Bob Johnson loved baseball and Tacoma enough to help keep them together in 1972. He was one of fewer than 20 businessmen who stepped forward that year and invested $5,000 with Stan Naccarato to save the Rainiers.
That was 11 years after Johnson brought his family into the mix.
“Dad bought season tickets at Cheney Stadium in 1962,” said son Clif. “I’d have been 4 or 5 when he bought them. At one point, we had six tickets. Now, we’re at four.”
Bob Johnson, who died a decade ago, passed the tickets on to Clif and his family. Clif’s wife, Jill, says she can remember sharing her two pregnancies — and the children they produced — with fellow season-ticket holders.
“I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, Hannah, all through the 1984 season,” Jill said. “When I gave birth in August, Hannah’s first game was eight days later. She got passed around a lot that day.
“It was the same with my other daughter, Kjersti. She was at a game 14 days after she was born. We go to games now, there are just so many wonderful memories. And we take Clif’s mom 10, 12 times a year.”
The seats Bob Johnson first bought more than 50 years ago remain the same today — six and seven rows up from the first-base dugout, section 122. All around them the past few years, seats have been made part of the Tacoma Rainiers Summit Club.
Owned mostly by businesses, Summit Club seats are more expensive than box seats, but they have the perk of free beer and hot dogs.
It has changed the dynamic of those fans seated around them, the Johnsons say.
“Businesses give the tickets to employees or customers, who come out one time and enjoy the free beer and snacks,” Jill said. “Some of them don’t know baseball, aren’t fans and won’t be back. We’re there every night.”
And, Clif said, he probably spends more at Cheney each night than those with the higher-priced Summit Club.
“They get free beer and snacks,” he said. “We buy dinner there.”
None of that is a big deal to the Johnsons, they say. What shocked them this month was getting their ticket renewal package from the Rainiers.
“Our tickets went from $1,152 apiece last season to $1,620 each for next year,” Clif said. “That’s a jump of about 41 percent. When we asked about it, they suggested we switch to reserve boxes higher up in the stands.
“I’m not crying poverty — I can write the check. It just doesn’t seem the way to treat someone who’s been as loyal a customer as the family has been.”
Rainiers President Aaron Artman understood the Johnsons’ surprise.
“We have about 60 seats down there that have been grandfathered in, and they do have new pricing for next year,” he said. “They have the option to stay in that seat at the new price or join Summit Club.
“We have tons of people with a long history with us, just not many who haven’t joined the Summit Club.”
A Rainiers spokesman said the Johnsons and the others in their section haven’t had ticket increases in the three seasons since the stadium was remodeled, and are now catching up. He said Summit Club and Dugout Club ticket prices are also rising in 2014, though he didn’t have a percentage.
Do the Rainiers want season-ticket holders closest to the field to give way to Summit Club seats?
“If that was our thinking, we’d just make all those seats Summit Club, but we haven’t,” Artman said. “We love people who have been with us for a long time. They shouldn’t think of this pricing as a trend — we don’t want them out.
“We’re not sending a message,” he said.
Johnson, who lives in Gig Harbor and owns a metal-finishing business in Kent, can’t understand that.
“The people on our side feel the message,” he said. “I doubt anyone was not shocked by the 40 percent increase in pricing.”
The Johnsons say they’ll likely renew their seats, though maybe not all four. What they will not do is move into reserve seating, where the prices aren’t going up.
“After sitting close to the field all my life, I don’t want to sit 20 rows up and look down on the seats my family had for 50 years,” Clif said. “Our girls went with us to games most of their lives.”
Jill gets teary-eyed talking about it.
“The girls think of Cheney Stadium as home,” she said. “Clif’s dad had team jackets from the Tacoma Twins, Yankees, Tugs and Tigers. They’re some of our most prized treasures. He gave Clif, and us, the gift of baseball.”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638