid said that he had been to Safeco Field for a game: a pretty good feat, actually, since Eugene is about 5 or 6 hours down the road from Seattle.  I was ready for Steven to talk about the games he’d seen at Safeco, but instead, he said “I…have…been………to Idaho.”

I couldn’t stop laughing.  Where the hell did that come from?  Michelle suggested that Steven said

this because he’s been to so many ballgames that they’re not as special to him as Idaho.

The kids were impressed enough with Steven that they offered me a straight-up trade of him for their little sister.  “She’s four and she can’t even read yet!”  I declined.

In the category of “strangest conversation

with an on-deck batter,” I nominate my son and the Emeralds’ Ronnie Richardson.  This game was in the midst of a huge beard obsession for my son.  When his two obsessions–baseball and facial hair–meet, things get pretty intense.  He’d look at on-deck batters and we’d say “Steven, what do you want to say to him?” and he’d cheer (not loud enough to be heard four feet away) “Go, River!” or “Get a hit, Jason!”  But for Richardson, Steven said he wanted to say “I like your beard!”  So, when Ronnie turned to face us–just on the other side of the netting–I said to him the following:   “Mr. Richardson, my son says he likes your beard.  And he’d know…he LOVES beards.”  Ronnie was kind enough to reply with what I believe to be the only possible reply:  a bewildered smile.  I hopethat both he and his beard go far.

As for the Emeralds’ atmosphere, it was fine. 

The on-field stuff was appropriate for single-A ball…stuff between  innings that’s pretty fun and funny.  The ballpark itself was a little antiseptic and reminiscent of every other new small ballpark out there, and it’s a little hard to tell that you’re in Oregon outside of all of the Duck-related color and sights out there.  This makes the ballpark a little difficult to score on the “is there any question where in the United States you are” contest.  On the one hand, there’s nothing in the land that says “Western Oregon” like there was at Civic Stadium.  But Autzen Stadium and the green-and-gold attached to the Ducks’ soccer facility beyond right field does indicate Eugene, which is difficult to extricate from its university as any university town is.  But then, as I said before, I don’t want to feel like I’m at an NCAA event.  I want to feel like I’m at a Northwest League game.  Confusing!

But still fun.  My family and I had a great time hanging out into the night.  It was worth the 1:30 AM arrival home.  We’d never been out with both kids sleeping in the back seat as we drove late into the night before.  I liked that feeling.

We will almost certainly be back.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  6.5/10.

The antiseptic corporate feel of the place didn’t say “Oregon” to me, but there’s no doubt the place is in Eugene due to the U or O everywhere.  However, as I say above, that’s a mixed blessing, one which the ballpark dodges with some success with its focus on Emeralds’ history.

Charm:  3/5

Turf is not charming, but “Fowl Territory” is nice.

Spectacle:  4/5

Pretty good overall.  This is the second time Michelle and I have been underwhelmed by an Emeralds’ fireworks show, however.  It might be time for them to seek out a new vendor.

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

Not sure what Sluggo (right) is.  The giant tree on the left is pretty nice for liberal Oregon and inflates the score, Stanford Tree be damned.

Aesthetics:  4/5

Lovely new ballpark.  Again, however:  Turf.

Pavilion area:  3.5 /5

Works fine–a few things to look at.  Still, I’d like to be able to walk around the ballpark, and there were many, many stairs–way more than I’d like–to get anywhere distant.

Scoreability:  5/5

PK Park did an excellent job here.  I managed to score the game very nicely even while wrangling two boys, and that’s in good part due to the efforts of the crew there.

Fans:  4.5/5

A tad rowdy, but most were very good to my children and having a good time.

Intangibles:  4.5/5

Had a good night there–one my kids will remember for a while.  Us too–both kids fell asleep during fireworks while my wife and I held hands.  Can’t argue with that.

TOTAL:  39/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Justin Hancock,the starting pitcher for Eugene, was the player I was most impressed with tonight. He threw 5 innings of 1-hit ball, striking out 7.

Jeremy Baltz carries the biggest stick of the night, driving in three runs, two with a double.

Ronnie Richardson and his nice beard score on a big hit in the eighth:  Richardson doubles, then scores on a throwing error by the AquaSox’s Chris Taylor on the relay throw.

