It started with those unmistakable lights. When their bright beams shone down on Cheney Stadium’s freshly manicured field for the first time, they lit more than the beginnings of 1960’s Tacoma baseball season. Those lights turned the switch on a collective city pride that burns brighter every season, each time their radiant bulbs are flipped on at the park fondly known as R House. Sixty years later, those same iconic lights illuminate families, friends, and Rainiers fans who share an admiration for hot summer nights, cold beer, mouthwatering food, and this beautiful city we call home.
The lights started at legendary Seals Stadium in San Francisco, the first home for the San Francisco Giants. Seals Stadium was demolished in favor of Candlestick Park the same year that Cheney Stadium was constructed. When one baseball stadium turned off the lights, another switched them on. Along with the lights, many of the park’s seats journeyed north to Tacoma, helping Ben Cheney, Clay Huntington and the E.L. Mills and Associates architectural crew complete their seemingly impossible task in merely 100 days. Just in time for Opening Day on April 14, 1960.
In came the Douglas fir glulam beams, weighing as much as 7,000 pounds, which suspend over the stands and shield us from the elements on the occasional evening the weather doesn’t call for baseball. The 29-foot Great Wall of Cheney rose along the outfield, creating a barrier from all things unrelated to a calming night at the ballgame. Like the city in which it was birthed, the “100-Day Wonder” became a fortress for stadium-goers and Cheney Stadium became a staple of the South Sound.
The season’s first home game was rained out. Maybe it was a message to the folks who built the “100-Day Wonder.” A reminder to admire the great feat they’d accomplished. When the clouds cleared, the Tacoma Giants split a doubleheader with the Portland Beavers, cruising to an 11-0 walloping in the nightcap under those famous lights.
As the years passed and fans became family, the names on the jerseys changed from the Giants to the Cubs. Then it was the Twins, Yankees, Tugs and Tigers, but even after the Seattle Mariners agreed to be the parent club for the Tacoma Rainiers in 1995, Cheney Stadium had gone relatively unchanged. In 2009, it was renovate or relocate, so the City of Tacoma approved a historic $30 million makeover which promised to keep the Rainiers in Tacoma until at least 2041.
This time it took 210 days to flip Cheney Stadium into a ballpark fit for a professional club in the modern age. Luxury suites, new-and-improved concessions, and the year-round Cheney Stadium Playground were just a few overhauls made.
Now in 2019, Cheney Stadium has become more than the Tacoma Rainiers’ base. It is the home for two professional soccer clubs, Reign FC of National Women’s Soccer League and Tacoma Defiance, USL Championship affiliate of Seattle Sounders FC. Cheney plays host to 99 regular season games across three leagues and is the go-to for dozens of non-game day events each calendar year. It is the spot for your next birthday party, work outing, class field trip, you name it. At the end of the day, everything that happens here takes place under an unwavering glow. Those lights that originally called California home, are forever a fixture here in our little slice of paradise: Tacoma, Washington.