This past year has taught us all nothing if it didn’t teach us to be flexible, patient, methodical and resourceful. The lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic closures and cancelations drive the decisions and safeguards as sports venues reopen and life returns to “normal.”
Flashback to a year ago, when Cheney Stadium, and virtually all sports and music venues around the nation, went dark under stay-at-home orders. Entire seasons simply ended. But now sports are returning. The Tacoma Rainiers are again swinging bats to send baseballs into the greenest of green fields and over the outfield fence. The boys of summer are back but watching baseball from the stands will not be the same.
This Rainiers baseball season will have various challenges as well as several opportunities, some of which are still under development. Seating on the grassy knoll and use of the Wiffle ball field might remain closed for a while, for example, and social distancing requirements will limit seating availability, even with sports fans strongly encouraged to wear masks. State-mandated restrictions will hopefully loosen as the seasons move into June and July.
“It is a whole complicated matrix,” Rainiers President Aaron Artman said.
Last year’s season ticket holders have first dibs on available seats restricted by social distancing guidelines that close off aisle seats and every other row. But the Rainiers are working on a way for those season ticket holders to give up their seats to single ticket holders if they can’t attend a game. That said, single-game tickets for the season opener on May 6 against the El Paso Chihuahuas won’t be available since season ticket holders already swallowed up those seats simply because the stadium will have a lower capacity.
“I do expect there to be some pushback about not being able to sell tickets for the season opener,” Aartman said. Still, he hopes fans understand that the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners is doing the best it can to provide access to local baseball as much as possible.
“The unfortunate lack of single-game access to the season opener might be offset by how the rest of the season plays out during the summer,” he said. The Rainiers not only have long stretches of home games but will have a six-game stretch at Cheney during the first week of July. That means the Independence Day game on July 4 will be a 1 p.m. match to allow fans to watch live Triple-A baseball at Cheney without disrupting their fireworks and party plans.
The We R Tacoma Team Store has in-store hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It also fulfills online orders, including those for Defiantly Tacoma and Rainiers branded face masks to mark the less-than-normal season ahead. Cheney is the home field for a pair of professional soccer clubs — Reign FC of the National Women’s Soccer League and Tacoma Defiance, the USL Championship squad for Seattle Sounders FC.
“We need to be that beacon of Tacoma,” Artman said, noting the team’s role as the pride of the City of Destiny under the “We R Tacoma” boosterism moniker. “What the world needs now is sports and live music. We need to have places we can hang out.”
Don’t expect baseball to be the same as it was in 2019 when it closed. The Rainiers, for instance, have a new manager, Kristopher Negrón, who will lead a club loaded with players who haven’t competed in nearly two years. And they’ll play in a league that didn’t exist when they last took the field. The Rainiers are now in the Triple A-West League, a move that came as part of the MLB’s reorganization last year. The new league comprises nine teams formerly of the Pacific Coast League and one from the independent Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, the Sugar Land Skeeters.