A fashionable new Tacoma Rainiers cap is sweeping the city as baseball fans jump on board the red R line. Tony Overman toverman@theolympian.com
A fashionable new Tacoma Rainiers cap is sweeping the city as baseball fans jump on board the red R line. Tony Overman toverman@theolympian.com

Tacoma Rainiers

Everyone wears Rainiers gear. How did Tacoma get so cool?

July 21, 2017 09:00 AM

UPDATED July 22, 2017 09:03 PM

“R” you seeing it?

A trendy Rainiers logo is following you around Tacoma.

Look up on the street, and chances are somebody will pass by you wearing a baseball cap with the “R” logo on it.

And around the old ballpark at Cheney Stadium, fans showcase the brand name all over the place — on hats, jackets, jerseys, even socks.

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Tacoma has placed in the top 25 nationally in merchandise sales the past two years for all of minor-league baseball, which incorporates 160 teams.

The sudden craze over the logo has driven Rainiers merchandise sales to record levels. In the past two years, Tacoma has placed in the top 25 nationally in sales for all of minor-league baseball, which incorporates 160 teams.

The Rainiers are also one of six Pacific Coast League teams to break into the top 25 in back-to-back years, joining El Paso, Nashville, Oklahoma City, Sacramento and Salt Lake City.

Unlike the busy, fun-filled logos of their league counterparts, Tacoma’s is refreshingly minimalist — and singular.

“This isn’t a market you can get away with the prevailing trends of minor league baseball with shock or character images,” Rainiers team president Aaron Artman said. “The Northwest is more sophisticated than that.”

Limited edition Fourth of July ball caps are among Bret Woody’s collection. At left is the 2016 version and this year’s cap is at right.
Drew Perine dperine@thenewstribune.com

A ‘R’-EVOLUTION

Baby boomers know exactly where they’ve seen this “R” logo before — on a Rainier beer can.

That was the signature emblem the Sick family went with when it purchased the downtown Seattle brewery in the 1930s.

Emil Sick, a Tacoma native and son of Canadian brewer Fritz Sick, also used that serif typeface “R” in the team logo when he bought the city’s minor-league baseball team, changing it from the Seattle Indians to the Seattle Rainiers.

Nearly 50 years later, the Rainiers’ nickname resurfaced in baseball, but in Tacoma. After the George Foster-owned Tacoma Tigers ended their affiliation with the Oakland Athletics to sign on as the Triple-A team for the Seattle Mariners in 1994, they adopted the name.

That mid-1990s “R” logo was modified: The lettering was thickened. And it was also accentuated by a drop shadow, giving it more of a three-dimensional look.

The next logo redesign came in 2009 under a new ownership group — SDL Baseball Partners, led by Kirby Schlegel.

That is when current Rainiers creative director Tony Canepa first got to put his touch on the logo’s script lettering.

“A lot of it was cleaning up certain angles and making it look a little sharper,” Canepa said.

Canepa removed the drop shadow, and tilted the angle of the “R” a little more to the right. He also tightened up the fancy flourish at the top of the “R” — technically known as a swash.

The changes were slight, but made carefully, Canepa said.

“That ‘R’ is extremely unique,” Canepa said. “It’s a beautiful piece of a simple, elegant design. When you break it down, or change a piece of it, it starts to fall apart almost immediately. You cannot take anything away from it and have it work.”

The Rainiers logo has changed since 1995.
Tony Canepa Courtesy

THE ‘R’IGHT DECISION

For the first 20 years in Tacoma, the “R” symbol was primarily glued to another image.

Of course, it has always been part of the whole nickname — the Rainiers. But it was glued next to a “T” from 1995-2008 as one of the team’s secondary logos.

And in 2009, both the “T” and “R” were placed in the middle of a compass to make up the Rainiers’ primary logo.

When spring 2014 rolled around, the team had been in the hands of new ownership for a few years with The Baseball Club of Tacoma, a group of 15 partners, headed by Curtis High School graduate Mikal Thomsen.

Artman knew the compass logo had run its course. So he and his creative team had a series of meetings that spring to discuss rebranding ideas.

And they kept going back to one conclusion: Isolating the “R” by itself.

It had been done before with hats. The Rainiers had always offered a limited supply of baseball caps with just an “R” logo on them. They had always sold out, too.

“It was iconic enough on its own that we would have been crazy to figure out something else to do with it,” Artman said. “A good design is a good design.”

Added Canepa, who suggested the redesigned “R” from 2009 would still work six years later: “A lot of it was just paying attention to what was coming from the fans. It was something everyone gravitated toward.”

For the 2015 season, the team decided to go with “Rainiers” as its primary logo, which is seen mainly on shirts and jackets. And it went with the stand-alone “R” as its secondary logo, which is largely a cap logo.

Tacoma baseball’s first marketing slogan for that season? “Check Out ‘R’ New Look.”

“I started here in 2007, and did not see a lot of Rainiers hats around town,” Artman said. “Now I see them everywhere. It is something people are identifying with.”

He's got Rainiers gear for every occasion

Olympia attorney and Tacoma native Bret Woody shows off some of his growing collection of Tacoma Rainiers gear. He’s particularly fond of the hat featuring the solitary R. “It’s just a way to represent my city. I love Tacoma,” Woody said of his collection.

Drew Perine dperine@thenewstribune.com

WHY ‘R’ YOU SO POPULAR?

Bret Woody has lived in Tacoma his entire life. He attended baseball games at Cheney Stadium with his grandfather, who had season tickets. His grandfather was a ticket seller for the franchise when it debuted as the Tacoma Giants in 1960.

“I rocked the A’s hat,” Woody said. “Loved (Jose) Canseco. Loved his number — 33.”

But it wasn’t until 2008 when Woody started collecting Tacoma minor-league baseball hats, starting with the Giants, then the Cubs, the Twins, the Yankees, the Tugs, the Tigers — and now the Rainiers.

His collection of hats has reached nearly 50, with more than half of them “R” logo hats. He stores all of them in big, plastic bins, separated by colors and eras.

Woody estimates he has invested $5,000 in the hats. He also has spent another $3,000 on Tacoma baseball jerseys.

“I told them a few years ago to put out more and more of them,” said Woody, a 1995 Mount Tahoma High School graduate who is now a criminal defense attorney in Olympia. “Anything put out that says ‘Tacoma’ is something we will buy.”

Besides a collection of about 50 Tacoma Rainiers hats, Bret Woody also has a number of jerseys and other sports memorabilia.
Drew Perine dperine@thenewstribune.com

Last year, Rainiers director of merchandise Ashley Schutt said the team sold about 13,000 adult baseball hats. Ninety percent of them had the “R” logo on it.

That was the organization’s top-selling item. By comparison, the Rainiers sold 9,000 adults sweatshirts, T-shirts, jackets and jerseys.

For this baseball season, Schutt said the team has diversified its hat inventory. Customers now have 50 assorted “R” logo hats to choose from, starting at $24.99.

Schutt said the best seller is the navy-colored hat with the red-colored “R” emblem. It is also the official team hat.

“We have more product, and we keep creating better gear,” Artman said.

The Rainiers also have expanded the ways they market the “R” logo, using it for promotional videos, programs, calendars, banners and even children’s storybooks.

Why has it become so prominent?

“It has become a symbol of Tacoma,” Artman said.