I had to fly all the way across the country to learn something that, really, I should have already known: Cheney Stadium, the longtime home of the Tacoma Rainiers
, is pronounced "Cheeny."
Yes, that's "Cheeny," enunciated as if one was speaking the last two syllables of "fettucini." So put thoughts of hawkish former vice presidents out of your mind; the name of the historic facility is not pronounced in the same fashion.
But in clearing up that common misunderstanding, I've stumbled into another one. To be certain, Cheney Stadium is historic. But, one could also argue that it is the newest facility in the Pacific Coast League. This contradiction in terms is a result of the $30 million renovation that Cheney Stadium underwent prior to the 2011 season, a thorough public-private partnership facelift in which nearly the entire structure was razed and rebuilt. This renovation was of the rapid-fire variety, conducted over the entirety of the 2010-11 offseason (the Rainiers has to play their 2010 playoff contests at Safeco Field in Seattle in order to accommodate the tight construction schedule).
The accelerated time frame was apropos: upon opening in 1960, Cheney Stadium was dubbed the "100-Day Wonder" because, yes, that's the amount of time it took to build it. Namesake Ben Cheney, a successful Tacoma businessman, spearheaded that particular effort. As the Rainiers explain on their website, "the San Francisco Giants' agreement in the fall of 1959 to relocate their Triple-A club from Phoenix to Tacoma hinged on the city's ability to construct a new stadium in time for the beginning of the 1960 season."
The more things change...:
"The 100-day wonder" lasted a good half-century without undergoing any major improvements. These days, however, improvements are everywhere you look. In fact, one could say that the whole stadium is, in essence, one big improvement over that which existed prior to the 2011 campaign.
Season-ticket holders can now mingle in the third-level Summit Club prior to (and during) the game, which offers a view of Mount Rainier. (Or, at least it sometimes does. On the day in which I was in attendance, heavy cloud cover completely obscured this most majestic of North American peaks).
What had been bleacher seating down the right-field line is now a berm seating area, sponsored by Alaska Airlines and decorated with blinking blue lights meant to simulate those found on an airplane runway. And beyond left field, what was once the visitors' club house is now a secondary ticket office. Adjacent to this is the Home Run Porch, a group picnic area situated at field level.
On and on it goes, and therefore on and on I could go. But it is worth noting that there are elements of Cheney Stadium that remain untouched and help connect the facility as it is now to what it once was. First and foremost, though the seats are new, the grandstand remains. This means that fans still enjoy the steep pitch that had always been a hallmark of the Cheney Stadium experience, which offers unencumbered views of the playing field no matter how tall the gentleman, or lady, in front of you may be (Manute Bol-levels of vertical ascendance notwithstanding).
And though the original wooden blue seats have been swapped out for those possessing a suitably Washingtonian earthy green hue, a small block of the originals still remain. And in one of those seats, located behind home plate and a shade to the right, one finds a statue of Ben Cheney himself. He is depicted with a contented, kindly smile and a bag of peanuts in his hand, and when I went over for a closer look, the usher stationed nearby directed my attention to the concourse pathway just in front of the statue. There, affixed to the concrete, is a bronzed peanut shell.
Also surviving the overhaul are the hulking rectangular light stanchions, which are truly relics of another era. Before being transported to Cheney Stadium, these steel behemoths illuminated the playing field at San Francisco's Seals Stadium (which hosted Pacific Coast League baseball from 1931-57, as well as the San Francisco Giants in their first two seasons of existence).
Just as evocative of the days of yesteryear is the hulking blue batter's eye in center field, located at the now unheard-of distance of 425 feet away from home plate. While giving me a tour of the facility, Rainiers media development manager Ben Spradling noted that only two players have ever hit a ball over the batter's eye during a game: the unlikely duo of Shin-Soo Choo and A.J. Zapp. (When it rains, it pours -- Zapp played for the Rainiers in 2004, and Choo was a member of the 2005 and '06 squads).
But, please, do not fall prey to apocryphal tales regarding the batter's eye prowess of one of the later 20th-century's most memorable (and memorably ridiculous) sluggers.
"There are rumors that Jose Canseco hit one over the batter's eye once," said Spradling. "I'm not sure how that one got started, but it's just not true."