Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Things you didn’t know about the Tacoma Rainiers

The Tacoma Rainiers and Cheney Stadium have been selected to host the 2017 Triple-A All-Star Game, which will feature the greatest the Pacific Coast League and International League have to offer. This will mark the 30th anniversary of the star-studded game, which will be televised nationally on the MLB Network on July 12.

There’s nothing better than a warm night at the ballpark: the sound of The Star-Spangled Banner echoing through the park followed by the occasional crack of the bat making contact with the ball. That smell of fresh-cut grass and mustard on hot dogs. That feeling of peanut shells crunching underfoot, and the rush of excitement when a ball sails out of the stadium up, up, and away. Home run!

Luckily for South Sounders, Cheney Stadium and the Tacoma Rainiers are right in our backyard, which means we can enjoy a night at the ballpark without having to drive to Seattle. In fact, of all the major league-affiliated baseball teams, the Rainiers reside closer to their parent organization (36 miles) than any other team, but that wasn’t always the case.

Other than a one-season stint between 1904 and 1905, the Pacific Coast League didn’t come to Tacoma until 1960. Back then, the Tacoma team was known as the Tacoma Giants, owned by San Francisco Giants owner Horace Stoneham, who controlled the team until the end of the 1965 season, when the Chicago Cubs stepped up to bat.

Throughout the following years, ownership of the team changed hands multiple times and the team played under many monikers: the Tacoma Twins, the Tacoma Tigers, and the Tacoma Tugs (as in the nautical variety). For a very brief time in the late 1970s, the team was affiliated with the legendary New York Yankees.

It wasn’t until the 1995 season that the team became affiliated with the Seattle Mariners and the Tacoma Rainiers were born. The origin of the team name is from the minor league Seattle Rainiers baseball team, which existed in the pre-Mariners era under the ownership of the Rainier Brewing Company.

Since then, many of Seattle’s great players have spent time in Tacoma, including Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner, Raul Ibanez, Felix Hernandez, JJ Putz, and even recent Hall of Fame inductee Ken Griffey Jr. during rehabilitation assignments.

Rhubarb the Reindeer, the Rainiers' mascot.

Rhubarb the Reindeer, the Rainiers’ mascot.

For the past 12 years, Cheney Stadium also has been home to Rhubarb the Reindeer, the Rainiers’ delightfully eccentric baseball-loving mascot. According to the team, no one quite knows the origin of Rhubarb’s name; they only know that he followed the bright light from a Cheney fireworks display from his home in the wild of Mount Rainier National Park and never left the stadium. These days, Rhubarb can be found hanging out with his best buddy, Mariner Moose, jamming out to his favorite song, “Jump” by Van Halen, and chowing down on Cheney Mountain Dogs.

Cheney Stadium itself has undergone some changes of its own, during the 210-day break between the 2010 and 2011 seasons. With the use of local materials, the stadium now boasts a greater seating capacity, more ADA accessibility, a club and restaurant, a luxury box, and double the number of concession stands.

The Rainiers 2017 season begins on the road April 6, with a home opener against El Paso on April 11.

Fun Fact: Nick Lachey, the 1990s pop star in boy band 98 Degrees, was once co-owner of the Tacoma Rainiers.
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is a staff writer at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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