A Major-League Good Time

"T ACOMA - It's just like Safeco Field. Only better, or worse, depending on what you're there for.At Cheney Stadium, the grass is just as green, the sky is just as blue, and the Tacoma Rainiers Class 3A minor-league team is nearly as dominant in the Pacific Coast League as the parent Seattle Mariners have been this season up in The Show.If Safeco Field is a baseball cathedral, think of Cheney as your little Wayside Chapel. It's about the size and shape of the M's Spring Training facility in Arizona, with a capacity of about 10,000 (not counting Tightwad Terrace, the athletic field at Foss High School which juts out behind the right field fence), only a lot closer. It's Peoria without the plane ride.The well-worn old ballpark doesn't glitter like the 2-year-old, $500 million Mariners stadium, and players like Eugene Kingsale and Manny Alexander don't give off the same aura as, say, Ichiro or Edgar.There's nobody in a Rainiers uniform that you're on a first-name basis with.But Cheney and the Rainiers compare favorably in a lot of respects with Safeco and the M's - especially if you've got a family in tow.A few quick examples:Cheney is 45 minutes south from the heart of Silverdale. Safeco is a short jaunt to either the Winslow or Bremerton ferry dock, a 30- or 45-minute boat ride and a half-hour hike away.At Cheney, the Rainiers are 33-16 (following Wednesday afternoon's 10-4 shellacking of the Omaha Golden Spikes). While that's not quite as good as the Mariners' road record, there's still a pretty good chance you're going to see a victory.At Cheney, the best seat in the house is $10. And the box seats are really box seats. General admission down the lines, sitting on sunwashed bleacher benches, is $5. At Safeco, the general ticket range is $6-$36, but the best seats in the house cost more than you've got. And there isn't anything remotely boxey about the boxes.At Cheney, parking is $4, and you're a 200-yard jog from the gate. At Safeco (if you're not one of the lucky ones who can do the ferry walk-on trick), you'll pay, on average, three times that much to park in a lot that might be a mile away from your seat.At Cheney, you never have to worry about them closing the roof. At Safeco, you never have to worry about having your game canceled by rain.At Cheney, you get fresh, hot concessions goodies. At Safeco, you get cute names for the places shilling variety fare, like Intentional Wok for the Asian place, and High Cheese for the pizza joint. At both venues, food prices are wildly inflated, but the quality at Cheney somehow seems better.There are other similarities. Both playing surfaces are immaculate, and neither park is designed for the home run hitter. If Alex Rodriguez didn't like Safeco, he would've hated Cheney. It's 325 down the lines, 350 to the power alleys and a gargantuan 425 to dead center, with a 35-foot blue wall mocking even the most powerful hitter.During Wednesday's game, Tacoma's hulking designated hitter, Juan Thomas, twice roped 400-foot liners over the head of Spikes center fielder Jed Hansen (an Olympia native, by the way). In both cases, the ball still had to take two aggressive hops just to reach the wall.Depending on when you go to Cheney, you might see a Mariner or two. Last Tuesday night, Norm Charlton hurled an inning to wrap up a rehab assignment prior to rejoining the M's. Wednesday, Brett Tomko pitched seven innings as the Mariners shopped him around for a possible trade. At some point, Jay Buhner probably will play a rehab game or two with the Rainiers.And the visiting teams are Triple-A affiliates, too - all have a player or three who've spent time in The Bigs. Omaha's middle infield or Carlos Febles and Wilson Delgado both started this season with the Spikes' parent team, the Kansas City Royals. "

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