UO Special Collections and University Archives, in collaboration with Oregon Softball and the Women In Flight program, presents a three-part series this week detailing the early history of Oregon women’s softball in celebration of the last regular season games this weekend at Howe Field (1936-2015). Part I focused on the career of Becky Sisley, former women’s athletic director at the University of Oregon, and her contributions to the growth of women’s athletics on campus; Part II features a look at the rise of softball in the 1970s in the wake of Title IX legislation; and today’s post details the development of UO’s first dedicated softball field in 1979.
In its first dozen years of existence under Sisley, the UO women’s softball team was without a home of its own. Until 1969, the team split its practices and its home games between Gerlinger Field and the library field next to Pioneer Cemetery. Games played on Gerlinger Field had special ground rules when fair balls were hit into the cemetery. With the growing interest in the sport among the Oregon colleges, the softball team was forced to seek accommodations off campus.
Starting in 1971, UO scheduled most of its home games at Amazon Park behind South Eugene High School, coordinating with the City of Eugene to arrange games and some practice times at the venue about nine blocks from the edge of the Oregon campus. As Allyson Smith, a second baseman for the Ducks from 1976 through 1979, observed during her senior year, “There was always the problem of scheduling [at Amazon Park] so we could get on the field out there, and there was always a lot of wasted time going back and forth between the field and campus.”
Further complicating the matter was the Oregon climate. Frequent rains prevented the use of the public fields at Amazon Park or practice time on the library field, forcing the softball team inside for practice in the Gerlinger Annex. Home games were often canceled due to the weather – which, coupled with the difficulties of rescheduling games at Amazon Park, resulted in inconsistent play. Without a home of its own, the team was forced to eke out a nomadic and uncertain existence from season to season. In the late 1970s a few practices were scheduled at Autzen Stadium, where the impact of wet weather was not so disruptive.
With Title IX effectively forcing universities around the country to act on gender equity forwomen’s sports teams, the University of Oregon finally began to focus on developing a playing field for its softball program in the fall of 1978. The university settled on the site south of Hayward Field on Agate Street at the terminus of 17th Avenue. Breaking ground in November, the construction crew confronted the drainage issues plaguing the site and began to create a softball diamond from scratch. The layout of the field followed the alignment of Howe Field, the baseball field to the west that would later become home for women’s softball, with home plate at the northwest corner of the diamond and the third-base line extending toward Agate Street.
The newly integrated athletic department, headed by athletic director John Caine, was instrumental in the rapid completion of the new ballpark. “John told us not to worry about where all the equipment was coming from, so we didn’t,” Sisley noted, “and through donations he was able to get the material to give the finishing touches to the field.” The finished venue had successfully tackled the field drainage issues of the site to provide the women with a fully-fenced venue featuring a skinned infield, a permanent backstop, team benches, and bleacher seating for 200 spectators. “We started from scratch on the field,” Caine added, “and it’s taken until now to get it in tip-top shape, but it is ready and I am ready to see a game played on it.” The softball players raised money through a jog-a-thon to purchase the bleachers.
Actually playing the first game on the new field, however, was delayed two weeks thanks to rainy weather. Originally slated to take place against Sacramento State on April 10, rain forced the cancellation not only of the April 10 contest but subsequent matchups against Nevada-Reno and Chico State. The landmark first game was pushed back two weeks to the April 24 date against Southern Oregon, until after the team’s return from the Reno Invitational. “Sure I am disappointed, but we have our own field, which is a landmark occasion, and we are looking forward to playing on it,” Sisley said about the delay. “We’ll just have to wait to show it off. We are entitled to show it off. It shows that there is support behind the team.”
The opportunity to inaugurate the field finally came on April 25, not against Southern Oregon but instead against Portland State. The two teams had already faced one another three times previously that season, and the first home game at the new softball field marked the third time in less than a week that the two rivals met. The Ducks had lost 1-0 in Portland on April 5, but gained revenge at the Reno Invitational with successive 11-1 and 6-2 victories to emerge as the tournament champion over the weekend before meeting again in Eugene. “We haven’t even practiced on it yet,” Sisley said before the contest, “but we are looking forward to our first game on it.”
