TACOMA, Wash. - The best place on the planet to be wearing a military uniform Saturday evening might have been Cheney Stadium in Tacoma. The Seattle Mariners' Triple A affiliate Tacoma Rainiers pulled out all the stops with Salute to Armed Forces Night.

With Tacoma the center of a military-rich part of the state, Alyson Jones, director of media development and events, said Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines form a significant part of the Rainiers' fan base.

"This annual event is just one of the ways the Rainiers say thank you and try to pay them back for all they do," Jones said of those serving their country.

Of the 6,400 people who came to watch the local nine clobber the Las Vegas 51s, 8-0, about 2,000 were military members. The numbers were aided by the club's new Red, White and Blue program under which local businesses buy blocks of tickets and donate them for families of deployed service members.

Cheap tickets were only the beginning. Joint Base Lewis-McChord Garrison Commander Col. Thomas Brittain threw out the ceremonial first pitch followed by a dramatic C-17 Globemaster flyover from JBLM McChord Field. A joint-service band and color guard provided the music and rendered honors to the colors.

Rainier players wore camouflage jerseys, reserved for the once-a-year event. After the game they were autographed and auctioned, raising $1,500 for Operation Homefront, a charity devoted to military families. All proceeds for the evening went to Operation Homefront.

At the bottom of the 3rd inning the Rainiers made an on-field presentation to Donald Green, the Washington chairman of the Pearl Harbor Association. On Dec. 7, 1941, Green was a 19-year-old sailor on board a 7,000-ton, 480-foot ammunition ship called the USS Pyro, which was attacked and credited with shooting down two Japanese aircraft in the attack.

In the fourth inning, two JBLM Soldiers and their families were introduced as Armed Forces Members of the Night, another program started during the 2010 season to recognize military members. The honorees received a VIP tour of the ball park, free snacks and beverages at the season-ticket-holders' Gold Club and prime box seats for the game. The special treatment will continue throughout the season for every Tacoma home game.

Military discounts are available for all games, said Ryan Latham, Rainiers group event coordinator. And there are "Tasty Thursdays," a popular weekly attraction at the beer garden on a terrace along the left field foul line during which sodas and hot dogs are $1 for military members, and beer is $2.

"You can find a lot of the military guys up there having a good time on Thursday nights," Jones said. "They deserve it."

The Rainiers events coordinator said she anticipates the benefits for military members in the area will get even more popular as the summer continues.

"We've got 18,000 Soldiers coming home (to JBLM) between now and August," Brittain said, "so there is plenty of baseball to watch."

Don Kramer is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16