SAFECO FIELD.

I have this odd, unintentional history with the Seattle Mariners. I moved to Seattle in March of 1995, which should tell you more or less what you need to know: I was in the right place at the right time, and I had friends who were baseball crazy. I remember being at work at Internet Startup #1 that fall and listening to the Mariners game over the INTERNET. I remember our IT guy Steve, diehard fan with season tickets in the upper deck first row behind home plate, asking people if they would cover for him and allow him to work untraditional hours when the Mariners started to head into playoffs, because (and I quote), “Who knows if I’ll ever get that chance again?” I knew nothing about baseball but I sure understood faith and devotion, so I was more than happy to help him out. Steve was The Guy Who Kept The Boxscore. Again, I had no idea what he was doing, but as the woman who writes down setlists of concerts as they happen, I certainly understood the concept and found it to be completely logical.

I also remember my first Mariners game at the Kingdome in the fall of 1995. It was a company event with the aforementioned startup. I remember all 13 of us (again, remember, it was a startup) being there, and how the three of us from the East Coast were booing a questionable umpire call. Someone actually reported us to an usher who walked over and lectured us about how we certainly weren’t from around here but at the Kingdome things are done differently. As the usher walked away, one of my compatriots muttered, “He’s lucky I didn’t bring the D batteries.”

Baseball was a social thing. Baseball was what I went to when Steve would offer his season tickets to friends and I’d go with a girlfriend and we’d sit there and pretend to swoon over Joey Cora’s picture (if you think Miguel Cairo or Chris Woodward have ears, you clearly never saw Joey Cora).

My biggest baseball friends were Alan and Sarah. Alan proposed to Sarah at Safeco. They have a baseball room in their house. They have season tickets, charter tickets, if you ever need a ticket to a Mariners game, Alan can send a series of emails and can get you get you whatever you need. It was from the two of them I learned what I know about baseball ticket buying strategies, and seniority, and it is, essentially, Alan’s fault that I put the money down in December for our tickets.

When I first started dating my SO, Alan and Sarah’s first reaction was to inquire which New York baseball team he was a fan of. Once that piece of information was ascertained, they started trying to feed me lines to drop into conversation in order to impress him.
“You can just casually mention that you think Mike Cameron will really improve their defense up the middle,” Alan said.
I looked at him as though they were insane. “*I* can’t just casually drop that into any conversation, EVER.”
“Well, if you’re going to a bar, and Sportscenter is on, they’ll definitely mention the Mets, you could say it then,” Sarah offered.
“No bar I hang out at has 1) televisions 2) ESPN on,” I insisted. At the time, it was true. Great jukeboxes and ex-members of various punk rock bands bartending, but no sports.

Alan has wanted to take my better half to a game for a couple of years now, but the timing never worked out. When the Mets were in Seattle in 2005, there was no physical or financial way we could make it out West. But this year, there is time and there is money and the SO made a comment about wanting to go to Seattle, so I dutifully sent email off to Alan, who came back with a long list of dates. At the top of that list was an event called Albabe Day At The Mariners, when Alan buys about 100 tickets in the center field bleachers and invites basically everyone he knows. At $7 a seat, it’s a pretty good deal. It’s not much about watching baseball, but it is a big part of what baseball is to some people.

And, he added, he had “some really good seats” for the Sunday game.

DAY 1 : August 5
Mariners vs. Oakland

Saturday was bleachers day. Saturday we got there early enough to drop off the tickets at will-call (you manage getting 1-year-old twins to the game in time for first pitch and drop off 100 tickets for various people). It was there that we noticed the ticket windows marked TICKET EXCHANGE, and marveled at the concept: switch your bad tickets for better seats, and you’re actually encouraged to do it?!

We also marveled at the concept of ONE ATM IN THE ENTIRE BALLPARK. Sure, it’s free (Boeing Employees Credit Union), but the fact that there is only one (okay, two machines, in one location) and it is located behind home plate, made us long for Banco Popular.

We did a circuit and a half of the main concourse. Keep in mind – I have been to this ballpark before. Hell, my former employer, a large multi-national software concern located near Seattle, used to hold their company meetings at Safeco. (No, the beer stands were not open for the meetings.) But I have never been in the Safe as a baseball fan.

