Editor’s Note: Mark Cryan, former MiLB general manager and Ballpark Digest contributing editor, embarked on an epic ballpark tour this summer, and he filed regular dispatches from the road. Today’s stops: Everett AquaSox and Tacoma Rainiers.
Our visit to the Pacific Northwest did not include a chance to see the Seattle Mariners play in Safeco Field, their beautiful retractable-roof ballpark. With our travel schedule and the M’s schedule, there simply wasn’t a way to work it out. But, there were a couple wonderful consolation prizes for us in the form of the Everett AquaSox and the Tacoma Rainiers.
These two teams are both Mariners affiliates, an arrangement that allows for easy movement of players and gives the front office the ability to evaluate minor leaguers in person. It’s also ideal for major-league rehab assignments. In fact, the last time I was in the Seattle area, we saw Jay Buhner play for the AquaSox, the Rainiers and then the Mariners as he completed his return from an injury. The AquaSox are members of the short-season Class A Northwest League, and the Rainiers belong to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
Boeing: The World’s Biggest Assembly Line
Surprisingly, our first stop in the area was not a ballpark. Instead, we visited the Boeing plant in Everett, Washington. There are several production lines here, making big jumbo jets like the 747, the 777, and the company’s newest plane, the 787 Dreamliner. This is reported to be the world’s largest single building by volume, and the tour is really impressive. Somehow, it seems strange to think of a thing as big and complex as a big jet being made on an assembly line, but the Boeing plant cranks out a jet roughly every three days, and we were able to see several planes at different stages of assembly moving through each production line. There is also a nice museum and visitors center where the tours begin. This was really an interesting and fun stop, and is must in the Seattle area. The tour itself is about 90 minutes, so including parking, the museum and a stop in the gift shop, you should allow two and a half or three hours for this.
Long Live the Tree Frog
Our first was a visit to the AquaSox, who play in a very simple ballpark belonging to the local school district. The complex includes a football stadium behind home plate, and the main concourse behind the grandstand appears to be shared between the two stadiums. There is a large open field behind the first-base side of the grandstand that is home to a host of inflatables and a place for kids to burn off some energy.
The ballpark itself is simple, with no roof. The seats immediately behind home plate are backed by a stone press-box structure, while the seats along the first- and third-base sides of the park climb quite a bit higher. There is a grass berm in right field, and there are lots of point of sale locations, including a number of concessions stands and a good-sized open souvenir stand ringing the back side of the grandstand.
The structure is pretty basic, but the AquaSox have a nice game atmosphere. There was a big crowd there on the night we were there, and the Mariners’ affiliation seems to be a real strength, as lots of people were sporting Seattle gear. The team also leverages their parent club’s identity in their own logo, with the old Mariners trident-M logo turned on its side to create a trident-E logo that seems quite popular.
Of course, the AquaSox also have another logo that is one of the all-time greats, their longtime multi-colored tree frog logo that was one of the hottest in baseball when it was introduced many years ago. The team is also marketing an off-shoot of the tree frog: a logo featuring the frog’s foot.
Everett’s Neighborhood Park
This park is built into a neighborhood, giving it an old-school vibe with gates on either side of the park and a hodgepodge of on-street parking spaces and small lots. We arrived close to game time, on a night with a big crowd, and had no problem finding a free parking space.
The action in the field was exciting, as the younger players at this level play with a level of enthusiasm that is sometimes missing at the higher levels, although the play can also be a bit ragged. The operation was smooth, and on the night we were there, the team was giving away one free TV per inning courtesy of a local appliance store. It’s funny how things cycle around; I remember being part of a “TV per inning” night in Fayetteville back in the early nineties.
The visit to Everett had the added benefit of being a great place to meet up with an old college classmate, a former Navy pilot who also happens to work for Boeing, like almost everyone in the area, it seems. We had a nice night at the ballgame with him and his boys, and then a nice night at “home.”
The next day, it was off to Seattle for some sightseeing and then the Rainiers game.
Pioneer Square and Underground Seattle
One of our must-do’s in Seattle was Underground Seattle. This was something I remembered from my time as a kid when we visited Seattle. The tour itself is still a kids’ delight combined with some genuine Seattle history. After an introductory talk, the bulk of the tour explores below-ground areas of the Pioneer Square area that were created after a great fire levelled most of the city, and the rebuilding was done one floor higher. This left behind the old sidewalks that were below the street, and these weren’t filled in, they were simply covered over with a new level of sidewalk forming a roof over the old. The result is a series of dusty catacombs that wind around the neighborhood, and what kid doesn’t love tunnels? Add in the fact that the raising of the city by one story was partly motivated by a desire for a steeper slope on the sewer pipes, and it’s even better. Yes, there is history, physics, tunnels and lots of potty humor involved. A perfect family activity.
We also saw lots of people with scarves representing Seattle Sounders FC, the MLS team in town, heading toward a match at the stadium they share with the Seahawks. This is just a few blocks from Pioneer Square and next door to Safeco Field, the Mariners home. Seattle’s downtown is very compact, and this was also just a mike from Seattle’s other famous tourist location, Pike Place Market.
The other city in the Seattle area is Tacoma, and the warm-up talk for the Underground Seattle tour included lots of Tacoma jokes. This sibling rivalry seems pretty good natured and doesn’t keep the people of Tacoma from supporting the Tacoma Rainiers, the Mariners’ Triple-A team. I had visited this park almost 15 years ago and remember it as a very basic seating bowl with very little distinctive about it, except for the previously mentioned Jay Buhner appearance. There was talk a number of years ago about Tacoma seeking a new home, but in the end there was a major renovation done to Cheney Stadium that yielded a truly pleasant and interesting place to see a game. (See previous Ballpark Digest coverage of this project, which was recognized by this website.)
The very basic nature of the ballpark may have been an advantage in that overhaul; the seating bowl and playing field was reused, and a layer of suites and other team space was added behind the grandstand. This includes new, inviting concessions stands on the ground floor. More group areas were added, including an elevated deck-type space over the left-field corner.
The only negative is a problem that most teams would love to have; the parking adjacent to the ballpark was full when we arrived. There was a big crowd there that night, but another contributing factor had to be the youth baseball being played in the fields across the parking lot.
We were able to find parking just a short walk away in the recreation department offices, although were directed to absolutely not park in the grocery store lot right across the street. This was not a problem for us, but it would have been a challenging walk for someone who is not prepared for a healthy walk.
I am a big fan of downtown ballparks and what they can bring to a city’s nightlife and economic climate, but it seems like this renovation has been a success despite the “landlocked” location. On the night we were there, the place was packed. You do have to climb a few steps to get up into the grandstand, and there is no 360-degree concourse, but despite lacking a few of these now-standard modern amenities, we had a great time at Cheney Stadium. The atmosphere was excellent.
On previous visits, I have had a chance to see the Mariners play at the Kingdome, and their new home, Safeco Field. While we didn’t get to see the major-league team on this visit, this is a region loaded with baseball. If you plan it right, you can see short season Class A, Triple A, and the Majors all in three or four days, and there are certainly lots of other things to keep travelers busy. We didn’t even touch on the beautiful scenery of the San Juan Islands, whale watching, or any number of opportunities for hiking, biking, camping and kayaking. Enjoy!