Dark clouds – not blue skies – welcomed the new and returning members of the Tacoma Rainiers on Thursday.
New manager Roy Howell wasn’t all that surprised. He experienced rainy Northwest days, especially in April, when he played for in the Pacific Coast League for Spokane (1974) and Portland (1985), and also was the hitting coach for the Beavers from 2000-02.
And on Thursday, there was no escaping this steady downpour. With a white tarp still draped over the Cheney Stadium infield, and no baseball player or coach from Tacoma or Albuquerque in sight, the Rainiers decided to call off Opening Night after an hour delay.
It was the first Rainiers’ season-opening home rainout since 2005 against Fresno. And the last game at their ballpark to be canceled was 2011.
“We thought we had a window,” Tacoma team president Aaron Artman said. “But at 7:40 (p.m.), looking at the Doppler (radar), there was just a monster coming in – not that it was heavy rainfall, but it wasn’t going to stop.
“You never want Opening Night rained out, but it looks like we’ll have good weather next week, and we will battle through this weekend.”
The first of two seven-inning games is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday. Opening Night starters Blake Beavan, of Tacoma, and Stephen Fife for the Isotopes, are slated to start that game.
Opening Night tickets can be redeemed for that doubleheader, or any home Rainiers date this season except for July 3 and Aug. 27.
Howell knows if you play enough baseball – or coach it – rain interrupts. His job is to make sure weather delays do not become distractions.
“To play this game … when you walk through that door, it says clubhouse on it and you are here to play,” Howell said. “You are not worried about anything else.”
There is no reason for Howell to switch up his Opening Day batting order, which had sent-down second baseman Nick Franklin leading off, first baseman/designated hitter Jesus Montero hitting cleanup – and newcomer Cole Gillespie, a West Linn, Ore. native, slotted third.
Gillespie, an outfielder, played at Oregon State University, and was the co-captain of the Beavers’ NCAA championship squad of 2006. He was also the Pacific-10 Conference’s player of the year that season.
Since he was drafted, he has spent time in the minors in warmer-weather cities such as Nashville, Reno and Fresno. He also played at the major-league level with San Francisco and the Chicago Cubs last season.
“I got used to the 100 degrees,” he said with noticeable sarcasm. “Somewhere in between, if we can get the weather down, I’d really appreciate that.
“This weather, and any type of delay, it would be nothing new to me. I have kind of grown up with it. Sure, we’d all like a little sun on Opening Day, but it is what it is.”
To alleviate the glut of middle infielders, Gabriel Noriega was sent down to Double-A Jackson on Thursday. He played 104 games for the Generals last season. … Clearing waivers Thursday, outfielder Xavier Avery arrived at the ballpark shortly before noon. He is expected to serve as the fourth outfielder for the Rainiers. … Reliever Ramon Ramirez was placed on the disabled list, leaving nine pitchers in the bullpen. … Two of the Los Angeles Dodgers top four prospects will be in Tacoma for the rest of the weekend – outfielder Joc Pederson (No. 2) and starting pitcher Zach Lee (No. 4). Lee is slated to pitch the third game of the series Saturday.
For the second game of the doubleheader, the Rainiers will send left-hander Anthony Fernandez (0-0, 0.00 ERA) out to face off with Albuquerque’s Matt Magill (0-0, 0.00). First pitch is approximately 30 minutes following the conclusion of the first game.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442