The 2009 Eugene Emeralds began their 54th season in the Northwest League on Saturday evening with a 5-4 loss in the home opener against league rival and San Francisco Giants affiliate, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.
In 2008, the two teams ended the regular season with identical records (40-36) after a ferocious comeback by the Ems, who were 15 games under .500 late in the season. The Ems won their final three games of the 2008 season to tie Salem-Keizer for the West Division crown, but failed to make the playoffs.
After clinching the Northwest League championships for two consecutive years, Salem-Keizer eventually lost to the Spokane Indians in the championship series in 2008.
The Northwest League is made up of two divisions: Northwest League West Division and Northwest League East Division. The west division includes the Emeralds, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, the Everett AquaSox and the Vancouver Canadians. The east division includes the Spokane Indians, the Tri-City Dust Devils, the Boise Hawks and the Yakima Bears.
The Ems return just three players from the 2008 roster, including pitcher Tyson Bagley, catcher Emmanuel Quiles and infielder Joey Railey.
Bagley, a 6-foot-8 right-hander, started six games in 2008 and went 1-0 with a 3.57 ERA in 22 games. In 40.1 innings of work Bagley struck out 50 batters, while walking just 27.
“I’m hoping to pitch well enough to keep moving up the ladder,” Bagley, who likes what he has seen this week in practice, said. “From what I can see, we got a hell of a team here. I think we should be able to win a lot of ball games.”
With the MLB draft taking place June 10 through 12, most of the Ems’ new additions arrived in Eugene last Sunday. Team members then participated in workouts Monday through Friday in preparation for the weekend home stand against the Volcanoes.
“It’s gone well,” said Nate Freiman, a 6-foot-7, 225-pound Duke graduate who was drafted in the eighth round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the Padres. “But it’s been kind of tough. A lot of people are coming from a long way away, but everybody’s really excited.”
For Freiman, who broke the Blue Devils’ all-time home run record his senior year and earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors this past spring, the transition from college baseball to minor league baseball has been smooth. Much of the roster is filled with recent college graduates and even a few teenagers, like 18-year-old Edinson Rincon.
“Everything is run more professional,” Freiman said. “That’s an adjustment just getting used to knowing that you’re a professional. Once you can get used to that, it’s still baseball.”
But changes to the roster will continue to be made, and for that reason, manager Greg Riddoch can’t make any predictions.
“Usually I tell everybody by July 15 that I’ll know what the expectations are, because I’ll know what we really have,” said Riddoch. “Some of these (players) will be here; some of them won’t be here. We’ll just be a different-looking team by then.”
One player the Ems would love to get on the field is high school standout Donovan Tate, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, who could begin his career in Eugene if he signs with the Padres. The 6-foot-2 outfielder hit .525 with 10 home runs in his senior season at Cartersville High School in Georgia.
This season also marks the 40th and final year the Ems will call historic Civic Stadium home. The stadium was built in 1938 and has been used by the team since 1969. It is among the top-10 oldest ballparks in the United States still hosting professional baseball, and in October 2008, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department placed Civic Stadium in the National Register of Historic Places. But despite its sentimental and historical worth, it is in dire need of renovations and updates.
In an effort to preserve the iconic landmark and raise awareness among the Eugene community, a grassroots project, savecivicstadium.org, started.
A deal is also in the works between the Eugene Emeralds and the University that would make PK Park the new home of the Ems after the 2009 season.
There are additions that need to be made to PK Park before it is suitable for minor league play – additions the University does not want to pay for. One feature that would have to be added onto PK Park is a visitor’s clubhouse.
This week, the Ems travel to Yakima for a five-game away series with the Bears and return to Eugene for a six-game home stand against Everett, slated to start at 7:05 p.m. Sunday.