I attended my first game in the new Cheney Stadium on Sunday afternoon and after nearly a week of thinking about it I’m finally ready to weigh in with my opinion on the upgrades to the ballpark that I grew up watching baseball and have always loved.
First of all, I think it’s important to say that some kind of an upgrade was absolutely necessary. Cheney Stadium was and still is a beautiful place to see a ballgame but it seriously lagged behind in the corporate amenities and general money making ability for the team and without these improvements the Tacoma Rainiers my have ceased to exist. It was near the bottom when it came to Triple-A ballparks and the team needed to either renovate Cheney or move to a brand new ballpark to keep up with the rest of baseball.
The choice was made to pour $30 million dollars into Cheney, so they ripped the old roof off and built a new luxury suite/press box structure, added a bunch of concession stands, team clubhouses, team store and more while keeping the existing seating bowl and the party deck monstrosity down the third base line. They also ripped out the bleachers and replaced it with a grass berm. So the good is that Cheney Stadium stayed where it is. It still has the great seating bowl that is one of the closest and best places to see a game in baseball. It still has wonderful views of Mt. Rainier from places. It still has the basic feel of the old ballpark.
But did these upgrades actually go far enough? That’s what I keep wondering. I wasn’t blown away by anything that I saw. Yes there are more concession stands and bathrooms. The team shop is bigger and generally the ballpark is more pleasing to the eye than before. But the concession stands are now way more expensive, the bathrooms are just bathrooms, the team shop is also quite pricey and I can’t help but think that it looks like they just backed a suburban office complex onto the front of the stadium.
I fear that the upgrades won’t be enough to get people out to more games in the long run and that this “new” stadium will end up being an outdated Triple-A ballpark in 10 years if it isn’t already outdated now and we will be right back where we started. I keep thinking about places like Buffalo or Indianapolis or Rochester or even Syracuse and Cheney just isn’t on the same level as those ballparks despite the beautiful views and the improvements. I don’t see enough of an upgrade to Cheney to think that people will think that much differently of it and make it the destination that the Rainiers would like it to be. It’s still just old Cheney Stadium, but slightly fancier.
And I feel like the average fan has really lost with these improvements. They see the aesthetic improvements and use the extra bathrooms and that’s all well and good. But now there isn’t a cheap seat in the ballpark – $25 for box seats, $13 for reserved seats and $7 for general admission seating on the grass berm (which is a really poorly done grassy area to watch the game from. Looks like only the top half of the berm can actually see the game and you bring your own blanket) and the accompanying family/kids area is a joke when compared to other ballparks (the best being Everett just up the road 60 miles).
And there is no roof, just a little one over the suites and a few rows on each side but the protection of the old roof is nowhere to be found. One of the best things about Cheney was that roof. You were always assured that you would stay dry no matter what crap the Pacific Northwest threw at you. Now it’s gone and where I once would take the family to Cheney even if the weather was poor, I won’t even consider it now.
The biggest and most important improvement to me is that there is now a ticket window and entrance on the north side of the stadium. We always like to park in either that lot or for free on the road before the lot and now don’t have to walk around the entire ballpark.
I loved Cheney Stadium and I was really happy that it essentially survived. But after seeing the upgrades I can’t help but think that these $30 million dollars would have been better saved and spent a few more years down the road on a brand new, fancy ballpark somewhere in downtown. Now the old charming Cheney is gone replaced by a suburban office complex that already seems outdated. Was it really worth it?