Written July 2012.

Keizer Stadium/Volcanoes Stadium, Keizer, Oregon

salemkeizernight

Keizer Stadium, Keizer, OREGON

Number of states: still 8
States to go:  42
Number of games: 8
First game:  September 5, 2004 (Everett AquaSox 15, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 5)
Most recent game:  August 21, 2011 (Boise Hawks 9, Salem-Keizer  Volcanoes 2)

I sure hope that my in-laws aren’t offended by the score of this ballpark.  I made it down to Salem-Keizer for the last game of the 2004 Northwest League season, on my first visit to Michelle The Fiancee’s parents since Michelle had changed to that title from Michelle The Girlfriend.  They gamely agreed to blitz down to Salem from their home south of Portland to see my final Northwest League stadium.  We hoped it would be a critical game, with Everett needing a win to force a tie salemkeizersignin the Northwest League’s Western Division.  Alas, it didn’t turn out that way–Vancouver clinched the division with a win earlier that day.  Still, this was a good chance to chill with the in-laws-to-be.  While the company was good, the ballpark was charmless and left a lot to be desired.

Location, location, location!  Keizer Stadium ain’t got it.  For starters, Keizer is a small suburb of almost-as-small Salem; it’s about as far north of Salem as you can get and still be connected.  Indeed, it’s far out enough that there’s nothing north of it except cows, at least as far as I can see.  There’s nothing south of it but, you know, boring suburban stuff.  Were it not for Oregon’s mountains in the distance (which were, on this September Sunday at least, almost entirely obscured by smog and haze), I wouldn’t have the remotest clue where in the United States I am while in Keizer Stadium.

This leads me to the main issue I have with Keizer Stadium:  I-5 is only a good cutoff throw from the right-field fence.  This salemkeizertrainmeans that interstate traffic is close enough that I can hear it throughout the game; close enough that I can smell the exhaust.  Just past the interstate is a train track, over which several freight trains traveled during the game.  This could have been enjoyable–to quote Paul Simon, “everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance”–but I couldn’t hear the train over the damn traffic noise. All of this eliminates any hope that Keizer Stadium has for real atmosphere.  It has all the atmosphere of a Denny’s parking lot just off the exit ramp.

I was especially disturbed by the playground down the right field line.  It just doesn’t feel right to have kids playing so close to semis blitzing by on their way to Portland and Seattle.  Maybesalemkeizerplayground it’s just the teacher’s instinct in me, but there was something freaky–and sort of unfun–about the atmosphere on that playground.

Even with the disadvantage of the location, I don’t feel that the Volcanoes’ people did much to make the best of it.  For starters, lineups weren’t posted anywhere on the concourse.  There were some nice places to walk–I like the picnic tables down the left-field line and the grassy area beyond the left-field fence.  But it’s strange–when I asked the ushers where I could find lineups listed, they looked at me like it was the most bizarre request they’d ever received.  Seems to me that someone would have asked before me.

Keizer Stadium featured one lovely flower arrangement made to look like a baseball.  However, it was putsalemkeizernumber in a place where nobody could really see it except the right fielder..it’s just the other side of the fence from third base.  Those seated down the first-base line wouldn’t have an angle to see that it’s a baseball, and everyone else wouldn’t see it at all.

And while we’re at it, the numbers on the back of the Volcanoes’ jerseys are very nearly unreadable. Does anybody want to hazard a guess as to what this man’s jersey number is? 28, 23, 29?

I did ask Michelle The Fiancee’s Dad what his coming to bat song would be.  He said, not surprisingly, the Marine Corps Hymn.  Not a bad choice.  Mine?  “Superball” by salemkeizerhostfamiliesAimee Mann, though I’m willing to consider other options.

There was a sweet pre-game ceremony where the Volcanoes players walked out to give a gift to and thank their host families.  It reminded me of senior night for high school sports teams, where players walk out and give their moms and dads bouquets.  It can’t be easy to be on your own in a minor-league town far away from home when you’re 18 or 19 years old.

