Summer days at Civic Stadium
Two employees recall the hours spent at Eugene's historic ballpark.
By Victoria Nguyen
As the sun beat down on his shoulders, A.J. O'Connell slid on his aviator sunglasses and fired up his grill. O'Connell knew that nearly 60 wedding guests would arrive at Eugene's Civic Stadium in a few hours, and he had to prepare a meal for his first reception.
O'Connell, 20, who worked as the Eugene Emeralds' VIP grill cook, was responsible for preparing hundreds of hotdogs and hamburgers for guests at the VIP BBQ.
"It's amazing how fast you can cook 700 burgers," he said of his work. "You would be amazed, especially when you get in that zone."
As game time neared, a platform was wheeled to second base where the wedding would take place.
"It was very interesting," O'Connell said. "The guys are warming up on the field because they've got to warm up for the game, and they're taking infield practice while these people are exchanging vows."
As the wedding ended, O'Connell began to serve dinner at the reception, and the players took the field.
Events like these are not uncommon at Civic Stadium, which was built in 1938. On most game days, the stadium caters to company picnics and family gatherings. Although the stadium has been used for both high school and professional sports, it became synonymous with baseball when the Eugene Emeralds came to Civic in 1969.
In spite of its rich history, Civic's future is uncertain. Eugene's 4J School District, which owns the stadium, does not have the funds to make the costly repairs that the aging structure needs. The University of Oregon announced that the baseball team, which will begin play in the spring of 2009, will build its own baseball stadium, and that the Emeralds will likely play there.
Despite the deteriorating structure, Emeralds fans cherish Civic's old-school charm. Local fans created Save Civic Stadium, a grassroots organization whose goal is to keep the Emeralds at Civic.
"When you go around and you walk up and down the stairs and you look at the all-grass playing field, the old light towers, you're just like 'Wow,'" said O'Connell, who is a Save Civic Stadium member. "This is something that really defines the national pastime: baseball."
O'Connell, who high jumps for the UO track team, believes that Save Civic Stadium support can make its message heard.
"There's so much community support," he said. "People realize that this is a treasure. This is a treasure that is worth preserving, is worth restoring, and is worth saving for generations to come."
"It's a cool old park," Robertson said. "It's designed very poorly, of course, but it's got that nostalgia. It's all wood; everything creaks. It's cool for that reason."
For Civic staff, the Emeralds' short, four-month season means a relaxed work schedule and summer nights under the lights. O'Connell, who plans to return to Civic for a sixth straight summer, joined the Emeralds organization as a part of a family tradition. His parents have both worked at Civic as ticket-takers, and his 15-year-old brother, Nick, will likely work at Civic next summer.
"It's a real family gig," O'Connell said. "I just remember being able to go to Ems games when I was a little kid... That's just pretty neat when my mother and my father are working together with me. I just have to smile about that."
Ben Robertson, 21, also works as an usher at Civic. The UO senior worked three jobs last summer and supplemented his evenings at Civic with shifts at the UO Duck Shop and a job with a moving company. Even though he has only worked at Civic for one summer, Robertson has gotten to know the Emeralds' die-hard fans.
A slideshow of photos from Civic Stadium.
Robertson arrives at Civic an hour before the games begin and takes tickets at one of three stadium entrances.
"We open up the gates 50 minutes before the game started, and usually there was a line, especially if there was a promotion," he said. "It would usually be the same old people at the head of the line."
Promotions such as free baseball cards and magnets help increase attendance, Robertson said, but Thursday games are often the busiest.
"Thursday are sellout games because it's the Thirsty Thursday $1 beers," Robertson said. "All the kids that stay over in the summer will come to that, all the townies from the surrounding area. Those games are always packed, and we are always dealing with the drunkest, stupidest, greatest people. You get a different variety on those days."
Although Robertson plans to graduate and leave Eugene in the spring, his time at the stadium offered him a taste of the stadium's appeal.
"It's a cool old park," Robertson said. "It's designed very poorly, of course, but it's got that nostalgia. It's all wood; everything creaks. It's cool for that reason... Realistically I think we should keep Civic the way it is, let the Ems play there or let the students play in Civic."
For O'Connell, Civic means more to him than just a summer job.
"The way I feel about Civic Stadium is kind of like how people feel about their teddy bears of their youth," he said. "It's old, its raggedy, it's been around the block, but they can't give it up to Goodwill; they've got to keep it."