George McPherson’s Civic Stadium
by Nate Gartrell, EDN
When George McPherson played at Civic Stadium, no one in their right mind would have suggested tearing the ballpark down and turning it into anything else. Attendance at Civic was good, and its team, the Eugene Emeralds, was red hot—the hottest in the league, as a matter of fact.
McPherson played center field for the Ems in 1974, and 1975, when they won consecutive league championships and set a league record for most wins in a season. McPherson helped them do it; he led the team in stolen bases in ’74, and batted .309 with 89 hits in 75 games in ‘75. That year, the Ems became an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds who, coincidentally, were enjoying two consecutive championship seasons of their own, in ’75 and ’76. “That was when [the Reds] were called ‘The Big Red Machine,’” said McPherson. “And we were called ‘The Little Red Wagon.’”
They had a nickname for Civic back then too; it was known as “The Castle,” and McPherson said he and his teammates felt invincible when they played there. “That place could be almost as loud as Autzen Stadium,” said McPherson of Civic. “It was an atmosphere where it didn’t matter whether we were winning or losing. The fans still cheered, and you could hear them from South Eugene High School at times.”
Of course, there isn’t much cheering going on at Civic nowadays, and hardly anyone still calls it “The Castle.” Since McPherson’s time as a ballplayer, the Ems left Civic for the University of Oregon’s PK Park, citing limited locker room space and other conditions at Civic that weren’t up to Minor League Baseball standards. The Eugene 4J School Board recently rejected three proposals that would have turned the ballpark into either a soccer stadium, a YMCA facility, or a Fred Meyer store, leaving Civic’s future up for grabs. “There were people who had been coming to Civic for 30, 40 years, and a lot of them were kicked to the wayside,” said McPherson, when asked about the move. “It would have been better if everyone in the community had been able to work together and maybe put a little bit into restoring Civic.”
What may have been the Ems’ two best years at Civic were certainly the best in McPherson’s baseball career, who, after ’75, played for various minor league teams, making it as far as Triple-A Indianapolis, before a recurring leg injury ended his playing career in 1977. “If it hadn’t been for my knee, I definitely would’ve made it to ‘The Show,’” said McPherson, referring to the major leagues. “Because the Triple-A owner in Indianapolis had invited me back for a second season.”
After McPherson’s pro days were over, he decided against returning to his hometown, San Diego, and instead came back to Eugene, where he’s been living ever since. He worked in the lumber business for a while, and then owned Strike City Lanes, a local bowling alley, for several years. People here still recognize him on occasion. He likely wouldn’t be living in Eugene if not for baseball, but he’s grown to love the community. “The people here are incredible,” McPherson said of Eugene. “And the trees, and the climate too.”
McPherson has done his best to keep baseball in his life. He still gives lessons to local kids, and in the early 2000s, he worked as a coach with the Milwaukee Brewers organization. He’s also the official scorer for the Eugene Emeralds, and stayed with the club through the move from Civic to PK, despite the fact that he misses the days when the Ems called Civic home. “Baseball has been the love of my whole life,” said McPherson, who smirked, hesitated, then added, “In fact, I was given a choice between marriage and baseball, and I chose baseball.”
When asked how he’d feel if Civic was torn down, McPherson said he’d obviously be sad, but added that he “understands progress,” and said that when the Ems’ left Civic, he knew it was going to be the “end of an era.” Of course, McPherson himself is a living reminder of that era, which encapsulates some of the best years in Oregon baseball history.
If McPherson had his way, though, Civic would remain a historical ballpark for years to come. “I get two lottery tickets a week, and if I ever win, I’m gonna buy it,” said McPherson, referring to Civic. “That would be my goal. It’s one of the best baseball venues that I’ve ever been involved with, and I’d like to see it preserved.”