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About Eugene Emeralds

Team History

Story by Chris Metz

When Ems fans make their way through the turnstiles of grand old Civic Stadium in 2006, it will mark the 69th year of multipurpose use of the historic ballpark on 20th and Willamette.

Serving as the home of the Emeralds since 1969, Civic Stadium has been used for everything from high school football and soccer to a rodeo in the mid-1980s.

It was this diversity that the engineers and designers of the stadium had in mind when they broke ground in 1938. Designed as a football and baseball facility, the park was part of a WPA project that was to develop much of the surrounding area as well. The property was purchased for $6,000 with money made possible by a city bond. A regional campaign spearheaded by the Eugene School District and area communities raised another $12,000 for the project and the Works Progress Administration provided the labor with area businesses providing most of the necessary materials. During the drive for the stadium, professional baseball was repeatedly mentioned as a possible tenant and talk of a berth into the old Western International League seemed to be the likely opportunity for the city of Eugene to gain a pro ball team.

Civic began to take shape in the summer of 1938. The configuration at that time included an uncovered wooden structure able to seat 5,000. A roof would come soon after.

The first athletic contest at Eugene's new athletic facility took place on October 28, 1938. The occasion was the annual Eugene-Corvallis High football skirmish that just happened to end right where it started - a 0-0 tie. The rain-drenched game soaked the fans and hindered the two squads, but the opener was labeled a success with Old Jupe Pluve handling the christening ceremonies.

Despite a terrific downpour, the Amazon gridiron proved to be less than a quagmire in the initial contest, as the drainage system seemed to do its job. The playing surface at that time was made up not of grass, but a clay-sawdust surface.

The stadium was to have been just a part of a larger project that was to develop much of the surrounding area. A multiuse park including a swimming pool, basketball and volleyball courts and a track was projected for the areas around the park, but the larger vision never materialized.

As far as the stadium was concerned, it continued to be used for football and took on semiprofessional baseball in the 1940s. In the 1940s and 1950s, Civic was home to many a Cascade League semipro contest, with the Giustina Reds and Eugene Caseys being among the clubs to call the park home.

The Reds put their talents up against the best the area had to offer - doing battle with the Springfield Cardinals, the Snellstrom Lumber Nine, Hills Creek Hillbillies, Roseburg Lumbermen, Miller Lumbermen and the Portland Firemen. The Reds were also part of the old State League.

Cascade League ball was quite popular at the time. Opening Day, 1945, had the Miller's taking on Hills Creek and the defending-champion Reds taking on Snellstrom in a jamboree of baseball at Civic Stadium. 'Firsts' were awarded in each of the games. One dollar was awarded to the player with the first hit, stolen base, sacrifice bunt, run scored, base on balls and extra base hit in each contest. Likewise, pitchers were rewarded a buck for the first strikeout and a hearty $5.00 went to the first man to slam one over the fence.

The event was treated much like the All-Star games of today, with the four clubs participating in a number of skills competitions between games, including fungo hitting, sprinting and sliding.

Eventually teams like the Reds became unwelcome in the school district-owned building and eventually led to the construction of Bethel Park on Roosevelt Boulevard - the facility that would also serve as the home for the Eugene Larks and the Emeralds.

Despite the recent addition of Bethel Park, the Eugene Caseys claimed Civic as their home in the 1950s and were a member of the Cascade League as well. They did battle with teams like the Albany Townies, Roseburg Chiefs and teams from Marcola, Sweet Home and Coburg.

Baseball at Civic took a considerable hiatus in the late 1950s and most of the 1960s as Eugene's professional baseball clubs continued to play at Bethel Park. The Larks, a member of the Far West League and Eugene's first official professional club, played their home games at Bethel in 1950 and 1951. After three seasons of no professional baseball, the Emeralds were born in 1955 and called Bethel their home as a member of the Northwest League.

But baseball would eventually return to Civic in 1969 as the Ems secured a berth in the Class AAA Pacific Coast League, and thusly outgrew the smaller confines of Bethel Park. Civic wasn't the club's first choice to house the new Class AAA version of the Emeralds, but efforts to build a new facility were shot down as potential sites couldn't be obtained. With the Class AAA berth and a new working agreement with the Philadelphia Phillies in the balance, the Eugene School Board gave its okay to a lease negotiated with the Ems.

Making the stadium suitable for minor league ball was no small task either. The stadium's lighting system needed to be doubled and new turf was required on the playing field. An outfield fence had to be erected and light poles opposite the stands on the gridiron configuration had to be moved off the field of play. It was at this time that 800 theatre-style box seats were installed. The wooden seats were purchased from the San Diego Padres when the major league team left River Island Stadium. Sound-deadening material and several other improvements to the 30-year-old facility ran about $120,000 and weren't completely finished when the team played its first game in 1969.

In fact the unfinished facelift cost the Ems on the scoreboard as the first home run of the season off the bat of as a Tacoma Cub cleared the yet-to-be completed right field fence (the fence was only 2/3 completed). The lower fence made for easier access for local 'knotholers' that viewed the first game from behind the fence and on many area rooftops as well as the pedestrian walkway above Amazon Parkway.

Civic Stadium proved to be friendly confines for the Ems in their first season though, with the Phillies affiliate racking up a 51-22 home record.

Thirty eight seasons later, the Ems continue to call Civic home. As one of the oldest stadiums in minor league ball, it is Civic's ambiance and great history that makes it a very special stop for every Northwest League player.

In an effort to preserve Civic's unique appeal, the Emeralds have made over $400,000 in additional improvements over the years and continue to make more every season.