We are now, somehow, in the waning days of May. I have several more ballpark road trips planned for this season, but for now I remain fixated on my recent jaunt to the Pacific Northwest. After largely dedicating the last two newsletters to Eugene and Hillsboro, respectively, now it’s time to put the spotlight on Tacoma. Thank you for joining me for this, the 56th edition of the Ben’s Biz Beat Newsletter.
TACOMA RAINIERS? IT WAS ACTUALLY PRETTY SUNNY
Tacoma, Wash., was built along the Puget Sound, with the landscape inclining upward from there. Like San Francisco, it is a city of hills, water and interesting architecture. The view from my hotel room, seen above, was sublime.
Tacoma is home of the Rainiers, Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. The Rainiers play at Cheney Stadium, which was built in 1960 and now holds the distinction of being the oldest ballpark in all of Triple-A.
1960 also marked the inaugural season of the Pacific Coast League franchise now known as the Rainiers (that name was adopted in 1995, the same year in which their affiliation with Seattle began). Mount Rainier, for which the team is named, looms beyond right field and is visible from the ballpark on a “good” (non-cloudy) day.
The light towers in the above photo began their existence at Seals Stadium in San Francisco, which was demolished in 1959. Its light towers and wooden grandstand seats were summarily sent to Tacoma, whose ballpark was built over a period of just four months in early 1960. A statue of stadium namesake Ben Cheney, a local businessman and enthusiastic baseball booster, now resides in the seating bowl amid a small section of those original (via San Francisco) grandstand seats.
Being a Ben myself, I couldn’t resist a selfie.
As batting practice was taking place on the field, I interviewed legendary usher Chester Rito within his Dugout Club domain. Chester is a ballpark icon who just loves his job at Cheney Stadium, as it allows him to indulge a baseball fandom that dates back to his Brooklyn boyhood rooting for the Dodgers.
Chester brings a different vintage baseball newspaper to every homestand, which helps spark memories and, therefore, conversation with the fans who sit in his section.
Epic Sax Gorilla -- I mean, what can I say about him that his name doesn’t already describe? -- is a ballpark character of a completely different sort. I briefly caught up with him on the concourse, shortly after his primal woodwind performance.
My Designated Eater, Brandon Sparks, missed the Epic Sax Gorilla because he was waiting for me in front of Saucy’s (a new chicken-centric Cheney Stadium concession stand). From a sartorial perspective, Brandon was representing not chicken, but fish. He’s the promotions director for the DubSea Fish Sticks, a summer-collegiate team that plays in West Seattle.
In lieu of Saucy’s chicken wings -- unique for a Minor League ballpark, but also a bit messy and time-consuming -- Brandon ordered the Spicy Chicken Sandwich. What was unusual about this sandwich was that the heat came not from the chicken breading, but the jalapeño bagel bun.
Brandon enjoyed the sandwich, with the caveat that it could have been improved with the addition of sauce to the underside of the bagel’s top half. Being a man with a propensity for ballpark seafood, he also enjoyed the subsequently acquired Ivar’s Dog.
Ivar’s, a popular Puget Sound-area seafood chain, operates all of Cheney Stadium’s concession stands. The Ivar’s Dog features two fried cod patties and coleslaw on a bun.
As for the remainder of this Tuesday evening tilt between the Rainiers and visiting Reno Aces, what can I say except that it was a bit of a blur? The combination of pitching duel and pitch timer resulted in a game that took just two hours and 11 minutes to complete. Ample sunshine, temperatures in the mid-60s and the innate charms of a classic ballpark combined to make it a pleasant evening throughout.
It was still light outside when the game concluded, giving me plenty of time to compose a joke while wandering around the parking lot. The below image played a role in the punchline. To see the set-up, click HERE.
Stay tuned next week for more borderline material, as I leave the United States behind in favor of visiting Vancouver and its Canadians. For now, here’s one more bit of photographic evidence proving Tacoma to be a beautiful city.
There will be much more to come from my visit to Cheney Stadium, of course. In the meantime, here are a pair of articles emanating from Eugene and Hillsboro, respectively.
Dylan Ray and Conor Grammes have a lot in common, at least superficially. They're both right-handed pitchers in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization who currently play for the High-A Hillsboro Hops. They both occupy a spot on MLB Pipeline's D-backs Top 30 Prospect list. And, most importantly for the purposes of my recent article: They both love video games.
Grammes and Ray diverge considerably when it comes to which game they prefer, however. The former is a Pac-Man player who's moved into rarified air on a worldwide leaderboard, while the latter is obsessed with the "cars playing soccer" phenomenon that is Rocket League.
READ ABOUT THE HOPS’ OLD-SCHOOL/NEW-SCHOOL VIDEO GAME DIVIDE HERE
This is Josh Jackson, breaking into your reading with, well, more to read for all of you out there in newsletter land. I host The Show Before the Show podcast's Ghosts of the Minors segment, in which I challenge you to identify a historical Minor League team hiding among ahistorical phonies.
In the last edition, we insisted upon talking about the Waycross Blowhards. This week, I ask you which of these teams stood alone in the Minors of yesteryear?
The Corning Independents
The Killeen Individualists
- The Medford Mavericks
Find out on the next Ghosts of the Minors!
LISTEN UP: MiLB PODCAST EPISODE DEDICATED TO YOU, THE FANS
Speaking of the MiLB.com “Show Before the Show” podcast, I would like to belatedly bring your attention to a very special episode of recent vintage. May 5’s “Extrava-fan-za” featured interviews with 11 dedicated Minor League Baseball fans, talking about what they love about it and what they’re looking forward to.
I think this episode will appeal to readers of this newsletter because you will likely relate to (at least one of) the people featured in this episode. You may know some of them personally. Heck, one of them may even be you.
LISTEN TO THE SHOW BEFORE THE SHOW “EXTRAVA-FAN-ZA” HERE
Here in the heart of the season, where we all reside, it’s been tough to fit in the usual array of recurring newsletter segments. But I appreciate those who have nonetheless reached out to share highlights from their own recent Minor League Baseball experiences.
Please get in touch if you’d like to share your own -- email@example.com -- and I’ll feature as many of the responses as I can in upcoming editions of the newsletter. If you prefer, keep it simple like Mike P. did:
“A beautiful night to watch the Wilmington Blue Rocks. (May 13)”
Sunrise, sunset. Thanks for reading.