Here’s another question tsalemkeizerfromlfhat came up during the endless game.  As you can probably guess, I never leave games early…and in this game, I was rewarded.  The Volcanoes came roaring back from a 15-4 ninth-inning deficit only to fall short 15-5.  But the fifth run meant a free burger (or something…it was so late at night that we headed home, and I never got it).  To the patient go the rewards.  My bride-to-be and her parents were having a very good time, so I didn’t feel like I was detaining them, but I’d like to announce publicly that I would have left this one early if they’d needed to.

So, in spite of the fact that I didn’t like the ballpark much and don’t plan on returning, a fun time was had just chilling with the fiancee and her parents.  I accomplished what I wanted to–I made it to all 8 Northwest League ballparks.  It had been a fun 2004–13 ballparks in 8 states (14 in 9 if you count the rainout).  Count on at least a couple more of these in 2005.  And in the process, I hope to see a few more scenes like this one, which features the Volcanoes’ John Odom.

salemkeizerodom

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10
Very little going for the ballpark here.  There’s a view of Oregon’s mountains beyond right field (mostly obscured by haze), and trains running by past the interstate, but for the most part, this could have been any distant suburb off of any interstate in America.

Charm: 1.5 /5
Very little.  There’s a reason I don’t have a house by the interstate–noise, dirt, and atmosphere–and for the same reasons, I don’t want my ballparks close enough to hear I-5 tractor-trailers.

Spectacle: 3/5
Fine.  Not great for short-season A ball.

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5
salemkeizermascot
Crater and I squint into the sun…see how his pupils are almost nonexistent?  Yeah, it’s a dinosaur…which has been done (Dinger in Colorado), but I’ll tolerate it for a team called the Volcanoes.  One goofy-looking guy,  Crater is.

Aesthetics:  1/5
Not a pretty place, either on the exterior or interior.

Pavilion area: 2/5
Not much going on…a little playground in the shadow of the interstate, a lot of cement with nothing too fun going on, and most importantly, no lineups. That’s inexcusable.

Scoreability:  2.5/5
Although there were no lineups available, the Salem-Keizer folk did a decent job staying updated on the scoreboard, although they did misspell Brian Schweiger’s name (“Scheiger”).

Fans:  4/5
A little quiet, but I was impressed by the crowd for the last game of the year.  I was even more impressed by the July 4 crowd a few years later.

Intangibles: 1/5
It might have been the suburban location, the damn interstate, or a terrible game, but this place did absolutely nothing for me.

TOTAL:  23.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A bloody-awful game, featuring 29 hits and 20 runs.  Everett’s attack featured round-trippers by Oswaldo Navarro (to lead off the game), Mike Wilson, Brandon Green, and Elvis Cruz.  After the latter’s homer, Salem-Keizer’s PA announcer announced “Elvis has left the building.”  I bet Cruz has NEVER heard that one before…although I confess I said it before the PA guy did.

Simon Klink homered for the Volcanoes.

Patrick Rose homers for Tri-City in 2008.

Craig Westcott pitches seven scoreless innings to lead Salem-Keizer to a 7-0 win over Tri-City in Game 3 of the 2009 Northwest League Championship Series.  Evan Crawford goes 3-for-3 with two doubles for the Volcanoes, who wind up finishing off the best-of-5 series the next night.

PGE Park, Portland, Oregon

PGE Park, Portland, OREGON

Number of states: still 5
States to go: 45
Number of games: 40
First game: July 4, 2004 (Portland Beavers 3, Edmonton Trappers 1)
Last game: September 3, 2010 (Las Vegas 51s 9, Portland Beavers 2)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

Portland was the third stop on what I hope will become an annual event–the Paul and Michelle July 4th weekend trip to minor league ballparks.  It’s possible we won’t be able to afford to go to new stadiums every year, as by the end of this year, I’ll have all of the Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia stadiums crossed off my list.  But who can come up with a better July 4th tradition than baseball…minor league baseball?  It’s American, kids and adults

love it, and you get to see a fireworks show safer than what your crazy Uncle John puts together with marginally-legal explosives he spirits in over the state line.  If you do the weekend right and are willing to drive a little, you can get two fireworks shows (Eugene’s was after their July 3rd game, Portland’s on the 4th).  Plus, the minor league baseball atmosphere is better–bigger, louder, more looking-for-a-good time crowds.  So even if we just dip down to Tacoma or Everett every year, I’m thinking this will become a tradition.  And it’s a good one.

