It’s been over 45 years since Cheney Stadium hosted an all-star game, and at the time it only involved the Pacific Coast League. Since Tacoma’s grand ballpark was constructed in 1960, the City of Destiny has been overlooked for the real deal. That will all change beginning on Monday, July 10, when the top sluggers from the Triple-A International League face off against the PCL’s best in the Triple-A Home Run Derby at Cheney Stadium.
When the festivities begin at 7 p.m., all eyes are going to be focused on the green behemoth of a wall that stands 425-feet away from home plate. In the 57 year history of Cheney Stadium, just two hitters have cleared the mammoth wall during games, and if it occurs during the Home Run Derby, it’s safe to say that the Grit City crowd is going to go bananas.
The big game itself will be broadcast on the MLB Network starting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 12. Fans planning on going to the game had better be prepared to pick up a standing-room only ticket, or find a spot on the grass berm, as every seat has been sold out for the junior mid-summer classic. Tacoma’s Daniel Volgelbach and Jean Machi will be representing the Rainiers for the PCL squad.
It’s imperative that fans remember to head out early for the Triple-A All-Star Game. With a 6 p.m. start time, traffic will be thicker during the normal travel window, so be prepared.
Now, let’s take a look back at the past week for the Rainiers.
From a standings perspective, the final week of June was bittersweet for the Rainiers. Though they gained two games on first-place Reno (who they now trail by six games), by Wednesday, July 5 they had fallen to third place in the Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern Division behind the white-hot Fresno Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have rattled off 12-straight wins and currently hold the longest active winning streak in all professional baseball.
In a vacuum, the last week of June was a middling one. With three wins and three losses, it represented a much-needed step in the right direction after was ended as a 10-18 month of June (with three of those wins coming in a four-game set against the cellar-dwelling Las Vegas 51s). The Vegas series was filled with thrillers, as three of the four games were decided by comebacks in the eighth inning or later. Vegas notched one comeback, and Tacoma pulled-off the other two, including an epic, eight-run comeback that marked the largest by the Rainiers since the club began officially tracking that statistic. The Rainiers posted a whopping 50 hits over the four-game Las Vegas series, never failing to get double-digits in any game.
After the bounce-back series against Las Vegas, the Albuquerque Isotopes rolled into town for a four-game set beginning on Friday, June 30. In the first game of the series, the Rainiers managed to swat three homers (one each by Tyler O’Neill, Danny Muno, and Tuffy Gosewisch), but each blast was only a solo shot, and they were unable to push any other runs across the board, falling to the Isotopes by a score of 7-3. Rob Whalen, who tossed six innings while allowing four runs, was saddled with his sixth loss in as many decisions at the Triple-A level; his record is an even worse 0-7 when including his two games at the Major League level. Game two of the series didn’t have a much better result, though this time it was the offense that couldn’t get things going, rather than the pitching staff. They mustered just three hits and only one run (a solo home run by Leonys Martin). Isotopes left-hander Ryan Carpenter struck out 11 over eight innings in the outing, collecting his fourth win. Game three saw things turn around for Tacoma. The offense posted five runs on nine hits (led by Martin’s 3-5 performance with a double, an RBI and two runs), and right-hander Cody Martin tossed four scoreless innings. Though Ryne Harper and Jonathan Aro both allowed a run in relief to even the score at two, the Rainiers were able to pull back ahead for good in the bottom of the seventh.
Cheney Stadium welcomed a sold-out crowd for the July 3 fireworks extravaganza and the Rainiers lit the fuse before night fell. Tacoma hammered the Isotopes 9-0, pounding out 13 hits while supporting starting pitcher Casey Lawrence’s complete game shutout. Tacoma was then able to keep the ball rolling as they traveled to Reno for the start of an important three-game set with the Aces. The Rainiers spoiled Reno’s Fourth of July part, hammering the Aces by a score of 12-4. While it looks as though Reno may be cooling off after a hot first-half of the season, the Grizzlies jumping into the mix should make the second-half pennant race a must-see event this summer.
So far this year, the Rainiers have been a different team at home than on the road. At home, they’re 28-15 (for a .651 winning percentage). On the road, it’s been a different story, going 16-24 (for a .400 winning percentage). In games in which Tacoma has been a participant, the home team has won a whopping 63% of the time. That being the case, the recent eight-game home could have been the perfect way to get things rolling before a crucial road series against Reno. If the Rainiers come out on top in that series, they could cut the Aces’ lead in the Northern Division in half and gain some much-needed momentum after a crushing month of June.
Up with the big club: After rattling off an impressive six wins in a row, the Mariners hit a wall and dropped four straight to the Astros and Phillies. They bounced back against the Angels, however, taking two out of three to pull within a game and a half of the second wild-card spot in the American League. Rookie Ben Gamel (who began the season with Tacoma) has continued to rake for Seattle, checking in with his second four-hit performance of the season on Friday, June 29, to add to his .332 batting average.
Elsewhere on the farm: At 39-31, the Modesto Nuts posted the best first half record in the Class-A Advanced California League. By posting the best first half record in their division, they secured a spot in the California League playoffs. Modesto was led to the playoff berth by standout performances from Eric Fillia, Braden Bishop, Chris Mariscal and Gianfranco Wawoe, each of whom ranks in the league’s top-17 for batting average, as well as right-hander Nick Neidert, who owns a 3.09 ERA over 87.1 innings.