Clark: Viewing opportunities aplenty for Oregon faithful as summer approaches

What a spring it’s turned out to be for Oregon athletics.

Coming out of the trench of a four-month span we’ve come to accept as basketball season here in Eugene, I wasn’t sure what to expect from another busy spring slate.

Expectations were as high as they always seem to be for the track and field program. Mike White’s revamped Oregon softball team was coming off back-to-back Super Regional appearances for the first time in school history.@@[email protected]@ Meanwhile, Oregon baseball entered February with more than a handful of unknowns after a disappointing 2011 season.

From year to year, we’ve come to expect certain levels of excellence from the respected athletic programs here at Oregon. Yes, Duck football will continue to dominate the fan base, as shown by the 40,000-plus that attended the spring game three weeks ago. But, as spring sports began approaching the end of the regular season these past few weeks, I finally started to realize just how spoiled we are this late in the year. @@[email protected]@

For starters, I spent a couple days at the Pac-12 Conference Track and Field Championships this past weekend, my first track meet since the USA Outdoors last June.@@[email protected]@ Competitor after competitor would constantly praise the environment at Hayward Field and the knowledgeable fans who make TrackTown USA@@ like no other place in the country.

Yes, the weather conditions were absolutely pristine, but there’s a certain quality about Hayward Field that simply can’t be matched. I spoke to a local high school and club track coach earlier this week about getting ready for districts and the eventual state meet held each year at Hayward, and he reiterated that message.

“The amazing thing about Hayward Field,” he said, “is regardless of what you think you’re athletically prepared for, there’s just that aura about Hayward Field that, until you’ve been there in that moment, you’re just not ready for it.”

Oregon was ready to defend its home turf, and now has a pair of Pac-12 championships to show for it.

Then there’s the rising softball program. Now, Howe Field, while great to play on, is arguably the least inviting venue for any sport affiliated with the University. Not because it isn’t well kept, because they take the cake in that category. Just the simple design and size of the stadium makes it tough to get a sell-out crowd through the gates.

However, I can’t imagine that will be the feeling when Oregon hosts its first-ever NCAA regional — along with a third-straight Super Regionals berth — looming at weekend’s end. Having spent three years on the softball beat, I’ve grown to appreciate the sport much more than I ever anticipated. And let me just say, there’s something different about this year’s team. They’re balanced offensively, have a pitcher in Jessica Moore who’s proven time and again she can match up with any team in the country, and a coach with a knack for making all the right second-day adjustments. @@[email protected]@

The same can be said for the Men of Oregon over at PK Park. Though it’s been a few weeks since I covered the Ducks, from what I’ve been reading, there is something special brewing, too, over there. With a 1 1/2-game lead over Arizona for first place in the Pac-12 standings, Oregon has a chance to claim its first conference title and join the softball team in hosting an NCAA Regional in June.

In the handful of games I’ve seen — other than an epic eighth-inning collapse against Washington State in late April — the Ducks just find a way to win. Victorious in 11 of their last 12 outings, Oregon is one Civil War series victory away from reaching the first of its many preseason goals. @@[email protected]@

If you were among the PK Park record crowd of 3,892 who watched Oregon beat Cal immediately after the football spring game, then you can understand what postseason baseball in Eugene has the potential to be. Of the three exceptional seasons we’ve covered here, none gets me more excited than the idea of NCAA Tournament baseball in our own back yard. @@[email protected]@

By now, Oregon faithful, you realize things are quickly picking up steam. And I encourage you to take every advantage of it that you can before the summer is fully upon us.

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