Event connects city’s history with its splendid ‘new’ ballpark, stirring memories for players and former hot dog consumers.
TACOMA Asked by longtime broadcaster Bob Robertson what his memories were of his brief stay on the 1968 Tacoma Cubs that concluded his professional baseball career, Don Larsen squinted into the sun on the most sublime weather day of the year and snickered into the stadium microphone.
Not many, he said.
I suppose so. In 1956 the then Yankee pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. Half a century later, he is still hauled up and celebrated for it. For him, Tacoma baseball was the end of the road.
But Tacoma baseball is at a new beginning. Larsen was invited to a celebration that connected the past and future.
A modest event, called Fan-Go-Round, billed as a salute to the heritage of baseball and softball in Tacoma and Pierce County, drew hundreds of fans Sunday afternoon to the splendidly remodeled Cheney Stadium.
The Tacoma Athletic Commission and baseball historian Marc Blau wanted to celebrate the game with no game. No tickets or parking charges either.
A cross-section of those with a Tacoma connection women softballers in their 80s, town-team stars in their 70s, a pitcher who made it big (Gaylord Perry), and a hitter (the wonderfully monikered A.J. Zapp) who in 2004 sent a ball 505 feet to clear for the first time the stadiums legendary center field Half-Dome wall gathered from around the country to be given a simple acknowledgement of their long-ago deeds in a town that has renewed its vows with baseball.
They came for laughs, autographs and memories. They came to a place that was a beginning for many, a way station for others, and a final home for a few.
But for Tacoma, the Pacific Coast Leagues longest-tenured franchise has never been more rooted.
*After bouncing among six previous major league parent clubs, the Rainiers have been the Triple-A farm team of Seattle Mariners since 1995.
*The decaying, 60-year-old stadium underwent a $30 million renovation that has created one of baseballs best minor league parks. A three-story grandstand includes suites and restaurants that have a Northwest lodge look. Theres field-level bleacher and berm seating, a bigger concourse, more restrooms and concessions, bullpens off the field and comfortable clubhouses.
*A guy who went to Curtis High School and Washington State, who swept the floors of his fathers University Place drug store, is the team owner.
The lease is 30 years. The guy who signed it, Mikal Thomsen, became wealthy through the wireless communications industry starting with the McCaw empire. He became a baseball fan long before that, and the Rainiers majority owner over the past winter.
Dont know the man, but I knew the ballpark back when it cost him, and the other bleacher rats, 50 cents to enter when we didnt sneak in.
Long before the Mariners arrival in 1977, Cheney Stadium was the hub of ball for Puget Sound.
It was where I learned to keep score, assuring, I believed, entry into a secret world.
Its where I met the player who had the coolest name in the world, Dusty Roads, only to discover he misspelled it to Dusty Rhodes.
Its where I ate six hot dogs, still a nine-inning record for Park Avenue Elementary School.
Its where I fetched my first foul ball, after it flew over the grandstand to the concessions concourse, where it hit a woman in the neck. She wasnt hurt, but Im still guilty about not giving her the ball.
Its where I sat with my dad and his friends and listened to them crack on one another.
Its where I obtained, long ago, Perrys autograph. Sunday, I recalled the moment.
When he handed me back my autographed program, I told him, It was wet.
The major leagues greatest purveyor of spitball mythology laughed: Paybacks a bitch.
Im sure there were championships, but I dont remember them. Even though I was among that generation of kids who fell asleep at night next to the transistor radio listening to play-by-play, somehow the experience was less about the outcome than the engagement. All sports have it to some degree. Baseball makes a living there.
As with any stadium project, theres been controversy over the renovations funding and the bidding, laments about its roofless design in this climate, and complaints about ticket and concession prices.
Perhaps all have some legitimacy. But Sunday, with the gathering from the past looking upon a secure and nearly limitless future for splendid nights at the yard, the Tacoma baseball vows were so strong, the world had no choice but to hold its peace.
Follow Art on Twitter at @Art_Thiel