PK Park Has No Peer in PAC-10 Baseball
PK Park, home of George Horton and the University of Oregon Ducks' resurgent baseball program, opened a new era for PAC-10 Baseball earlier this spring, already sporting a 4-2 record at home.
With the grand opening underway and the Ducks (12-6) working hard in preparing for their weekend series with Nevada, let's take some time to check out the latest 5-Star Diamond facility project rising from the parking lot next to venerable Autzen Stadium in Eugene.
Reminiscent of Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, it rates a 10 in the eyes of Duck faithful. Longtime baseball alum Thomas Bowen, a former high school baseball coach in the Eugene area, could hardly contain his excitement in explaining the enormous impact on the PAC-10: "Welcome to the Arms Race in the PAC-10," exclaimed Bowen.
It is just the latest facility project to dot Duckville as Eugene has seen a decade in facility improvements that we will likely never see again in our lifetime.
Since Oregon Football pranced into the Rose Bowl in 1994, Duck Nation has witnessed the $12 Million Indoor "Mo-Center," a $10 Million Athletic Department "Casanova Center," a $100 Million Autzen remodel, and the transfer from historic "Mac-Court to Matt-Court" as the $180 Million Nike Center is nearing the final months of construction as well.
When you include the historic "Hayward Field" renovation along with the $19 Million PK Park, you wonder where all this wealth of income is originating from, especially given the harsh economic climate we have witnessed around the world in the last 36 months.
The major question becomes will the Ducks win enough across the board of its athletic department to generate the revenue needed to sustain all the projects?
It is a scary proposition as this perfect storm of a financial hurricane looms over the horizon.
However, with a ballpark like PK Park and George Horton orchestrating the aggressive Duck attack, the sky is the limit for this young and developing program, giving Duck fans young and old something other than the economy and the struggling basketball program to grapple about.
For a team that listed badly toward the finish line in 2009, 2010 has started off with a much-needed emotional bang as the Ducks have won nine of their last 10 ballgames, including a four-game sweep on the road at Fresno State, the 2008 College World Series Champions.
It was just what the doctor ordered to stem the fragile tide of confidence (known as the Monster in Horton terms) that dogged the Ducks last spring.
Oregon started strong in a 7-3 opening game victory over Cal-State-Fullerton, which was followed up by a 6-2 pasting against Long Beach State a night later.
Although Oregon lost the Sunday tilt against Pepperdine after a strong pitching performance was wasted due to a porous defensive effort, the bats came alive in Game 4 as Horton's troops blasted former Duck Assistant Coach and current Head Loyola-Marymount Coach Jason Gill 12-3.
From there the Ducks, have been soaring!
Although Oregon's strong start looks promising and has everyone "abuzz" in Eugene, the fact remains that the combined record for Oregon's first four opponents was a dismal 4-12 after the opening weekend, so it is far too early to tell if the Ducks are for real.
The one thing you can take to the bank is the yard is a legitimate Top-10 baseball facility, not only within the PAC-10 where it has no peer, but throughout Division I Baseball as well.
When George Horton was first hired back in the summer of 2007, he and his band of administrative brothers flip-flopped across the country visiting many of the premiere collegiate baseball facilities.
When walking into the park via "Fowl Territory" near the Right-Field entry gates, you get the immediate impression that PK Park is a mini-version of Omaha.
With a first-class locker room running underneath the entire upper first base concourse, which is quite expansive I might add, the program has room for three batting tunnels next to an expansive locker room that would give the football program a run for its money.
It also includes a players' lounge complete with computerized desks and Internet connections, and there is plenty of room for the coaches offices as well.
Taking the best concepts from the North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Rice, Texas and Cal-Irvine stadium renovations, the Oregon project easily passes the eyeball test, not only with the local fans and die-hard Oregon alums, but also the 5-Star recruits that will ultimately blaze the baselines for Coach Horton in the future.
The stadium has a Player Development Area (PDA) behind the Duck bullpen in right-field, which at some point may be two or three stories high with drop down batting tunnels that can be lifted to incorporate an enormous infield skill development area.
The second level may become a weight room complete with a cardio-speed development center. There is even a rumored plan of adding a third level Sky Suite area that would include an upper deck facade at some point down the road into the future, which would be similar to the Multnomah Athletic Center next to PGE Park in Portland.
The only real negative I can find with the whole project is the fact that Oregon's student section plays such a big role in "The PITT" during basketball season and they totally electrify the atmosphere at Autzen during the football campaign, but I wonder if the students will feel a little shafted being relegated to the cold metal bleachers clear out in left field during baseball season?
They will, however, be in prime position to haze, rattle and roll the visiting ball club, and believe me, once Oregon brings that winning atmosphere to town, they will have a definite home crowd advantage, much like the powerful Beavers up North in Corvallis.
Although there is a tremendous area around the student section to roam at the edge of the ballpark retaining wall, allowing for up close and personal conversations with the competing student athletes, I still can't help but feel the students got a little shafted given the extravagance surrounding the remainder of the ballpark.
All things being equal, I believe the ballpark has surpassed even my wildest expectations. Although the Beavers up North have an excellent venue as well, I believe PK Park has no peer in the PAC-10 Conference.
The PAC-10 Conference, with UCLA's successful Dodgertown Tournament in Los Angeles this past weekend (18,000 people showed up for the four-way event between Vanderbilt vs Oklahoma State and the epic rivalry between USC and UCLA) has now entered SEC territory in terms creating a festive atmosphere for college baseball.
Missing from the original plan, an Omaha Complex, was nixed due to the economy and replaced by the Fowl Territory-Terraced Beer Garden, which is a huge expansive area down the right field line that will have three levels of outdoor-restaurant style seating.
The perfect place to watch the Ducks or the Eugene Emeralds Class A Short-Season Minor League Franchise play during late spring or summer. The Boys of Summer are back in the Emerald City!
In the final analysis, the PAC-10 Conference, better known as the "Conference of Champions," has entered the college baseball arms race.
Who will be the next program to step up and either match or exceed the efforts of the schools in the Beaver State?