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Emeralds and Exploding Whales in Eugene

Ben's Biz hits the road and explores Pacific Northwest ballparks
The Eugene Emeralds commemorate a time in the city of Florence's history with their Exploding Whales identity. (Jared Ravich/
May 12, 2023

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.

I was in Eugene, Ore., for two nights, with the timing of the trip motivated by the Emeralds’ May 6 “Exploding Whales” game. This marked the second of what will now be at least seven such games. Exploding Whales commemorates that time in 1970 when the city of Florence attempted to remove the body of a beached sperm whale via (way too much) dynamite.

While time constraints resulted in me forgoing my planned visit to Florence, I was able to get a lot of Exploding Whales material, and it’ll be a blast to share it all with you in the near future. Among the many highlights was interviewing Paul Linnman, the reporter who originally covered the story in 1970. I also talked to the son of a man whose car was destroyed by falling chunks of blubber, and the grandson of the engineer who oversaw the ill-fated demolition.

Here's Linnman throwing out the first pitch, with the image courtesy of my friend/co-worker/Northwest League photo king Jared Ravich:

The Eugene Emeralds – High-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants - share their home of PK Park with the University of Oregon Ducks baseball program. The facility, owned by the university, sits in the imposing shadow of Autzen Stadium (home of Oregon Ducks football).

When the Emeralds were a short-season team, through the 2019 season, they simply moved into the ballpark once the Ducks’ baseball season was complete. The Ems now begin their season in April, so the first two months of the season are filled with logistical hurdles. The clubhouses must be entirely vacated after each homestand, for example, and Emeralds games don’t begin until 7:30 from Monday through Friday because the university has access to the field until 6 p.m.

The Emeralds are currently trying to build a new ballpark at the Eugene Fairgrounds. On Saturday morning I drove to the proposed location with Ems general manager Allan Benavides. In this photo, I am standing roughly where home plate would be located, facing toward the outfield.

From ballparks of the future, we move on to ballparks of the past. Civic Stadium, home of the Emeralds from 1969 through 2009, burned down in 2015. The location is now utilized as a soccer field – where Lane United FC plays its games – and an adjacent youth sports facility.

This picture of the soccer field, taken from inside the youth sports facility, has blue markings indicating the location of the pitcher’s mound, home plate and bases. Squint and maybe you can see them. Either way, imagine Mike Schmidt blasting dingers from this location while playing for the Emeralds in 1972.

Prior to playing in Civic Stadium, the Emeralds played at Bethel Field. While Benavides and I did not make it to where that ballpark was once located, I would like to share the following email from reader Russ Aker:

Bethel Field: Original home of the Eugene Larks of the Far West League 1950-1951 and the Eugene Emeralds 1955-1968 of the NW League. Now known as Lark Park at the corner of Duke Snider and Coraly Avenue. All that is left is a portion of the outfield. But if you love baseball it is a “Field of Dreams”…Gaze upon it and then close your eyes, feel it, smell it and hear it.

As noted by Aker, and also by me, in a newsletter trivia question a couple months back: Reggie Jackson hit his first professional home run at Bethel Field, while playing for the Lewiston Broncs.

Alright, back to PK Park. Friday’s game was cold and rainy throughout, so the vibes were a bit off. It was a great night for me, however, as I had the opportunity to talk to a variety of ballpark characters.

Jill Cole and Phil Carrasco were splitting time in the PA booth. The former, the primary announcer, got her job after her G-Rated heckling during an Ems game caught the attention of Benavides. Carrasco handles portions of the announcing whenever the Emeralds play as their “los Monarcas de Eugene” Copa de la Diversión identity, as they did on Friday.

And how’s this for an inspirational tale? After spending more than three decades as a middle school English teacher in San Bernardino, Joe McIntyre is now in his first season as the Emeralds’ promotions director. “It’s a labor of love,” he told me.

And if you’re a fan of the evergreen topic of baseball fathers and sons: When I first visited Eugene, in 2012, I took this pictures of Allan Benavides and his son, Christian, enjoying some Voodoo Donuts.

Fast-forward 11 years, and Christian is now 20 years old and working for the Emeralds. Where does the time go?

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.