John McGrath

John McGrath: We need a favor as Tacoma takes the stage

Tacoma Rainier owner Mikal Thomsen addresses the crowd at Cheney Stadium on Wednesday, officially announcing the Triple-A All-Star Game would be held in Tacoma in 2017. It will be the first time the game will be held in Tacoma.
Tacoma Rainier owner Mikal Thomsen addresses the crowd at Cheney Stadium on Wednesday, officially announcing the Triple-A All-Star Game would be held in Tacoma in 2017. It will be the first time the game will be held in Tacoma. Staff photographer

I believe a higher power controls our destiny. I also believe that while asking for a favor of this higher power, I’ve burned a few too many bridges to enjoy VIP status.

But hey, there’s no harm in trying.

Memo to Somebody Up There In Charge Of Making The World Go Around: Could you allow July 12, 2017, to be a typically beautiful midsummer night, where dusk gives the snow-capped mountain majesty southeast of us a glow that inspires faith in a higher power?


I am interested in what kind of weather awaits 13 months from now, because for a few hours, Tacoma will serve as the main stage of American pro sports. The 2017 Triple-A All-Star Game is coming to Cheney Stadium. Because no Major League contests will be on the schedule — it’s the third day of the All-Star break — the audience for the nationally televised event on the MLB network won’t have much of an alternative.

Maybe poker, guys wearing sunglasses and staring at cards. Maybe an MMA fight, when two or three punches are thrown before the participants spend the next 45 minutes on the floor, attempting to squirm out of each other’s headlock.

Otherwise, the sports TV listings for July 12, 2017, will show only this: International League All-Stars vs. Pacific Coast League All-Stars, in Tacoma.

Bringing the game to Cheney Stadium has been Mikal Thomsen’s ambition since the telecommunications executive signed on as principal owner of the Rainiers franchise in 2011.

“One of the first questions Mikal asked when he bought the team was ‘how can we get the Triple-A All Star Game to Cheney Stadium?’ ” Rainers president Aaron Artman recalled the other day. “The rotation fit for 2015, but with the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, we figured one big summer event in the Tacoma area was enough.”

Like its big-league counterpart, the Triple-A All-Star Game is less a nine-inning contest than a baseball convention where the sport’s movers and shakers mingle for the better part of a week. A home-run derby, scheduled for Monday, will command as much interest as the game on Wednesday.

Artman estimates that between the derby and the game, as many as 15,000 fans will crowd into Cheney Stadium. Of that 15,000, some 20 percent will be tourists filling up restaurants and bars.

“Aside from the World Series and MLB All-Star Game, it’s the coolest event in pro baseball,” said Artman. “A who’s who list of folks will show up and learn what Tacoma has to offer.”

Tacoma never has been home for the event, which began in 1988 as a reincarnation of the PCL’s original All-Star Game. That came to Cheney Stadium in 1974, drawing a tiny crowd of 1,871.

Times have changed.

“If you had told me Tacoma would be a candidate to host this game 10 years ago, or even as recently as seven or eight years ago, I would have said there’s no way,” Pacific Coast League president Branch B. Rickey said Wednesday afternoon at Cheney Stadium, where the official All-Star Game announcement was made to an audience of invited guests. “That’s how much the professional baseball community and the Pacific Coast League members have been impressed by the progress that’s been made here.”

Tacoma’s bid, jointly voted on by the PCL and IL owners, “was readily accepted, over and in front of other cities that have newer stadiums,” Rickey said. “The premise of this game, since 1988, is we want to show off our best stadiums. We want to show off our best operations and our best market places.”

Although Tacoma remains the PCL’s oldest continuously operated franchise, awarding the event to the City of Destiny was more than acknowledgement of Tacoma’s baseball history.

“Please don’t take it lightly this was by default or it was just your turn, because that’s not the way it works,” Pat O’Conner, president and CEO of Minor League Baseball, told the audience Wednesday. “These games are earned. I'm very pleased for this community. There’s been times in the past 20 years you might have taken the brunt of a joke or been taken for granted. No longer. You’ve earned your place in Triple-A baseball and minor league baseball.

“All eyes on baseball will be on Tacoma next July. It will be a nationally televised game. The entire city and region will be showcased. We have all the confidence in the world that Mikal and the ownership group, Aaron and his staff and this city will put on a good show and show the rest of America what baseball in the Great Northwest is all about.”

Still, the city could deliver the greatest baseball show on earth, and it won’t mean a thing if viewers tune in to see an infield covered with a tarp.

I’m trusting in the tradition of perfect midsummer nights around here. But my fingers will be crossed, and I suspect I’ll end up saying the shortest and oldest of all prayers.

The one I know best.