Aaron Artman grew up playing whiffle ball on a makeshift rectangle field in his Gresham, Oregon, neighborhood.
A ball hit into the trees, the Tacoma Rainier president recalled Tuesday, was a home run unless the opponent could knock it free and catch it in one motion.
“I have some great memories of playing whiffle ball,” Artman said of the variation of baseball that uses a plastic bat and lightweight balls.
Artman hopes a new whiffle ball field at Cheney Stadium will generate similar memories for Tacoma residents.
The Tacoma Rainiers announced Tuesday it is building a 9,670-square-foot park along the first base side of the stadium. The new park, located behind a grass berm, will include a playground for children and the whiffle ball field.
The facility, built in partnership with the Ben B. Cheney Foundation and Metro Parks Tacoma, will be open year-round.
Construction is expected to begin in November and finish in early April in time for the 2016 Rainiers season, Artman said. The park will be built by Tacoma’s Korsmo Construction.
The project is being funded by the team, the foundation and Metro Parks. Artman declined to say how much the park will cost.
“It’s the one area (of Cheney Stadium) that wasn’t really touched during the (2011) renovation,” Artman said. “I think it’s going to be really cool.”
The idea for the whiffle ball park came several years ago when Brad Cheney, president of the Cheney Foundation, attended a Seattle Mariners spring training game in Arizona. He noticed his sons where spending more time playing on a small family baseball field than watching the game.
He also liked the small playground at Seattle’s Safeco Field.
“I hope it will be good family entertainment before games,” Cheney said.
And even during games when, as Artman said, “the kids need to get the crazies out.”
The park will be open even when the Rainiers aren’t playing.
“We want it to live and breathe like a regular park,” Artman said.
The new park will compliment Heidelberg Davis Park, which sits beyond Cheney Stadium’s outfield fence, said Shon Sylvia, assistant executive director of Metro Parks Tacoma.
“We’re jazzed about this,” Sylvia said. “It’s a new, unique amenity for the public.”
It’s not an entirely new idea to baseball, however. The San Diego Padres’ Petco Park has a whiffle ball diamond at its centerfield “Park at the Park.” The park is also open when the Padres aren’t playing.
The Rainiers released artist renderings of the park this week. It park will include play equipment for children 2 to 5 years old and climbing structures for children 5 to 12.
“I think the playground might be the biggest piece of this,” Cheney said. “It gives young kids something to do when they aren’t watching the game.”
While 55-year-old Cheney Stadium is known for its iconic center field wall, rarely cleared by even the most powerful hitters, the whiffle ball diamond doesn’t emulate the original field.
“We had that idea,” Artman said of making the whiffle ball field a scale replica of the stadium.
The space and the budget will determine whether that’s possible, he said.
“We still might go that direction,” Artman said. “Right now, they (artist renderings) just show what we know we can do.”