This was an evening built for a big baseball stage.
This was an evening that was worth the wait through all that spring rain.
So what if this wasn’t as big for Tacoma as the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay? At least the grass at Cheney Stadium was a little greener and fans were tantalized with the sweet smell of hot dogs and giant pizza slices, a beautiful sunset, clear view of Mount Rainier and the crack of home runs from top baseball prospects targeting Foss High School.
The stands were covered in fans wearing Tacoma Rainiers red, with seemingly everyone representing the City of Destiny with “R” hats, too.
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It made Jeanne Naccarato think of how far this stadium has come since its birth in 1960. She was sitting behind the home dugout during Monday’s Triple-A Home Run Derby, wearing a Mariners jersey with “Naccarato” sewn on the back atop an autograph from Jamie Moyer.
Her husband, Stan, would have appreciated this. He’s the Tacoma icon who saved baseball in this city, has an outfield banner that reads “Stan the Man” and died in May 2016 at 88 years old.
“He would have loved this,” Jeanne said.
“He loved baseball and he loved seeing people in the seats like this. This would be a win-win for him.”
Monday was the opening day of the Triple-A All-Star festivities, leading off with the Home Run Derby, which included Tacoma Rainiers first baseball Dan Vogelbach.
The winners of this event haven’t exactly been a who’s who of baseball stars. Juan Gonzalez and Todd Helton are two of the big names — and if you consider former Seattle Mariner Bucky Jacobson one.
But maybe one of these players will be like the one of the 100 players in baseball history to compete in both the Triple-A All-Star Game and the MLB version. And that’s the draw.
And that’s what had DeCarlo Hall smiling like a 9-year-old as he shagged balls in the outfield.
Hall was 9 when he went to the 2001 MLB Home Run Derby at Safeco Field in Seattle — the last time Seattle has hosted the original Midsummer Classic. Hall’s grandma had an extra ticket and knew of his love for baseball.
So when his work gave him two tickets to this week’s Triple-A All-Star Game, Hall — a 2010 graduate of Federal Way’s Todd Beamer High School – knew who to invite as his plus-one.
“I had to bring my grandma,” Hall said. “It was the only way I could repay her. She’s the first one I thought of.”
He’s been a baseball fan his whole life and played center field for Beamer’s baseball team and his grandma, Grace Wetzel, has been a Mariners season ticket holder since 1983, he said.
“This is like a dream come true,” Hall said, just after crashing into the wall to catch a just-short home run ball.
He wasn’t getting to one of Vogelbach’s 13 first-round home runs. He sent a shot that landed just short of the Foss tennis courts over the right field wall.
Bryce Brentz of Pawtucket won the home run derby, surviving the three rounds. He’s the second consecutive Pawtucket player to win the derby.
And Brentz won despite being rejected once by the giant wall in center field, which is 425 feet from home plate and 29 feet tall. Only Tacoma’s A.J. Zapp (2004) and Shin-Soo Choo (2005) have ever hit one over that wall.
The Triple-A All-Star festivities continue with a media day Tuesday, with gates opening to the public at 2:30 p.m. The All-Star Game is Wednesday, with gates open at 4 p.m. The game will start at 6:08 p.m.
Rainiers president Aaron Artman had said that people would have laughed at the thought of Tacoma hosting this event 10 years ago, before the Rainiers’ stadium underwent a $30 million renovation six years ago.
But if the rest of the week goes as well as this evening, Tacoma might be leaving its mark as a baseball town.