Eugene's Civic Stadium 'total loss' after fire

Former home of Emeralds hosted Minor League play from 1969-2009

Flames engulf Civic Stadium, former home of the Eugene Emeralds, on Monday evening in Oregon. (@KMTR on Twitter)

By Tyler Maun / | June 30, 2015 8:01 PM

The Emeralds may have moved to PK Park in 2010, but the heart of Eugene's baseball history was always Civic Stadium. Now that cornerstone is no more.

A two-alarm fire engulfed the 76-year-old former home of the Emeralds on Monday, resulting in "a total loss," according to Eugene Springfield Fire Chief Randy Groves. The blaze reportedly started in the press box atop the facility, and flames shot twice as high as the stadium structure, according to multiple reports. A plume of black smoke could be seen across the city throughout the evening.

At roughly 4:30 p.m. Monday, the Class A Short Season Emeralds walked off with a 5-4 win over Tri-City at PK Park. One hour later and less than three-and-a-half miles away, Civic Stadium was next door to a high school baseball game between South Eugene and Pleasant Hill when South Eugene head coach Danny Sales saw flames in the vacant ballpark's press box. Sales immediately called 911.

"And by the time I got off the phone with the operator, the whole stadium was on fire," Sales told The (Eugene) Register-Guard. Fire crews responded, but were unable to save the structure. According to the paper, a crowd of onlookers "gasped all at once as a burning piece of stadium crumbled and collapsed just before 6 p.m."

The Emeralds posted on social media throughout the evening and encouraged fans to share their memories of their venerable former home with the hashtag #RememberCivic. 

Emeralds general manager Allan Benavides was walking out of PK Park with assistant GM Matt Dompe after the Ems' win when the two noticed smoke a short distance away. Soon thereafter, they discovered the source. Benavides got in his car and drove as close as he could to Civic Stadium.

"I parked eight blocks from the ballpark because it was just a dead stop," he said Tuesday. "I headed out [walking] toward the ballpark, and everything was roped off. It was just a big ball of flames and smoke. You couldn't even see the [grandstand]."

Though he joined the Emeralds after their final season at Civic Stadium, Benavides felt a connection to the facility.

"I moved here in 2010 and opened the new ballpark, but I feel like I was there, because over the last six seasons, you hear stories about it," he said. "This place meant something to this community. It meant a lot to our fans; a lot of history, a lot of players, a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame, umpires, coaches.

"I can't believe it's gone. It's crazy that it's gone."

The Emeralds will pay tribute to their former home during Tuesday's game.

Throughout this season, the Emeralds have been celebrating their 60th anniversary in Eugene. A promotional night set to be '70s Night on July 24 is now tentatively planned to be reconfigured into a tribute to Civic Stadium.

"It's such an emotional thing for people," Benavides said. "There were thousands of people out there watching this thing burning down, singing songs, singing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.' Those things that you read are true. I heard them. I witnessed them. I was there. Some people are like, 'I don't get it. It's just an old ballpark.' But it meant so much to this community."

Civic Stadium was built in 1938 as a Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression. According to The Register-Guard, the WPA supplied labor for construction while local lumberyards provided old-growth timber for the grandstand. That same dry wooden structure was partially to blame for the fire's rapid spread and growth, according to Groves.

Minor League Baseball first arrived at Civic Stadium in 1969 when the Emeralds played in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League for the first of five such seasons. Eugene then became part of the Northwest League, which began in 1974 and has endured for 41 years. The Ems captured PCL titles in their first two Triple-A seasons and split an NWL crown with Bellingham in 1980. Civic Stadium was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

The stadium was affiliated with the Phillies (1969-73), Reds (1975-83), Royals (1984-94), Braves (1995-98), Cubs (1999-2000) and Padres (2001-09).

Members of the baseball community weighed in with remembrances.

The ballpark's loss is particularly tragic considering its timing. Just two months ago, after nearly six years without a permanent tenant, city officials and the Eugene School District reached an agreement to sell the facility to the Eugene Civic Alliance, a nonprofit group that aimed to incorporate the stadium into a community sports complex on the site.

Benavides, a member of the Eugene Civic Alliance, said the group will regroup with the hand they've been dealt, still with the aim to honor the site's heritage and future.

"The plan is to keep moving forward," he said. "We're going to put a new project together and still go with the same vision."

The origin of the blaze is unknown, but Eugene police said they are seeking the public's help in their investigation to determine the cause.

Tyler Maun is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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