The 2010 Tacoma Rainiers: A Northwest Baseball Story Worth Telling

The Seattle Mariners have been awful. The Portland Beavers are disappearing. But thanks to a winning season, a new ballpark on the horizon and a celebrity in the ownership group, life is pretty good for one Northwest team: the Tacoma Rainiers.

And the Seattle Mariners lost again...

That could be any headline out of Seattle or even Toronto after the Mariners dropped another road game, with the Blue Jays winning on Thursday afternoon 1-0 to take two out of the three games.

Good times.

In a season where the Mariners have found no joy or many wins in Mudville and the Portland Beavers have been firmly uprooted from tradition, a ballpark, and their community with no city to save them, baseball in the Pacific Northwest has been left sitting somberly alone in the bleachers like Buck Weaver at the end of Eight Men Out.

Then along came the Tacoma Rainiers.

Now that is a baseball story worth telling. From a rebuilding project back in 2006, to winning the Pacific Coast League title outright last week, the Rainiers have officially stepped out of the shadow of their parent club and made a name for themselves around the minors in four short years. All this while losing home field advantage for the entire season, as Chaney Stadium circa 1960 is undergoing a $30 million dollar facelift thanks to everyone from ownership, to the team, to the community, to Tacoma's City Council getting behind the Rainiers long term vision.

No one wanted to let the pastime go.

"It was a major rebuilding process. It was the perfect storm - we got the staff in place, created a love affair with the team and the community, and now we get to move in to a new venue on the tail end of a PCL championship," said Rainiers' team president, Aaron Artman who arrived in Tacoma in 2007.

"We feel pretty blessed right now."

And they should. In July 2006, the Rainiers were sold to the Dallas-based Schlegel Sports Group, where singer (and Jessica Simpson's ex-husband) Nick Lachey is part of the ownership group. Around that time, the organization knew they might have something in Tacoma. They just weren't sure what.

By 2009, things started to change for the Rainiers.

"Once we entered our second season, I felt confident we'd be able to turn it around from the business and perspective," continued Artman, with attendance in Tacoma increasing around 30 and 40 percent over the past four years.

"I was nervous when we had the vote before city council and not knowing if we'd be able to get the revenue and lease done. But at the same time, we were focused in getting it done. The 'City' was focused in getting it done. Looking back now, it was a matter of when and how much money. Everyone was working so hard on it for about two or three years."

That team effort carried over to the field. Tacoma posted a franchise best 50-win season this year, claiming the PCL title before falling to the Columbus Clippers in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. All after having their manager, Daren Brown, promoted to Seattle in early August after the Mariners fired Don Wakamatsu.

The Rainiers were left to win with hitting coach, Jose Castro, and pitching coach, Jamie Navarro, and they did exactly that.

They swept all three games in Memphis because Cheney Stadium is under renovations, only to fall hard in a do-or-die situation to Columbus, 12-6, for the Triple-A crown. But for those within the organization who have experienced the growing pains of the team in Tacoma, the loss to the Clippers and this season was about more than just one game or a winning year.

It's become another building block in the Rainiers winning ways.

"There are many great things ahead for this ballclub," said Lachey, who is a big part of the teams' overall business and promotions success.

"I think being part of an ownership group, the best thing to do is hire the right people and then step out of the way and let them do what they do well. Making the playoffs last year seemed like a big accomplishment and even thinking of the position we've been in this year, it really is pretty special."

Knowing what has transpired with the Portland Beavers and their possible relocation to Escondido, CA., Artman knows the story could have been very different for minor league baseball in Tacoma.

"It is a tough situation. It's a tough economic and local climate, and we would have loved to see a team stay in Portland and with a great rival in Tacoma," Artman began.

"But right now, I'm surprised with anything that happens on this landscape. We are kind of in some interesting times across the board. We were so busy getting our own lease and funding done on a parallel timeline. But it helps baseball to have the Mariners so close, because they [the fans] are watching the future of the Mariners. Some teams have their affiliate two or three states away, so here the fans build a relationship with these prospects knowing that every night they'll be watching these guys grow."

The Rainiers have certainly grown. And that was part of the plan all along.

"It's interesting to see how much success we've had on the field and next year we are heading in to a $30 million renovation of Cheney Stadium. Life is pretty good," laughed Artman.

"It's been a heck of a turnaround and now we get to expand on that turnaround."

 

For more from Wendell Maxey on Nick Lachey and the Tacoma Rainiers, head over to ESPN's Page 2.

For more from Wendell Maxey, visit Beyond The Beat.

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