PK Park – Eugene Emeralds
Photos by Sean Rowland, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14
PK Park 2760 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd Eugene, OR 97401
Year Opened: 2009 Capacity: 4,000
A New Chapter in Ems Baseball
The city of Eugene may be best recognized for two things: The University of Oregon and a storied track and field history. Little known outside of the Pacific Northwest is the lone professional franchise in the city, the Eugene Emeralds. Dating back to 1955, the Ems have had a storied history, much of it spent in the single-A Northwest League. A true relic in the ballpark world, Eugene played in Civic Stadium, a WPA facility that was configured for baseball only in the late 1960s. Since then, the venerable wooden ballpark would be home to summer baseball in the Emerald City, and the rare structure was admired by old-timers and ballpark enthusiasts.
Unfortunately, the place started deteriorating quickly, and the Ems made a controversial decision. With the University of Oregon restarting their baseball program at a new on-campus facility, Eugene sadly moved away from its long time home after the 2009 season. Civic Stadium still stands (barely) and a grass-roots campaign, Friends of Civic Stadium, is trying to keep the place alive. In the meantime, the Emeralds are looking for their first league title since 1980, as they have now spent the last several years across town in PK Park. While the Ems are clearly a second tenant with the stadium’s focus and visuals centered on the Ducks, it is still a beautiful park in which to watch baseball.
Food & Beverage 4
While there is only one main concession stand at PK, there are several side carts with decent options and a somewhat hidden spot featuring many choices. Down at field level near the picnic area known as “Levi’s Landing,” the nearby stand is open to all fans and not just reserved for those at the landing. The lines are much shorter and the offerings are the same, with a few bonus items like a grilled BBQ chicken sandwich ($7.75) or an avocado turkey burger ($8.00). Playing up the Sasquatch theme, a few Jack Link’s jerky choices are available, too. For the best value on these generally high food prices, head to the Ems Shack, where $8 is enough for a meal, as both the Thai ginger chicken wrap and the Southwestern wrap are very good (they are available in a bowl, too).
As for beer, you are in Oregon, where it is nearly a crime not to drink a local craft brew. Eugene has an abundance of great breweries to try, as draft products from OakShire, Ninkasi and GoodLife are all on tap. Despite being in the confines of a single-A ballpark, be sure to have lots of cash on hand, with a small craft beer costing $7 and the large premium running $9.
At PK Park, it is blatantly obvious who this ballpark caters to: the University of Oregon. Logos and wordmarks from the well-funded university are splashed all over the stadium, and while aesthetically it looks good, the Emeralds have been relegated to a second tenant. A few touches try to change that (like the Sasquatch peering from outside the women’s bathroom), but in the end, there is a real shadow from Autzen Stadium in the distance.
With that being said, PK Park is a really nice baseball stadium and a great place to watch the Emeralds. Instead of spreading out the seating bowl, all of the forest green chairbacks are located between the bases in a steeply pitched set-up that features excellent sightlines. Adding to the ambiance is a nice looking wooden roof that covers most of the seats. While the Emeralds play baseball in the dry season, there are still some nights this roof comes in handy. The outfield does not have much of a visual; however, the scoreboard sits on a pair of snazzy lightpoles that are incorporated into the design. For games starting in the early evening, it is hard to see the numbers on those boards, as the setting sun shines directly upon them. The baseball atmosphere in the park is decent with the frequent (almost too frequent) playing of an old-school organ.
The highlight of attending an Emeralds game is their hilarious green mascot, Sluggo. For the good mascots, they are able to entertain the young ones during the game. Sluggo, does well to entertain everybody, and I found myself laughing several times at his antics. Just search YouTube for some of his best work, but the move of the night for me was seeing him throw water balloons into the visiting team’s dugout.
Oregon’s second largest city is located in the southern end of the Willamette Valley. Similar to the rest of the state, Eugene is full of people who love the outdoors, and opportunities are plentiful with many biking paths, along with spots to run, hike, raft or climb. The Emerald City is also very green and environmentally-conscious. Walking around town, you are sure to see some interesting people, as this is a quirky and eccentric place to visit. With the nearby University, the center of Eugene has a large college town feel, and there are several places to enjoy a drink or bite to eat.
On the other side of the Willamette River, PK Park can be found in a separate university athletic complex. In the Barlow neighborhood, this section consists of Autzen Stadium, Pape Field and pavement, lots and lots of pavement. Parking lots for the football stadium make up much of the area, and this leaves PK Park a little soul-less in terms of the neighborhood. With downtown a few miles away, this side of the river contains Alton Baker Park, which includes a children’s museum. For food, check out the O Bar and Grill.
Similar to other Northwest League teams, the Emeralds only average a few thousand fans, and on the night I attended, about half of the park was full. Ducks apparel outnumbers those wearing hats or shirts with the Emeralds logo on them. Despite what seems like a generic approach to the Ems, the crowd is quite lively and they are into the game. Along with good support, little things like clapping at the result of a helpful second strike gives the perception that these fans care about their players and the game.
I-5 is the north-south highway that connects the major cities in Western Oregon, and this interstate leads right into Eugene. While getting to the ballpark from downtown is simple, it is a little awkward coming from the north, as drivers have to backtrack a bit after getting on I-105. The best directions are to just follow the well laid-out signs and arrows for Autzen Stadium, and that will lead you right to PK Park. Because of the football stadium, parking is abundant, but I was surprised at how far the actual lots are from the ballpark. I did not expect having to walk 5-10 minutes for a stadium with so much parking. Instead, the new soccer stadium gets the luxury of being next to the main lot. Another gripe is driving through the uneven and bumpy gravel lot.
Inside, concourses are open and wide, with plenty of room to walk around. Though there is just one set of bathrooms, the space is quite large. In fact, women often comment how incredibly large the bathroom is. Just watch out for that Sasquatch!
Return on Investment 4
Prices for the most part are reasonable for this level of baseball and the location. Most tickets cost $10, while the parking is a $3 charge. The exception is the aforementioned concession prices, which are surprisingly high, and I didn’t appreciate the little charges (like $1 for a cheese cup or $3 for a pickle). Otherwise, there is certainly value to an Emeralds game, and a visit to PK Park is well worth it.
A few years ago, the Emeralds brought on the excellent design company Brandiose to re-brand the team. What followed was a terrific new logo and scheme that focused on Eugene’s eccentricities, along with their nature as an outdoor city. The green coloring and Sasquatch-based logo really spoke to the Emeralds and the team has run with this change, continuing to execute great ideas and promotions.
This is not necessarily worth a bonus point, but it should be noted that PK Park has FieldTurf. While, the surface is important for a rough climate like in the Pacific Northwest, it just seems strange to watch players slide on fake grass and fake dirt.
While the most authentic experience at PK Park may be an Oregon Ducks baseball game, the Eugene Emeralds have done their best to set up shop at their relatively new home. With one of the best mascots in baseball and a terrific modern field, the Ems continue to produce a good experience for fans during the summer.