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Ben's Biz: Tacoma Rainiers? It was actually pretty sunny

Ben Hill pays a visit to the oldest ballpark in all of Triple-A
May 26, 2023

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE. Subscribe HERE.

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.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.