Henry Cheney soaked in another sunny day at his grandpa’s place on Tyler Street. This time he discovered something he’d never seen — a stray bronze peanut located just below the statue of his grandfather.
He walks to a seat and etched into the ground nearby reads “BEN B. CHENEY” with “3-24-60” — the date the place was built — written underneath.
Henry never met his grandfather, who died in 1971 before Henry was born. But there’s no telling the excitement Ben Cheney might express seeing his grandson play in the same stadium he helped usher baseball into in Tacoma 55 years ago.
“It’s so cool just driving past this sometimes,” said Henry, now a junior and standout three-sport athlete at Charles Wright Academy. “To have our last name up there and think about what all my grandpa did for the community and the legacy he left — it’s really humbling.”
Ben Cheney was a generous philanthropist, a timber baron — who was the first to standardize 8-foot-long 2-by-4 studs — and even a part-owner of the San Francisco Giants. Not a baseball player, as much as he wanted to be.
He, instead, was the driving force in persuading the Giants to relocate their Triple-A team from Phoenix to Tacoma in 1960. And he sponsored more than 5,000 youths to play sports through the Cheney Studs, Cheney Seattle Studs or Tacoma Studs.
His grandson, on the other hand, is such a feared hitter that he’s been walked more times this season than not.
In a doubleheader against Vashon Island on April 9, Henry Cheney was walked in each of his first six plate appearances until he approached the plate with the bases loaded in the second inning.
He hit a grand slam and finished the game as the winning pitcher. In 27 plate appearances this season, Henry’s been walked 14 times and is batting .385.
“I would hope he has the tools to play in college and maybe beyond that,” Charles Wright coach Tyler Francis said. “Some say he’s a great hitter and has great pop, some have said they would like to see him hit for a better average. But he can drive the ball.”
Henry was an all-Nisqually League catcher last season, but this season has predominately played shortstop. It’s where he’s most needed on a team that starts four or five freshmen on a given day. But he can also play outfield, first base and pitch — so essentially, anywhere.
As the quarterback for the Charles Wright football team, he reminds coach Mike Finch of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — and not just because they share a similar stature, No. 3 jersey, and faith. Cheney threw for 2,311 yards and ran for 537 in leading the Tarriers to the state tournament.
Then he helped Charles Wright reach the regional round of the 1A state basketball tournament where it lost to eventual state champ King’s. The school had never before reached the state tournament in both football and basketball in the same school year.
“I’ve always just loved sports, any sport,” Cheney said. “People ask me what my favorite sport is and it’s hard to give an answer. It’s always whatever I’m playing.
“But baseball has always kind of had that upper edge to football and basketball. I just think it’s in my roots.”
Even when he had to be carried in his father’s arms, Henry has attended Tacoma Rainiers games. His grandpa’s statue has a great seat behind home plate, but Henry’s might be better. His family has season tickets in the first row to the right of the Rainiers dugout and behind the Rainiers’ on-deck circle.
Henry has a bin in his bedroom filled with baseballs players have tossed to him. Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino has thrown a ball to him. So has former Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee.
“(Lee) caught a line drive right at him to end the inning and I was just super pumped,” Henry said. “He saw me, tossed me the ball and ran in.”
Henry is humble and easy to talk to — a conversation about school or Mariners closer Fernando Rodney can last a while. He’ll talk about most anything as long as it’s not about himself.
On the Mariners sending Adam Jones to the Baltimore Orioles? “Such a stupid trade,” Henry said. He still has one of Jones’ ripped batting gloves in his room.
“He struck out to end a game and he was so mad that he ripped his batting glove off,” Henry said. “I was sitting right there and he threw it to me. It was the coolest moment ever.
“He kept the other one, though. I wish I would have got them both.”
As keepsakes go, it may not be as impressive as Ben Cheney pictured with Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Juan Marichal, but still cool.
Henry’s father, Brad Cheney, approached him in the summer of 2013 when Henry was 15 and playing select baseball with the West Hills Vipers out of Bremerton to tell him the news: Henry’s club team had scheduled a game at The House that Ben Cheney Built.
For the first time Henry wasn’t going to be a spectator at Cheney Stadium, but a player.
“I was so jacked,” Henry said.
He strapped on his own batting gloves and entered the batter’s box. He said it was most surreal when he looked up to the video board in left field and saw “Henry Cheney” listed among his teammates in the lineup. Near it on the scoreboard in right field it reads “Welcome to Cheney Stadium.”
“You know, it’s probably never dawned on me that I would have a son that would play at Cheney Stadium,” said Brad Cheney, a Charles Wright graduate and former baseball coach at Fort Steilacoom Community College and the University of Puget Sound.
“I just wish his grandpa was around to see him play a little bit. I think he would have been more happy than I can explain. Kids were his passion.
“If he had a relative, especially a grandson, that he knew was excelling, I think he would be just ecstatic. Just thrilled.”
Henry hopes he can eventually play at Cheney Stadium far more frequently.
“That would be a dream come true,” he said. “This is a pretty nice field.”