I recently took a trip around the Pacific Northwest, ending my trip in Eugene, Oregon.
While there, I took in a game at PK Park, home to the University of Oregon’s baseball program, along with the team I went to watch; the San Francisco Giant’s High-A affiliate, the Eugene Emeralds, who played the game using its alternate Pranksters identity.
Signs that this was going to be a different kind of ballpark experience came before the game even started when I walked past one of the players for the opposing team that night – the Angels’ High-A affiliate, the Tri-City Dust Devils – in the parking lot making his own way to the game dressed in full uniform and with a kitbag full of his gear slung over his shoulder. Can you imagine Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani doing the same at the major league level?
It is also the first time that I’ve been so close to home plate that I could have an opinion on what was a ball and what was a strike;
All the usual gameday entertainment was on offer during the game breaks, whether it was kids throwing baseballs at targets or grown men dressed as different burger toppings having to pile on top of each other in order to make ‘the perfect burger’ as defined by the corporate sponsor for that segment. All-in-all, good silly fun for the spectators’ amusement that added to the gameday experience.
While not at the level that was served at the London Series games – there were sadly no three-foot-long ‘boomsticks’ of nachos or doughnut cheeseburgers to be found at PK Park – the food on offer at the game was good too. I bought two very tasty, if a little oily, carne asada and chicken asada tacos for $9, which were preceded by a $5 hotdog that was both nicer and cheaper than any hotdog I’ve ever bought at a major league game.
Add to that the fact that there was a $3 Pub Beer promotion on at the game I attended, along with a ‘Beer Batter’ promotion, where if a designated batter on the opposition was struck out, all premium beers were $4 each for the next 15 minutes, and it turned out to be a relatively cheap night.
In total, this is how much attending the game cost;
- $5 ticket
- $3 Pub beer
- $5 hot dog
- $9 for two tacos
- $4 ‘Beer Batter’ beers (x2)
In addition, it cost my mate $4 to park his car in the PK Park parking lot, so let’s add an additional $2 to my total. In all, attending the game cost $32 then – the ticket alone cost $32 when I first went to an A’s game at the Oakland Coliseum, not to mention the exorbitantly-priced hot dogs, nachos and beer.
This is what sets minor league baseball apart then; a relatively-affordable gameday experience. While the cost-of-living crisis hasn’t been as pronounced or long-lasting in the US, purse strings have still had to be tightened as Americans have also experienced rises in their grocery and fuel bills, and so, minor league ballclubs can attract fans by still offering a good level of professional baseball to spectators, but at a reduced price.
This maybe speaks to the challenge of getting fans through the gates at the various levels of baseball. It is precisely because the tickets were discounted to $5 each and there was a $3 Pub Beer offer on that my mate took me that night. High–A is the second-lowest tier of professional baseball in the US. In order to attract fans then, teams have to run these kinds of promotions to entice people through the gates. When they get there, it’s a good experience for the fans, but the fact promotions of some kind or another are applied by the Emeralds to nearly all home games speaks volumes.
This also extends to the team’s merchandise as well. As I noted to my mate when we were looking at the merchandise stand for a souvenir, as it was my birthday during that trip and he insisted on getting me something; ‘Minor league ballclub. Major league prices.’ I got a MARVEL-themed Emeralds cap, which I really like and which will mean I’ll always have a soft spot for the team now (even if, as an A’s fan, they are affiliated with those dirty Giants from across the Bay…), but the fact that a minor league team is charging $27 for a cap, and that is at low end of the price scale – I saw one cap that was being sold for $42, for example, which is ludicrous – is surely unsustainable, particularly in a country where college sports are a big thing, and the city of Eugene plays host to the University of Oregon and its various sports teams.
On this point, as I noted at the start of this article, PK Park is also home to the University of Oregon’s baseball program. It is worth highlighting that the Emeralds are currently looking for a new home, and were encouraging fans at the game to contact the Eugene City Council about the issue. Such calls to action are also prominent on the Emeralds’ website too.
For me, the game was what watching a baseball game should be. The fact that the Ems lost the game 6-3 didn’t matter. It was all about the experience – a relaxed vibe, some nice food and a couple of beers sat alongside a good mate where you’re surrounded by other fans that you can chat baseball and have a laugh with, and all without breaking the bank too much.
There is always going to be a place for minor league ballclubs, particularly in cities like Eugene that don’t have sports teams that play in any of America’s major leagues. In order for those clubs to survive and thrive, they have to come in at a price point that will consistently entice spectators to attend in good numbers though.
And, finally, I’d like to end on this thought;
Featured image – Author’s own
When not pulling a silly face in a photo with a mascot, Brett is the Oakland Athletics’ Contributor for Bat Flips & Nerds, and can be found on Twitter @BrettChatsSport (where his profile picture is said photo with a mascot).