Seattle Mariners

John McGrath: Tacoma’s Stan Christofferson remembered for the ‘little things’

Stan Naccarato stands in front of Cheney Stadium in 1987. He died Wednesday at the age of 88.
Stan Naccarato stands in front of Cheney Stadium in 1987. He died Wednesday at the age of 88. Staff file, 1987

Stan Naccarato believed “Play ball!” to be the two most beautiful words of the English language, but he had another favorite phrase for those special occasions when fireworks were about to be launched.

“Cast your eyes skyward.”

Mariners head groundskeeper Bob Christofferson, who oversaw the baseball field of Cheney Stadium for nine years, recalled the glee with which Naccarato gave that command.

“For every fireworks show, Stan would announce to the crowd, ‘Cast your eyes skyward,’ ” Christofferson said Wednesday, a few hours after learning of Naccarato’s death at the age of 88. “The sound of his voice as the sky was about to light up will always stay with me.”

Naccarato’s voice didn’t emanate from the sky, although there were times — such as that 1971 night he assembled a local investment group to save Triple-A baseball in Tacoma — it seemed that way.

“He was bigger than life,” said his son, Steve. “He had a hell of a run, but you always want more.”

Asked to reflect on some favorite memories of his father, often referred to as “Tacoma’s Mr. Baseball,” Steve Naccarato began with what he called “the little things, like always being there in the stands during my Little League games. And Christmas Eve, when he brought turkeys and groceries and toys for the underprivileged around town.

“One Christmas Eve, Dad found out about a family that didn’t pay its bill on time and had its power shut off. He called the public utilities company and tried to intervene, and they told him, ‘Sorry, Stan, there’s no way we can do that.’ 

“No way” was not a phrase Naccarato tolerated, especially if it pertained to a household going cold on Christmas Eve.

“Miraculously,” said Steve Naccarato, “the electricity came back on.”

Steve Naccarato then recalled the brighter lights of an extraordinary life that included close friendships with the likes of legendary manager Billy Martin, killed in a 1989 car accident, and the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

“Dad took me to the World Series in 1978, the season Tacoma was affiliated with the Yankees,” said Naccarato. “We were on our way from Los Angeles to New York with a layover in Las Vegas, and Joe DiMaggio walked by. They chatted. Because of my dad, I got to meet people like Joe DiMaggio and Muhammad Ali.”

Stan Naccarato used the telephone as a primary tool for his old-school-style salesmanship.

“I’d walk into his office at the ballpark with a question, and Stan would be on the phone,” said Christofferson. “He’d hang up and a second later he’d be on the phone again. He wanted something, and the people he was talking to were about to write a check they probably had no idea of why it would be written.

“His persuasiveness was fascinating. After an hour or so, when Stan finally asked what I needed to talk about, I had forgotten.”

Brad Cheney — son of the late lumber baron Ben Cheney, who helped underwrite the construction cost of the ballpark that opened as home for the Tacoma Giants in 1960 — has known Naccarato since growing up in Brown’s Point, where the families were neighbors.

“He was one of a kind,” said Cheney. “His compassion and friendliness and warmth were second to none. If it had to do with sports in Tacoma, whether it was the Boys and Girls Club or the Golden Gloves or minor league baseball, it had to do with Stan. What an engine that man had. He could run all day.”

Christofferson believes Naccarato should be honored by attaching his name to downtown Tacoma’s most recognized street, Pacific Avenue.

“Because that’s how much Stan loved the city,” Christofferson said. “He had chances to move to New York from his connections with the Yankees, and there were opportunities in Seattle, too. But he realized Tacoma was where he belonged.”

A moment of silence in honor of Naccarato was scheduled at Safeco Field before the Mariners game Wednesday night. Fans typically look down during such solemn tributes. Not Christofferson, whose prevailing memory of Stan Naccarato was his insistence that the show must go on.

The groundskeeper is well familiar with the earth and the eternal greenery it promises, but for a moment, his eyes will be cast skyward.