John McGrath

Congrats, All-Stars. All of Tacoma, and your mothers, will be watching

Rhubarb waves the Rainiers’ flag between shooting flames as players line the first and third base lines before the Tacoma’s 2015 home opener at Cheney Stadium. The Rainiers and Tacoma will host this year’s Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday at Cheney Stadium.
Rhubarb waves the Rainiers’ flag between shooting flames as players line the first and third base lines before the Tacoma’s 2015 home opener at Cheney Stadium. The Rainiers and Tacoma will host this year’s Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday at Cheney Stadium. Staff file, 2015

Welcome to Tacoma, Triple-A All-Stars!

I’m looking forward to your visit this week, even though I’ve never heard of most of you. I’m especially looking forward to the game Wednesday between the International League and Pacific Coast League, despite the fact I had no idea – until, like, a minute ago – that the IL won last year.

The first thing you’ll notice about Tacoma is the beautiful weather, consistent with a season local residents are getting to know as “summer.” It followed 3,481 consecutive days of rain, which I believe is a record.

Although you’ll be spending much of your All-Star break at the ballpark, I hope you have a chance to check out the rest of Tacoma. The waterfront north of downtown is as lovely as any in the country, ideal for jogging and roller skating and walking dogs not inclined to lunge at joggers and roller skaters.

For those All-Stars who have yet to play in Cheney Stadium, you’re in for a treat that combines such modern perks as party decks and a video board with the old-school feel of a place that’s been around since 1960. It’s among the few pro sports venues named after an actual person – the late lumber baron and philanthropist Ben Cheney – rather than a temporary corporate sponsor.

When Cheney Stadium was renovated six years ago, architects set the seating capacity at 6,500. This means about 14,000 fewer fans will be on hand Wednesday night than were present at the 1991 Triple-A All-Star Game in Louisville, where Astros’ minor-league third baseman Gary Cooper was honored as the PCL’s Most Valuable Player.

Houston promoted Cooper that season for nine games, the entirety of his big-league career. A typical Triple-A All-Star, basically.

Cooper had the good fortune to get a taste of coffee in the majors. Some of you will never advance to the next level, and a few of you will advance and excel.

More than 1,200 players have participated in the Triple-A All-Star Game since its 1988 inception. Of those 1,200, 100 players also have participated in the original All-Star Game, the Midsummer Classic.

In other words, of the 60 guys who’ll stand on the baselines for the pregame introductions Wednesday, maybe three or four figure to be major-league All-Stars.

Will it be Norfolk Tides catcher Chance Sisco? Or Oklahoma City RedHawks pitcher Wilmer Font? Or Memphis Redbirds pitcher Ryan Sherriff?

Odds are prohibitive any of you will achieve the household-name status of such former Triple-A All-Stars as Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Mike Piazza and Jim Thome. Then again, it’s almost a certainty at least one of the autographs Cheney Stadium fans collect this week will turn out to be a keepsake.

Whatever the future brings, I’ve got first-hand evidence that any kind of All-Star experience is worth savoring. About 20 years ago, when I resembled somebody capable of running out a ground ball without wheezing, I encountered a kid outside the clubhouse door after finishing an interview.

“Excuse me, sir,” he said, extending a scorecard that awaited an autograph. “Are you an All-Star?”

“Only in the eyes of my mother,” I answered.

I recall the moment because, if only for a second, I was able to ponder what it would be like to attain All-Star distinction.

Here’s to the Triple-A All-Stars. May your three days in the City of Destiny serve as a springboard to a larger stage.

Until then, enjoy the hospitality, the conviviality, and a mountain so majestic at sunset it inspires songwriters.

Oh, and know this: Your mothers are very proud of you.

John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath

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