Thursday, June 29, 2017 This Week's Paper

Tacoma Rainiers open new season with wins

For baseball fans, there are very few events over the course of the year that stir as much excitement and anticipation as the opening day of baseball season. While the home opener didn’t go quite according to plan for the die-hard Mariner fans, the Tacoma Rainiers’ faithful were rewarded the night before with a win on what was ultimately a glorious night at Cheney Stadium.

First things first: let’s get to the best part about winning. As of this issue, the Tacoma Rainiers are 4-1 and in first place in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, with around 140 games remaining on the schedule. It’s been a great start, now if we can just hang onto that lead.

All joking aside, it truly was an opening weekend to remember in Tacoma. The opening night crowd of 6,053 on Thursday, April 7 showed up early to the 7:05 p.m. game and was rewarded with summer-like weather and blue skies as the thermometer flirted with 80 degrees shortly before game time.  Last year’s opener was rather enjoyable, but it was breezy and chilly. The home opener two years ago didn’t even happen as one of the wettest Aprils in memory shelved baseball at Cheney for what seemed like forever.

To kick off the home opener, the Cheney brass rolled out three of Tacoma’s favorite sons: the Trufant brothers. Marcus, Isaiah and Desmond took to the field and got the evening started with three simultaneous tosses that could be best described as “not bad” and definitely safely outside of the realm of Youtube blooper stardom like so many that have come before them.

One of the best parts of the night was probably the Star Spangled Banner. The award winning Sumner High School Marching Band took to the field with great pomp and glory and really set the tone for the evening with a moving rendition of our nation’s anthem. Call me old fashioned, but I’ll take the tune from a band over a sketchy vocalized take on it every game day of the week.

The first series’ opponent would be the Albuquerque Isotopes, and they jumped on starting pitcher Joe Wieland in the first inning for two runs. Tacoma answered on their side of the first with two runs of their own as right fielder Stefen Romero slapped a double down the right field line, bringing in center fielder Boog Powell and second baseman Shawn O’Malley for two runs. O’Malley would cross home plate again in the third inning on a ground out by first baseman Efren Navarro. A double by designated hitter Mike Baxter would bring home Romero and the Rainiers would take a 4-2 lead.

The Isotopes would grab a run in the top of the fourth inning to cut the Rainiers’ lead to 4-3. The fifth inning would usher in a pitching change for Tacoma as Steve Johnson replaced Wieland and the early results were trouble for the Rainiers. Albuquerque quickly put two runs on the board, and Tacoma was now on the wrong end of a 5-4 score.

It wouldn’t take long to remedy the situation as Tacoma entered the bottom of the fifth inning fired up. With two outs, newcomer Boog Powell slapped a single to center field, driving in catcher Mike Zunino from third base and also bringing in shortstop Chris Taylor. The Rainiers now led 6-5 and they would hold onto the one-run lead for the remainder of the ball game. The night was capped by a fireworks show and the new season and the new-look Rainiers were off and running.

On Friday, April 8, the Rainiers took care of business knocking off the Isotopes 5-2 in front of 4,931 happy fans. Tacoma starting pitcher Cody Martin retired the first 12 batters he faced on his way to earning the win. Both pitching staffs put in a solid performance as Tacoma and Albuquerque were each held hitless over the final three innings of the ball game.

On Saturday, April 9, the Rainiers came back to earth momentarily and were stung by the Isotopes in a 2-0 pitchers’ duel in front of 4,579 fans. Tacoma’s James Paxton had a solid outing, giving up just one earned run, but the Rainiers’ bats would only be able to scatter eight hits and failed to cross home plate. Albuquerque’s Jeff Hoffman would put together a solid outing from the pitcher’s mound and record the win.

Sunday, April 10 rolled around and the weather was still holding steady for the Tacoma faithful as 3,424 fans showed up at Cheney Stadium for one of those baseball games that the hometown side always loves to see: a blowout victory. Tacoma sizzled Albuquerque by the score of 13-1, and it was a long day for Isotope pitchers as the Rainiers racked up 15 hits and seemed to do what they wanted all afternoon. Issaquah native Adrian Sampson would get the win for Tacoma after pitching six scoreless innings while giving up just one hit.

Monday night, April 11, Tacoma welcomed the El Paso Chihuahuas to Cheney Stadium. The night was already a little nippy at game time as 2,129 fans came to cheer on the Rainiers. Despite a late run by El Paso, Tacoma would hold on for a 6-3 victory, giving the Rainiers a 4-1 start to the season, which is their best start in seven years.

The following night, the wet and wild Puget Sound weather cancelled the contest way before game time. The game with El Paso has been rescheduled for a doubleheader on July 28. Before hitting the road, Tacoma will face El Paso on Wednesday, April 13 and Thursday, April 14. The Rainiers will return home to Cheney Stadium on Saturday, April 23 for a four game home stretch against the Sacramento River Cats.

It is so good to be back out at the ballpark.