And we could certainly do worse than to visit Portland again.  I was extremely impressed with the setting of the ballpark.  Field level is significantly below street level, so from throughout the stadium, when any fan looks out past left field, it’s easy to see city life go by.  Portland’s light-rail MAX train goes past the fence out there, and better still, people who want to watch the game for free can do so easily by walking up to the fence between the sidewalk and the left-field pavilion.  It’s not that bad a view, actually, as these pictures should show.

The MA

X trains and the Beaver mascot are only a tiny part of what gives this fine ballpark local color.  A good chunk of that local color is supplied by Timber Jim, the de facto human mascot for the Beavers and A-League soccer’s Portland Timbers.  Timber Jim is a bona-fide lumberjack.  If you don’t believe me, just check out how he clambers up the giant log/pole beyond the right-center field wall and watches several innings of the game from there.  Also, check out how he repels down from a beam to dangle in front of fans and lead cheers from midair.  He’s an excellent asset to the team–not really detracting from the game, but very much adding to the experience.

Speaking of detracting from the game, this is the first game since my early youth where I have done the wave during the game.  I know, I know, disappointing.  But I think you’ll understand when I say why.  I attended this game with Michelle the Girlfriend and a whole gaggle of her college buddies (and their spouses and kids).  They don’t know me terribly well yet, so as they did the wave, I was explaining to them that “I don’t do the wave.”  Matt, one of Michelle’s best friends, was trying to talk me into doing the wave.  I, of course, remained adamant.  Michelle knows how passionate I am about the wave.  But she made a tragic mistake.  She cavalierly–and, as she soon

learned, too hastily–said to Matt:  “I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you get him to do the wave.”  Matt didn’t miss a beat before he turned to me:  “Paul, I’ll give you fifty bucks if you do the wave.”  Hey, we all have our price–fifty bucks is significant money to a teacher–and it’s not like doing the wave is a crime.  So when the wave rolled by next time, I stood up, shouted, and did the best wave I’ve ever done.  Alas, Michelle was very disappointed in my lack of morals.  I hope I didn’t cause long-term damage to the relationship.  How much money would YOU take for doing the wave once?  I bet it’s less than fifty bucks.  Fifty bucks which, by the way, both Matt and I are still waiting for.  Michelle–hurry up.  We’re charging interest.

The other thing I’ll remember from this game, besides forever losing Michelle’s trust in my integrity, was teaching a woman in the group to score.  She was given a scorebook for a recent birthday, and it was suggested that I help her through the game.  No problem…it’s very nice to help somebody out, and I love both scoring and teaching.  But my…it wasn’t scoring this woman didn’t understand, it was baseball. Case in point:  after a double play, I started to explain to her where to mark each of the outs.

“Here’s how you mark the double play,” I told her.  She gave me a blank look, so I continued:  “A double play.  That was a double play.”  Still nothing. 

“They got both the runner and batter out.”  Now she’s looking a little panicked behind her cluelessness.  “You know, a double play.  Two outs on one play.”

Finally, both confused and astonished, she responded:  “They can do that????”

It’s not so much my efforts to teach her how to score that interest me…it’s the whole notion of the situation that I’m interested in.  Why would somebody who  didn’t understand baseball happily receive a scorebook as a gift?  To be honest, even though she wasn’t yet a proficient scorer at the end of the day, I admired her a good deal.  I sure wouldn’t try to score cricket or bridge.

At this writing, it looks like the Montreal Expos have next to no chance of moving to Portland.  I admit I wish they would–not so much for the possibility of a new NL team down the road in a new stadium, but because it’d be fun to see major league baseball in this cozy, interesting venue.  No sweat: I’ll have to settle for the quite pleasant alternative of a few minor league trips down I-5 to catch the Beavers at the very enjoyable PGE Park, where I’ll sit with Michelle and not do the wave.  Unless somebody meets my price.

