Local

Cheney remodel starts with demolition

The statue of Ben Cheney seems to watch as demolition crews rip out the bleachers in right field at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma on Tuesday. The $30 million renovation project is scheduled to be ready for opening day of the 2011 season.
The statue of Ben Cheney seems to watch as demolition crews rip out the bleachers in right field at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma on Tuesday. The $30 million renovation project is scheduled to be ready for opening day of the 2011 season. The Olympian

You can take Bob Christofferson out of Cheney Stadium, but nothing can take the stadium out of him.

The 56-year-old, award-winning head groundskeeper for the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field was back at the Tacoma stadium Tuesday as excavators chewed away at bleachers and work began in earnest on the $30 million remake of the 51-year-old ball field.

He was part of a ground-breaking ceremony that used sledge hammers to smash holes in the inside wall of the left-field fence. As the stadium’s former manager and head groundskeeper, he stuck around to watch the work and wax nostalgic. While the major remake is needed, Cheney “won’t be the same” when it’s done, he said.

The Puyallup resident tapped his fingers on the outside wall of the left field fence. He had rebuilt the fences in 1985 with the 1-inchthick plywood panels that used to cover the ice arena in the Tacoma Dome. For three months, he primed and painted 20 panels a day. “There were several hundred,” he said.

That same year he cut the height of the center field fence to 28 feet from 32. (He didn’t think it needed to be that high and besides, he said, it could have been dangerous.) Now, like many things at Cheney, the outfield wood fences will be torn down and replaced.

For 20 years, until he was called up to the Big Show in Seattle in 2000, he helped keep the aging stadium alive. “I looked after everything,” he said.

He knows every inch of its Kentucky bluegrass field. He installed a new playing field in 1996 and mowed it many times. He recalled one late night after a long day when he fell asleep while mowing. It was 2 a.m. under the lights.

To replace the lights he climbed the iconic towers that once graced Seals Stadium in San Francisco. (The towers will stay.) He’s also refilled toilet paper dispensers in the restrooms.

“We’ve replaced all the seats a couple of times,” said Christofferson, who designed and built the ticket office and several concession stands, which will go away.

Cheney, old when Christofferson took over, has been maintained and improved in bits and pieces. Now it’s time for real change, he said.

But looking toward right field, a slight shadow crossed his face. The bleachers he put together in a month in 1990 lay in two piles of twisted metal and one pile of wood scraps.

“I hate to see them in a pile,” he said, adding he wished the city had found a use for them rather than turning them into scrap. “I know they had to go, but they could have turned them into seats for high schools, junior highs and parks. Somebody could have used them.”

That came up, but the bleachers were not in the best shape and posed liability issues, said Tacoma Facilities Manager Mike Combs.

Christofferson said the stadium’s greatest attribute is its intimacy and sense of family. He hopes the remodel maintains that spirit.

“That’s the great thing about the stadium,” he said. “It’s about people, and that’s not going to change.”

  Comments