The field was ready for pre-game warmups at 2:30 pm, with the Duck women scheduled to take the field at 3:38. Portland State stepped onto the new field nine minutes later, with the captains and coaches meeting with the umpires at 3:55 and the national anthem capping the pre-game festivities. At 4:00 pm, Vicki Lesh dug in and threw the first pitch to the Vikings’ Katie Meyer. Meyer swung at the first pitch, grounding out to Allyson Smith at shortstop. Portland State’s first three batters were retired to end the inning, and outfielder Bindy Stillwell would gain the distinction of scoring the first run at the field when Smith drove her in after a Lori Sweet sacrifice fly.
Portland State tied the game in the top of the second inning, and the outcome was uncertain until Stillwell showed off her power with a solo home run to start off the bottom of the sixth inning. With Lesh pitching a two-hitter, Oregon stole its third straight game against the Vikings to emerge triumphant in its first home game at the new stadium. As nice as it was to emerge victorious in its inaugural home game on its own field, however, UO softball had even bigger goals in 1979. “We aren’t counting on the field as much as the team,” Sisley had argued before the win over PSU. “I think that it will do our ego good, but we are more excited with the possibility of winning the regionals and attending nationals.”
The softball team finished 3-0 at home in its first season at the new field, winning a Civil War showdown over Oregon State in 13 innings on May 2 and following it up six days later with an emphatic 11-1 win over the Oregon College of Education. In between the two games, a dedication dinner was hosted for the new field on May 4. Chris Voelz, the first-year women’s athletic director and women’s volleyball coach, opened the festivities on an evening featuring recognition of senior contributions and special awards for the team.
Entering the NCWSA Championships in Portland in mid-May, UO was 15-4 on the season and a favorite to emerge out of the region to play in the Women’s College World Series two weeks later. A 7-0 shutout of Southern Oregon was followed by a 3-0 loss at the hands of the Beavers. A fourth straight win over Portland State followed, but in the decisive showdown Oregon State prevailed 2-1 to claim the trip to Omaha.
Though they did not make noise nationally, 1979 still proved to be a momentous season for Oregon softball as it finally received its own playing field. After years of wandering both around the campus and the city of Eugene looking for a place to play, the Ducks could call their Agate Street spot home. “We’ll be able to spend all our practice time outside down here (on the new field) and we’ll be more used to the field when it comes time to play the games,” Lesh proudly stated. “It’ll give us more of a home field advantage.”
The team played at the Agate field location until 1987 when Howe Field, originally the home of Duck Baseball from 1936-1981, became the new home for Oregon softball. The team will play their last regular season home games at Howe Field this weekend before construction begins on the new Jane Sanders Stadium begins in June.
Information for this article was collected from the following sources:
- Christy Bode, “Softball looks for games, new playing field,” Daily Emerald (Eugene), April 28, 1978.
- “Ducks face Portland in softball action today,” Daily Emerald (Eugene), April 25, 1979, B7.
- “New field brings an end to softball team’s wondering days,” Oregon Sports (Eugene), May 4, 1979, 2.
- “Softball Media Guides, 1978-1991,” University Archives sports information and media guides, UA Ref 5, Box 26, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.
- Tamara Swenson, “Softball team readies for play on new diamond,” Daily Emerald (Eugene), April 24, 1979, 9.
- “Women dedicate field,” Daily Emerald (Eugene), May 4, 1979, A13.
- “Women: Softball Field,” University Archives alphabetical subject files, UA Ref 1, Box 16, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.
- “Women win in home opener; baseball team loses,” Daily Emerald (Eugene), April 26, 1979.
- This post has been periodically edited thanks to additional insights from Becky Sisley.
Student Research Assistant