Tacoma hosts the Omaha Storm Chasers and the Iowa Cubs during the current eight-game home stand, which started Saturday evening. Neither team plays in town very often, as teams in the American Conference visit Tacoma just once every two years.
Omaha is the Triple-A affiliate of the World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Their roster includes the 2015 Pacific Coast League batting champion in outfielder Jose Martinez, who established a modern record by hitting .384 for the season. He’s off to a slow start — by his standards — batting .278 in 2016.
Storm Chasers outfielder Brett Eibner entered the league record book Thursday, becoming the 21st player in PCL history to hit two home runs in one inning. He went deep twice during a 10-run fifth inning against Memphis, and had three two-run homers in the game.
The Iowa Cubs have not visited Tacoma since a memorable series in August 2014. Kris Bryant tripled high off the center-field wall at Cheney Stadium, and Jorge Soler hit a pair of long opposite-field home runs.
This year’s Iowa team features more highly regarded prospects. Catcher Willson Contreras is considered one of the top prospects in the minors, and he’s batting .340 with more walks (16) than strikeouts (13). Center fielder Albert Almora is hitting .333, and stocky first baseman Dan Vogelbach — at 6 feet, 250 pounds — is batting .336 with six homers and a .983 on-base plus slugging percentage.
With a 16-team league expanding across three time zones, travel can be tricky in the PCL. With most cities too far apart for teams to bus from one to another, the league uses commercial airlines for team travel.
It can make for some odd bedfellows.
On Friday night, Albuquerque lost the final game of a series at Salt Lake. Both teams were on the move the next day.
Upon arriving at the Salt Lake City airport Saturday morning, the teams learned they were on the same commercial flight to Denver. After four games playing against one another, the Isotopes and the Bees shared the same plane — along with a handful of ordinary travelers, who must have been somewhat confused.
At Denver International, the Albuquerque squad changed planes for a connecting flight to go home and play the Round Rock Express.
The Isotopes were sitting around the gate in Denver, and who should show up to join them on their flight to Albuquerque?
The Express, who were booked on the same flight.
Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers.