Summer is nearly here and that means the Eugene Emeralds are about to throw out the first pitch of their 2018 season. Last year, Jesus Feliciano led the team to the finals, which ultimately led to a loss to the Vancouver Canadians. Of course you can’t forget about the stellar championship the Ems brought home — their first in more than 40 years — at the same time as the once-cursed Chicago Cubs. This year Steve Lerud takes the place of Feliciano at the helm of manager.
This will be Lerud’s first time in a manager or coaching position. He comes to the team with mostly experience playing catcher. He had 13 minor league seasons from 2004 to 2016 and appeared in nine Major League Baseball games with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012 and 2013. His overall batting average was .224 with 63 home runs in his more than 900 games experience.
Lerud says he’s happy to have his team playing at the University of Oregon’s PK Park, which offers the team’s roster the facilities necessary for development.
“I can’t imagine a better place to develop players at,” he says. “This is as good facility as there is in the minor leagues.”
Lerud says this year the team has a younger group and that he feels confident in the team because of their recruiting staff’s knack for finding and recruiting talent. Despite having younger players, though, he hopes that by the end of the season, they’ll be closer to playing at Wrigley Field (the home of the Chicago Cubs who the Emeralds are an affiliate of).
“I want all these guys to be closer to the big leagues by the end of the year,” he says. “I’m a firm believer that you develop winners by winning.”
The team includes Stephen Ridings, who previously played for the Arizona League Cubs, a Rookie League team in the Arizona League. In 2016, Ridings was named to the All-Centennial Conference first team when he was a junior at the Division III School Haverford College Fords. Ridings says he’s excited to play in Eugene and have a chance to play in Vancouver, which he says it’ll be the first time playing internationally.
The Emeralds almost made it as back-to-back champions but lost to Vancouver Canadians, and the season opens with a grudge match with a five game series against the Canadians, which starts at 7:05 pm Friday, June 15, and ends Tuesday, June 19.