The local baseball season starts relatively late this year, with the Seattle Mariners out of town until the April 8 home opener against Cleveland.
Farther south, at a renovated Cheney Stadium, the triple-A Tacoma Rainiers take the field (weather permitting) a week later.
Those who can't wait for "play-ball" may be tempted to at least treat themselves to reading about local baseball as it existed during the mid-century years of the Seattle Rainiers. Dan Raley's nostalgic, anecdote-laden “Pitchers of Beer: The Story of the Seattle Rainiers” (University of Nebraska Press) has just been published and should be available April 1, when the M's open the season in Oakland.
Sports fans in their mature years will need no introduction to the Seattle Rainiers, one of the most popular triple-A teams in history. Raley, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports and city-room scribe (he’s now an editor at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution), displays obvious affection for his subject. He grew up in Seattle and was among the legions of fans of the “Seattle Suds,” as the Rainiers were sometimes called.
Raley also has shown his historical-reporting chops in other notable ways. While at the P-I he regularly produced “where-are-they-now?” stories about past sports luminaries from the Northwest. He also wrote “Tideflats to Tomorrow: The History of Seattle’s Sodo” (Fairgreens Publishing, 2010).
The current work recalls the irrepressible Seattle brewing magnate Emil Sick, who spent his beer money to acquire the triple-A Seattle Indians and build a splendid stadium in which the team would play for 27 seasons. Dubbing the club “Rainiers” proved an excellent branding-tie-in ploy. Better still was the team itself. Famed players such as Fred Hutchinson and Edo Vanni helped keep attendance high during an era when Pacific Coast League baseball had the West Coast cachet associated with major-league play back east.
Raley recalls numerous Rainiers-associated luminaries from on and off the field, noting, for example, how the mellifluous-voiced Leo Lassen would bolster fan fascination with his lyric radio coverage of Suds games.
Alas, the coast league started to decline when the Dodgers and Giants moved to California in 1958. The Seattle Rainiers played their final game Sept. 13, 1964, the year Emil Sick died.
Sicks' Stadium (the apostrophe is positioned to indicate ownership of the facility by the entire Sick family) was offered as a home for the Cleveland Indians when mid-'60s efforts were made in vain to lure the Ohio franchise to Seattle. The ballpark, scarcely of big-league capacity, would nonetheless be maintained and used during the one season of the major-league Seattle Pilots (1969).
The long-time pride of "Garlic Gulch," Sicks’ Stadium had been a decades-long magnet for development in South Seattle. It was finally used during the '70s by a little-noticed single-A incarnation of the Rainiers, then demolished in '79 when local baseball attention had turned to the Mariners at the Kingdome.
"Pitchers of Beer," a terrific double-entendre title, would benefit from an index. In its place at the end of the book is an excellent chapter-by-chapter author's synopsis of his research methods and sources. Another strength is the wealth of photos from noted collector David Eskenazi.
The timing of the book's release is scarcely coincidental. Raley would concede as another season approaches that his and other good sports books can't be better than real baseball. "Pitchers of Beer" and its ilk, however, certainly can make real baseball seem better.