Oregon Trail: Feb. 29

Horton keeps busy in February

By now you've probably heard that Oregon will field a baseball team in 2009 for the first time since 1981. It's not every year that a school with the kind of resources Oregon can boast essentially starts a program from scratch, and the Ducks showed the college baseball world they mean business when they hired George Horton away from Cal State Fullerton to lead their rebirth on Sept. 1. With one of the nation's best coaching staffs—including talented assistants Jason Gill and Andrew Checketts—attempting to start an elite program in the backyard of two-time defending national champion Oregon State, we figured it would be compelling to check up on the Ducks' progress once a month, in a feature called The Oregon Trail. Click here to check out the November installment, here for the December installment, and here for the January installment.

February's edition of Oregon Trail almost had to wait until March, because George Horton has been a tough man to get in touch with lately. On top of meetings about Oregon's new stadium and new uniforms and two Oregon baseball camps in February, Horton went to California for his daughter's wedding and finally moved into his new home in Eugene; he and his wife are still unpacking boxes.

The camps were resoundingly successful—almost too successful.

"We had two separate camps, and that was very well received," Horton said. "We were turning kids away. We had to do it in our indoor facility. We limited it to about 100 campers, and I don't know how many phone calls we got from kids begging us to get in. So our first swing at camps was very exciting."

Of course, the most exciting development of the last month for the Ducks has been the progress of stadium plans. A $15 million stadium plan was unveiled at a Jan. 30 news conference. The facility will be built in the parking lot at Autzen Stadium, home of Oregon's football team.

"We're tweaking things and adding things and subtracting things, trying not to eat up so many parking spots in the area where we're going to put the stadium," Horton said. "(The Oregon administration has) another challenge with the basketball arena that they're putting up, so to take away spots for the donors at the football games at Autzen, they're very conscious of that. We're just trying to minimize the casualties so to speak, and take as few of those spots as we can without taking away from the quality of the baseball facility. We've been able to tweak where they're putting our batting cages, stuff like that. When it's all said and done, they'll make the football experience better because they'll have some places to entertain those tailgaters. If everybody's just patient, they're going to find out that the committee is trying to address all of these things."

As for Horton's reaction to the stadium drawings, he was pleased with the look of the facility but more interested in other, grayer drawings.

"The set of drawings that are online are a little bit different compared to what I saw last week," he said. "It looks like a floor plan of a home you buy, it's got the nuts and bolts. What you saw was the aesthetic look, but what's exciting to me is I got to see the floor plan, the locker rooms and umpires room and all that. Our people looked at places around the country like Arkansas, and they've created a hybrid building, with intimacy and seating so fans are right on top of the field. We want to have a concourse so people can walk around and use restrooms without taking away sightlines for people who want to watch the games. The drawings I saw were exciting—they had all the amenities that were on my checklist. They nailed it."

The other exciting thing that's in the works, Horton said, involves the uniforms. The Oregon coaching staff had a good meeting with Nike's designers a couple of weeks ago, and they'll follow up to finalize things on March 11.

"It was a little give and take from Coach Horton and his old style," Horton said of the design. "It's going to be a different look and an exciting look. I've coached at two traditional places where we had traditional uniforms, and I think the Oregon tradition is that our relationship with Nike is special. For me to stand in the way of a brilliant company like Nike and the quality with which they do things, who am I to come in and say that's not what I want? I think that's selfish. It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks, why should I stand in the way of the brilliant marketing and design people at Nike? One of the unique things about the University of Oregon is the uniforms."

So the uniforms might be a little less traditional that Horton is used to, but he added that "they're not that far out there."

As soon as photos of the uniforms become available, we'll give you a look.