UPDATE JULY 2009: PGE Park has now become my home stadium, since I moved down I-5 to Vancouver, Washington in the summer of 2007.  My knowledge of the park–a couple of years of partial-season packages–has led me to appreciate it a little more (still love those MAX trains heading by) and a little less (there’s no legroom, and a tall guy like me needs it).

The bad news is that it’s all academic, however, since PGE Park will become a soccer-only facility after the 2010 baseball season ends.  As of this writing, there’s very little certainty as to what will become of the Beavers. They may be gone just like Timber Jim (who has hung up the repelling equipment since my original post).

There’s a chance that the Beavers will leave the area altogether, which would be terrible, but right now the number one possibility is that they’ll leave downtown and move to the suburbs. If they go to any suburb other than my own, the number of games I’d attend would drop precipitously.  I will not fight rush hour out to the suburbs to catch a game more than once or twice a year.  Stay tuned on this one.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
Outstanding.  The MAX trains going by left field and a guy standing on top of a giant log?  Can’t beat that.  The former means you’re in the city, the latter means the Pacific Northwest.  If this is the minor leagues, it must mean Portland.  (I deducted a half point for the loss of Timber Jim, but the view of the Oregonian building still carries the day.)

Charm:  3/5
PGE Park is old…mostly the good kind of old.  It gets docked for having a carpet, the right-field eyesore view of an extremely unattractive athletic club, zero legroom, and the stands being some distance back from the field.  This weighs down the score in spite of its many positive quirks.

Spectacle: 4/5
A fair amount, but the game came first…about right for AAA.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5


Lucky Beaver.  The mascot is good–indigenous and intimidating (I’d hate to face a rabid beaver).

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
Wonderful to left field, hideous to right, and mixed within the old stadium.

Pavilion area:  3/5
Nice sense of ballpark history and a good sunny left field porch.  I do wish that more of the pavilion were outdoors, however.

Scoreability:  3/5
The only balls-and-strikes scoreboard is hand-operated.  Mistakes are a touch too frequent.  I like the retro feel, but I like accuracy better.

Fans:  4/5
Attendance is often dismal, but when they show up, it’s a raucous-but-civil group.

Intangibles:  4.5/5
Overall, I like this place for baseball and I’m going to miss it.

TOTAL:  38/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A pitchers’ duel.  Portland’s Chris Oxspring (who really should have been a mattress salesman…excuse me, I mean an attress salesman) gets the best of it, pitching seven innings of four-hit ball.

Edmonton’s Josh Karp is the hard-luck loser, pitching very well besides a three-run homer to the Beavers’ Jon Knott.

Portland’s Mike Thompson takes a no-hitter into the sixth in a marvelous pitchers’ duel with Tucson’s Shawn Estes (on a rehab assignment).  He loses it on a solo home run by Keoni De Renne, and three runs in the ninth seal it for Tucson.

In 2007, Royce Huffman has a killer Father’s Day afternoon against Salt Lake, going 4-for-4 with a double, a home run, 3 RBIs, and a stolen base.

The 2009 AAA All-Star Game was an enjoyable affair.  Eric Kratz of Indianapolis takes MVP honors in the International League’s win, but I’ll most remember Nashville pitcher R.J. Swindle busting out a few 50-mile-an-hour breaking balls that nobody could hit.

Best pitching performance so far is probably Fresno’s Kevin Pucetas, who set the Beavers down on 2 hits over 7 innings.

(Written July 2004.  Updated August 2006 and July 2009.)

Civic Stadium, Eugene, Oregon

Civic Stadium, Eugene, OREGON

Number of states: 5
States to go: 45
Number of games: 2
First game:  July 3, 2004 (Eugene Emeralds 5, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 4)
Last game:  August 11, 2007 (Spokane Indians 5, Eugene Emeralds 3)

Civic Stadium is no longer used for affiliated minor league baseball as of the 2010 season.

(Click any image to view a larger version.)

