He’s been an unlikely star at Cheney Stadium. What’s next for the Rainiers and their MC?
Tacoma Rainiers games will never be the same. There’s no way they can be.
Of course, for Casey Catherwood — the man who, for the last eight seasons, has been responsible for the Rainiers’ wildly unique in-game entertainment — being different was always the point.
This week, Catherwood, 34, announced on social media that he would not return as the team’s creative director for the 2023 season. He’s chosen a new adventure, he says: a day job in marketing, working for the McBride Cohen Management Group, which managed the development of Point Ruston. In his time off, he’s chasing fresh outlets for his creativity, including writing a new television show, the first season of which, he told me, he’s halfway through.
Catherwood, who spoke to me by phone from Arizona where he’s catching a few spring training games between work meetings, said he’s at peace with the major life decision. Change is always difficult, he acknowledged — and, in this case, slightly terrifying — but nothing lasts forever, and it was time for new challenges and opportunities, he believes.
Still, the fact remains: For the thousands of Rainiers fans who fill the seats at Cheney Stadium every season — including on April 4, when the team celebrates its 2023 home opener against the Reno Aces — not having Catherwood as the master of ceremonies will be undoubtedly strange.
Even if it means the between-inning hijinks are far less strange.
“What it really came down to is that I didn’t want to fall out of love with what I was doing. Once you kind of had that inkling — or that feeling — I just figured it was time,” said Catherwood, who quietly put in his notice back in October but waited until now to reveal his plans publicly.
I’ve been thinking of ways to say it and know some of you already know, but I thought it would be best to let everyone know now so there are no surprises on Opening Day:
The final game of the 2022 season was my last one working for the Tacoma Rainiers. pic.twitter.com/QOoDuHFgZ1
— Casey Catherwood (@CaseyCatherwood) March 14, 2023
I have some history with Catherwood, it’s worth noting. In 2018, I shadowed the offbeat artist, painter and musician turned local celebrity during a Thursday night matchup against the Las Vegas 51s, the fourth game of a nine-game home stand that season. The experience didn’t just result in one of my favorite columns of all time. A few months later, it led to what, to date, is still the largest fine levied by the state Department of Labor and Industries against a saxophone-playing gorilla.
My inspiration for the column was genuine: Having attended local minor league baseball games in Tacoma for most of my life — including back when the team was the Tigers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics — the juice and peculiarity Catherwood injected into the experience when he arrived was unmistakable. Some instantly loved his act, won over by eccentric bits he cooked up, like what would come to be known as “Cheney Stadium’s favorite game show, This or That” — which involved Catherwood choosing random fans to answer impossibly weird trivia questions for equally weird prizes. Others bristled at the change, as often happens when boundaries get stretched.
But what was clear as day — at least to anyone who stopped for a moment to fully appreciate what he was doing — was that Catherwood was attempting something unmistakably distinct, even by outlandish minor league baseball standards. Floating just below the surface of the wholesome entertainment he created was an odd genius. Not every sketch landed, and not everyone got the joke, but for Catherwood, it was art. It was performance.
He was also having fun — perhaps more than anyone at the stadium. There’s a lot to be said for that.
“Ideas start as seeds,” he told me with sincerity back in 2018, regaling me with the origin stories of well-known characters and memories of sketches that fell painfully flat. “You have to grab onto it and hope and pray that the water and thought will turn it into a thing. A lot of ideas don’t turn into a thing. I have notebooks — books, and books and books — full of half-brained little seedling ideas that will never become a thing. But you have to be constantly gardening.”
Over the last eight seasons, Rainiers President Aaron Artman has watched Catherwood’s creative process from box seats.
While Artman has had time to adjust to Catherwood’s decision to move on and he’s excited for what the team’s entertainment staff has planned for the upcoming season — which he says will include a few holdover favorites and a few new ideas, likely with a “more relaxing” stadium atmosphere — he said Catherwood’s departure marks the end of a memorable era at Cheney.
The team has no plans to “put on the same show as Casey,” Artman said, or find a replacement.
He described his former colleague as a dear friend who “brings out the best in people.”
“We have such a unique soul, when it comes to being a sports venue and a sports franchise, and Casey was able to tap into that and amplify that. Casey would have been successful anywhere, but the vibe of the Rainiers and our fans in the stadium — and the city and our culture — also seemed to be a vibe that helped fuel Casey,” Artman said.
“I think for some fans it’ll be quite strange when they first come in and they don’t see Casey, because he was such a huge part of what we did.”
With the possible exception of Rainiers’ mascot Rhubarb — who could not be reached for comment at press time — Cheney Stadium Public Address Announcer Randy McNair, who was the first person Catherwood hired, might miss his former boss the most.
McNair debuted the same season as Catherwood, and worked hand-in-hand with him during his time with the team.
In recent years, McNair’s dulcet singing voice — previously an untapped resource behind the PA system — played prominently in a number of Catherwood’s most popular Cheney Stadium skits, even if it required some coaxing at first.
“I’m going to be thinking about him a lot, that’s for sure. It’ll be a different routine, and he will be on my mind all year long,” McNair said.
“At the same time, we’re all very optimistic about moving forward,” McNair continued. “You’ve gotta move forward. We built a really strong relationship, and we realized that eventually it was going to come to an end, so we needed to focus on enjoying it while we had it.”
Catherwood is also optimistic, which should come as no surprise to those who know him — and even those who feel like they know him from their time at Cheney Stadium.
He’s excited about his prospects, he said.
He’s excited to find new ways to be creative, outside of the restraints of a minor league baseball stadium.
Most of all, he’s excited about his journey, even if he knows the paths we travel in life can be both beautiful and bittersweet.
“Being a part of something like the Rainiers, that meant so much to people — that meant so much to this town — is something I’ll never forget,” Catherwood said.
“It’s been an amazing eight years, and I’m very proud of it.”