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The Civic Spirit

Though Civic Stadium is gone, the hope for a community center remains
Photo by Trask Bedortha

 

“Louder boys, louder! You have to believe we can win! Let ’em know you believe it out there in the outfield!” my dad called out over the crowd, encouraging my brothers and me as the summer evening light faded over the Willamette Valley.

As the sun disappeared, the old-style electric bulbs over Civic Stadium’s field would surge on, offering a flash of hope for the Emeralds that there was still a bit of game to be played. 

And we would yell louder — stomping our feet, jumping up and down on the discarded peanut shells and the Cracker Jack box my dad would insist on buying when we went to see the Ems play. The old wooden grandstand created a perfect echo chamber, shaking a bit as it amplified the pounding of the fans.

 “It’s coming up on the final inning,” he’d tell us. “It’s now or never.”

The same wooden grandstand built in 1938, so capable of echoing our childhood enthusiasm across the Willamette Valley evening, proved perfect to spread the licking flames that began at 5:27 pm Monday afternoon, June 29. 

The roar of flames that engulfed Civic Stadium seemed the final echo of 10,000 cheering summer crowds on 10,000 sweltering summer nights. The pillar of smoke, visible for miles, felt like a million summer memories floating away into the heavens.

The heartbreak of Monday’s fire was all the sharper because the Eugene community had just weeks earlier succeeded in collecting over $4 million in donated funds to preserve Civic Stadium for another generation of Eugeneans — the baseball field transformed for children’s teams to play soccer, football and lacrosse. 

I had already spoken with friends I grew up with, all of us new parents, about the idea of watching our children playing soccer while we stomped and cheered from the same seats where I used to sit with my brothers. As we laughed at the ideas of what we might cheer, it seemed like an image that was too perfect to be true.

Watching the flames take the stadium Monday evening felt like the loss not only of an idyllic past, but also the snatching away of a tremendous future for so many children and families in the Eugene community. The heartbreak was nearly unbearable, the loss unreal.

Again and again in the last decade, this generation has seen promises snatched away. Promises of peace lost to more than a decade of war. Promises of prosperity lost to a Great Recession that wiped out savings and careers that were just beginning to take root and grow. So much potential has again and again simply made the losses that much more painful.

But through it all, ties to each other, memories from childhood and links to our Eugene community together have served as mooring lines, holding strong against the storm of the modern age. We owe so much to the parents and loved ones who allowed us to find ourselves while growing up in a community like Eugene.

On June 29, we lost one important part of Eugene history and identity when Civic Stadium burned, the historic grandstand a total loss. But that does not mean that from the ashes we cannot still build something great for our children, a place that honors what our parents created for us and that will build even bonds of community in Eugene, giving us strength on tough days and making memories to see us and our children through dark times — a place that makes us all proud to be Eugeneans.

Our children’s lives deserve the terrific experiences we enjoyed, and they will no doubt need them as well, as my generation has needed ours. And if those experiences can no longer be in Civic Stadium itself, the next generation of Eugeneans can still find those experiences on what we choose to rebuild from the ashes of this tragedy. 

And someday — perhaps after a soccer game on the field where the Emeralds used to play — I can tell my daughter about watching baseball with my brothers when I was a kid. We will not be able to leave through the same narrow wooden stairwell tunnels I remember, but I hope we will be able to look out across a civic sports complex that does justice to the memory of Civic Stadium. 

I hope very much that such a community project is still possible. That hope is not really for all those who, like me, are heartbroken by the fire this week, although we surely need something to believe in today. It is instead for all of the children like my 3-year-old daughter and 4-month-old son who deserve to feel what it is like to bring a community together to support a worthy cause.

If enthusiastic support for a worthy cause could win baseball games, the Emeralds would have had a much better record during the years my brothers and I spent our summer evenings cheering and stomping at Civic Stadium. More often than not, as I reach back into my childhood memories, we’d come up short.  

Walking out together with the stream of Eugeneans, down through the narrow wooden tunnel, out into the parking lot and over to Oak Street, dejected at our loss, my dad would reach down and grab us to remark, “You know, there is just nothing better than that — rooting for the home team.”

“Dad, we lost,” we’d remind him sadly. 

“That’s true, but next time we start fresh, zero to zero. And we’ll gettum next game when anything is possible. We just have to keep on cheering and keep on believing.”