As I approached Civic Stadium for the first time, I absolutely fell in love with the place.  Beautiful.  Charming.  Venerable.  Looking much the same as it did when it opened back in nineteen-twenty-whatever (just guessing on the date, but it has that Fenway and Tiger Stadium boxed-up,

team-logo-painted-on-the-outside-wood, held-up-by-beams feel about it.)  As I walked in with 10,000 others for fireworks night, I was convinced that I was in  for something special and that I’d feel about this beautiful old place the same way I did about Fenway Park, which is to say, totally entranced.  Over the course of the next few hours, however, I fell out of love with Civic Stadium.  There was just too much troublesome about it.  The experience was akin to seeing that my blind date looked like Sue Bird or Julie Delpy or Claire Danes, then finding little things wrong…okay, she’s got an annoying, nervous laugh…okay, she’s a whacked-out crystal-worshipping new ager…okay, she’s had three drinks to my one…until I finally, the many flaws become overwhelming and I can’t let the original charm win out.

I can already feel traditionalists breathing down my neck on this one, since there are so few places like Civic Stadium left in the world.  But my night at Civic Stadium was, if nothing else, an explication of reasons why 

stadiums no longer are designed like Civic Stadium and an argument that maybe the changes since are progress rather than regression.

Make no mistake.  I loved the look of the place!  It had all the charm of bygone days.  I felt connected to every fan who’d ever gone into the place.  The beams, the real grass, the bizarre asymmetry of it (the seating bowl reaches almost all the way down the right field line, but doesn’t even make it as far as third base along the left field line).  It’s accidental charm, and I love it.

The Eugene fans were fantastic.  This was a sellout for fireworks night.  Michelle The Girlfriend and 

I arrived an hour early (after a wonderful day meandering down the gorgeous Oregon coast) to poke around the place and to find good general admission seats.  Whoops!  We needed to arrive a lot earlier than that to get good seats.  We did okay–only about 3/4 of the way up to the top, only about 3/4 of the way to the end of the right-field stands–but I was highly impressed with how early the fans showed up to claim their stake.  Maybe it’s different on a non-holiday Tuesday night in August, but even so, for so many to arrive that early speaks well for the Emeralds and their fans.

Here’s where the problems begin, though.  Although the stadium technically can hold 10,000, it certainly can’t do so comfortably.  While I’m sure that the season-ticket holders were enjoying 

their seats with backs and arms on them, we in general admission were horribly uncomfortable.  Whenever anyone wanted to leave (and I’m trying not to harbor enmity towards the butthead who left and returned to my row FIVE TIMES during the game), the entire row would either have their feet stepped on or their backs jostled.  There just wasn’t enough room to sit.  Even while at rest, I had to position my knees and feet just so to avoid contact with the fine young family in front of me.  Net result:  as the game progressed, we all became more and more uncomfortable.

Strangely, the Emeralds did little to keep its large crowd–who clearly were rearing to have a very good time–active.  Music choices were baffling.  “Deep in the Heart of Texas”?  What the hell?  Why not just throw in “Chicago,” 

“New York, New York,” and “God Save the Queen” while you’re at it?  Why not throw in “Streets of Philadelphia,” just to be both geographically inaccurate and breathtakingly depressing?  No wait…they DID play “My City in Ruins”!  Strange, strange choices.

STILL, I was eager to enjoy this beautiful old ballpark, but I actually became a little concerned for my safety at some points.  A hard foul ball was smacked back into one of the beams on the first-base side and shattered a light bulb there.  Surely, at some point in the last 80 years, someone must have at least realized the necessity of putting a cage around that.  But later, things got even more bizarre.  In the eighth inning, the entire bank of lights went out on the first-base side.

Salem-Keizer catcher Charlie Babineaux was ready to

take his first pitch from Eugene pitcher Jake Upwood when the lights went out.  Babineaux called time,  which was granted, but the home plate umpire seemed to want to continue play in the twilight combined with outfield lighting.  But when the Salem-Keizer manager stepped in, play was delayed while they fixed the lights.  Okay, I understand that maybe this could have happened anywhere.  But I doubt it.  The lights over the left field pavilion looked only slightly less old than the stadium itself, and they’re the only ones that went out.  Plus–and am I the only one who could possibly have been thinking this?–if it’d been a blown fuse or a small explosion that caused those lights to go out, those wooden bleachers would have taken about a minute and a half to become a hellish inferno, and when this sucker was built, emergency exits and sprinkler systems were not exactly high in architects’ minds.  So while I’m sitting and thinking about the tragedy at England’s Bradford City football grounds, the Emeralds’ staff could be doing some things to make sure we’re all having a good time, like playing some music or having the mascot run around and do the good stuff mascots do.  Two problems:

1.  The music people.  At a time the audience needed something to do–“Minnie the Moocher,” “YMCA,” hell, even the damn 

Macarena–the sound guys played Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First,” the radio call of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World,” and “Dueling Banjos.”  Audience participation possibilities?  None.  So we sat in our uncomfortable seats for 29 minutes doing nothing.

