In baseball, if you take three swings and miss at bat, you’re out. If you’re a baseball team trying to adjust to reopening during COVID-19, you’re doing what you can to stay in the game.
The Eugene Emeralds have had three attempts at an opening day — the traditional celebration of the first home game of the season. The Emeralds had their traditional opening day at the start of the season, but COVID-19 social distancing was in effect, limiting crowd sizes.
Then, when Lane County entered “lower risk” after hitting the 65 percent first-dose vaccination rate, the team had a reopening day game.
Weeks later, the team had a re-reopening game after Gov. Kate Brown ended her executive orders on social distancing, masking and on building capacities. The Eugene Emeralds Minor League Baseball team is now open at 100 percent capacity, allowing the team to plan promotions and activities at the rest of its season home games, General Manager Allan Benavides tells Eugene Weekly, and the Ems continue to follow league-mandated safety guidelines.
“We’re only open 38 days out of the year for business,” he says. “When that’s completely shut down that’s a huge hit.” During the latter half of June, when PK Park was allowed to be at lower capacity, it was better than last year’s missed season for the team’s revenue, he adds.
“We’re happy to get the season underway,” Benavides says. “We didn’t know whether we’d have a season just a few months ago.”
That uncertainty has affected the team’s front office, which has historically organized home games filled with audience engagement activities in between innings. “The normal promotions of what we do are probably a bit tamer than usual,” Benavides says. “But we’re ready for fans. We’ve done a bunch of hiring recently and are ready to welcome the crowds back.”
According to the team’s schedule, the team’s 2021 future promotion nights include “Beatles Night” July 20 and “Grateful Dead Night” July 22. And every Sunday home game, the Ems will play as the Monarcas when the team pays homage to Latin American culture through promotions on the field and off.
Per orders from Minor League Baseball, the Ems staff is sanitizing the park after games and is wearing masks and gloves at games, Benavides says.
Nine innings of baseball can last about three hours. To keep fans excited, in the past the team has had on-field activities like tricycle races, people crashing into each other while wearing inflatable bubbles and dance offs with the mascot Sluggo.
A personal favorite event is when someone thinks they can outrun a sasquatch on the baseball field. Benavides says the league isn’t allowing that activity right now due to COVID protocols, but the team is trying to bring it back.
The only issue right now is that it takes time to find the right sasquatch. “We go out and camp out in the forest,” he says. “It’s difficult to find a sasquatch. And when we find one, we secretively wait till he’s out of our sights. Then we capture him and there’s our Squatch.”
The sasquatch is then kept humanely at PK Park, Benavides laughs.
This is the first year that the Emeralds have been playing at the high A level, the third-highest level in minor league baseball. “We haven’t had this high level of baseball since the 1970s in Eugene,” he says, referring to the Triple-A baseball team, which is one step below Major League Baseball.
Prices have gotten steeper at PK Park, from the tickets to beers. The food and drink costs are linked to COVID-19-related supply chain shocks, Benavides says. But he adds there are various promo nights during the week that makes baseball accessible for everyone, pointing to Thursdays as his favorite night when the ballpark has $5 tickets, $4 parking and $3 tall boys.
“We’re excited to get after it again. We’re excited to get the community out and about and enjoying the summer, enjoying what has been a tradition in Eugene for traditions,” he says. “We will always be here. We’re excited to open up our doors again and want everyone to enjoy a game and get back to life.”
Visit MiLB.com/eugene for more information on home game dates, promotions and how to buy tickets.