Befitting their name, the Eugene Emeralds will play in a shiny new diamond in 2010.
The Northwest League club announced in a press conference on Tuesday that they will relocate to the University of Oregon's PK Park. The impending move marks the end of the Emeralds' four-decade residency at Civic Stadium, a historic ballpark that first opened its doors in 1938.
"This is a great opportunity for us, without a doubt," said Emeralds president Bob Beban, who is in his 28th year with the ballclub. "We're going to have the best stadium in our league. There's going to be a practice infield, more batting cages and more pitching mounds. And what this means is that there are going to be far more opportunities for players to get their work in. The [Major League affiliate San Diego] Padres are excited about this, and so are we."
PK Park opened this season in conjunction with the relaunch of the University of Oregon's baseball program, and the Emeralds will pay the university an annual rent in exchange for use of the facility. Although PK Park is less than a year old, it will nonetheless be receiving an upgrade as a result of the new arrangement.
"For the 2010 season, there won't be a locker room for the visitors or the umpires. But we will have Oregon's football stadium available for use, and that's located right next door," said Beban. "In time for 2011, we plan to have the locker rooms completed, as well as additional concessions and storage."
Funding for the PK Park improvements has yet to be determined, but Beban mentioned a hotel and motel tax as a possibility and added he is "confident that something can be worked out."
The move to a new facility was precipitated by the increasingly poor conditions at aging Civic Stadium, which is owned by the Eugene School District. Beban cited a litany of major issues with the ballpark, including a poor irrigation system, broken seats and an unreliable power supply.
"[The school district's] charge was educating youth. They couldn't put their money into upgrading the stadium," said Beban. "At one point, we put together a $15 million upgrade plan, but that's a lot of money and we couldn't get the support. That's why it's such a blessing that we're now playing in a $20 million stadium with a reasonable rate of rent."
Beban is aware, however, that Civic Stadium won't be easily replaced in the hearts and minds of the fans.
"A lot of the feedback we've gotten has been negative, because people have a great affection for this ballpark," he said. "It goes back generations, to the point where someone who was brought to his first game by his grandfather is now bringing his own grandkids ... But the fact of the matter is that this old girl is old and very hard to keep clean. It's been a tremendous challenge to play here."
So all fans can do now is savor the six games that remain at Civic Stadium, the last of which will occur Sept. 3 against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. It will be a bittersweet occasion, to say the least.
"We'll have a closing event on the last day of the season, and I'm sure there will be tears shed," said Beban. "It's going to be a very emotional day."