2.  The mascot.  There isn’t one.  Come on.  Is this even possible in the low minors?  I must admit, I didn’t notice its absence until about the fifth inning, but I felt a little bit cheated, like if I’d showed up to an NL game and found they decided to use the designated hitter.  It’s just not the rules!  Low minor league teams simply MUST have a mascot…and during the big delay, this was a notable absence, since all we had to look at were the two umpires sitting around waiting for the lights–lights that were probably only slightly younger than Thomas Edison’s original–to kick back on.

In the end, as much as I wanted to love this place, I just couldn’t overlook these problems.  I felt uncomfortable.  I even felt a little unsafe.  And I totally felt like I was missing part of the minor league baseball experience.  Even the fireworks show didn’t redeem it…it only lasted about 7 minutes (although they had 15 minutes worth of fireworks…they just fired them all off in 7 minutes, thus eliminating any sense of buildup or climax to the show).

Michelle and I have agreed that, if we win the lottery for more than, say, $100 million, we will purchase the Eugene Emeralds and clean this stadium up a bit…maintaining its old charm without sacrificing the many, many comforts that Civic Stadium sacrifices.  Yes, I am a traditionalist, but not militantly so, and Civic Stadium goes beyond my limits.

UPDATE:  I received a nice email from a University of Oregon student who works concessions for the Emeralds, encouraging me to give the team another chance–saying that, among other things, the team “dreads” the July 3rd/4th games.  And I also got the sense that many of the problems I had with the ballpark were a result of a crowded night.  So Michelle and I headed back down to Eugene for a random Saturday night game in 2007.  The team impressed me with their low-key calmness that ngiht, and I found it was worth every penny not to sit in general admission.  I will adjust my score a little bit accordingly (although that first visit was so frustrating that it weighs a little bit heavier).

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
Quite lovely here, with local promotions, a view of the Cascades, and many fine folks who clearly were from Oregon and Eugene.  No question where I was.

Charm:  3/5
Yes, Civic Stadium has charm due to its age.  But I don’t find cramped, backless seats, people colliding with my back or stepping on my toes every time they leave, endless concession lines, my toes up some poor person in the next row’s butt, a lengthy power outage, and the very real fear that we could burn alive to be very charming. (But on the second visit, it was quite lovely.  Just don’t go there on a night where it’s packed unless you have a reserved seat.)

Spectacle: 1/5
Could have used a bit more for low-A ball.

Team mascot/name:  1.5/5
The name is fine…the mascot nonexistent.

Aesthetics:  5/5
Say what you will, but the place is gorgeous.

Pavilion area:  4/5
Fine.  A bit cramped, but overall not bad.

Scoreability:  4/5
Lineups were available.  Some close decisions were not made clear, however.

Fans:  5/5
Arrived early and maintained excellent enthusiasm under difficult circumstances.

Intangibles:  3/5
Pluses:  Good game, fireworks, a polite letter from a ballpark worker that did all but apologize for the lamentable first night.  Minuses:  Power outage, aching back, and fireworks show that packed 15 minutes worth of gunpowder into 7 minutes.  I didn’t leave satisfied on any count…until three years later.

TOTAL:  35/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Eugene’s Colt Morton (who wears #45…get it?) appears to be a stud-in-the-making.  He homered twice, which made it 4 homers in 5 days for him.

Salem-Keizer’s Chase Smith gets his first professional loss without surrendering a hit:  a leadoff walk, a sacrifice bunt, a deep flyout, and a wild pitch score Craig Johnson with the winning run.

Mitch Moreland homers to put the 2007 game in the bag for Spokane.