Therefore, there was much to wonder at, observe and document:

The espresso stands. (This is Seattle, after all, but as an avowed coffee snob, I would have to be majorly hungover to drink this swill.)
espresso

Toto, we’re definitely not in Kansas any more, if we’re seeing listings for where we can listen to the Mariners in Butte:
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The multiple microbrews on tap.
beer

The acceptable conduct guidelines. “Obscene or indecent clothing” is how they get away from banning the YANKEES SUCK or A-ROD SWALLOWS shirts sold at my old haunting ground, the Five Point Cafe (whose motto was: “Alcoholics serving alcoholics since 1929”).
safeco code of conduct

The field-level bullpens, a detail I certainly wouldn’t have ever cared about before.
bullpen

The expansive beauty of the Safe on one of the three weeks of summer Seattle gets.
from the center field bleachers

The old-school touches, such as the manual scoreboard and the league flags, arranged in order.
flags

The obscene amount of food offerings (local barbeque, grilled salmon, and the legendary Ichiroll – sushi at the ballpark).

Amongst these – or rather, in the forefront – you haven’t been to Safeco unless you’ve experienced:

shiskaberries

THE SHISKABERRIES!

Forget peanuts and Cracker Jack. You haven’t been to a ballgame until you’ve eaten chocolate covered strawberries on a skewer for brunch. Of course, this is a food offering we will never, ever see anywhere near a New York ballpark: food served on a sharp stick? Yeah, right. Seattle is possibly the only place where this would not result in immediate riots.

Thanks to our friends’ largesse, we were in the front row of the center field bleachers, with tickets assigned to other friends around me. The SO, stubbornly, insisted on keeping score. He exhibited considerable disgruntlement at how no one, repeat, no one (and I mean literally in a full ballpark) claps at the second strike. Sometimes he would do it just because he couldn’t not do it. Sometimes the scoreboard would read ‘CLAP!” and the crowd would make noise – but then would stop before the windup. The Seattle baseball fan’s need to be given permission to make noise is one of my friend Sarah’s biggest peeves about the city.

However, I am happy to report that Seattle has learned to boo. That’s right. A behavior I was reprimanded for at the Kingdome in 1995 is now acceptable, thanks to Lou Piniella – at least for questionable ump calls. They won’t boo anything else, though, and they – wait for it – applaud the effort if someone tries to make a play and misses. We were aghast.

The seventh inning stretch is just about the same as it would be anywhere else, except that the followup song is – wait for it – “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen, who originally hail from Tacoma, Washington. I don’t even know if this is a new innovation or if whoever programs the music knows this (they must, there’s a whole Kingsmen exhibit at Paul Allen’s Jimi Hendrix muse– oops, The Experience Music Project), but I certainly enjoyed the song and the reference.

Somehow, it amazed me that our bleacher seats at Safeco were 1000% times more comfortable than our mezzanine seats at Shea. “Yeah, our seats were put in in 1962, honey,” my other half said, as I attempted to prevent one of the twins from stealing his scoring pen. (Jake was awfully interested in the boxscore, and I did try to get him to wave and yell “Konnichiwa!” at Ichiro – because I’m quite sure no one has ever sat in the outfield at Safeco and done that before.)

ichiro outfield

And finally, the Mariner Moose, my first true (mascot) love. My companion was grumpy at first, and then started pointing him out every time he saw him. By the end of the game he announced that he wanted to have his picture taken with the Moose if at all possible. Sweet, sweet vindication.

I do not remember much of the game; the Mariners lost, and they did not play well. I had a lot of friends to talk to, and was happy with my ability to socialize and watch baseball, while my friends tried hard to deal with my apparent transformation. From our vantage point, I did appreciate the bleacher bums from Oakland who ensconsed themselves out in the standing room in the outfield, and acquitted themselves nicely, rooting for their team. I liked the sunshine, playing with the twins, seeing my friends, eating garlic fries, and not having my butt ache after the game. And, I loved that I had baseball as the background for all of it.

oakland fans

On the way back to Alan and Sarah’s, we tried to call into the local sports radio show. The SO actually got past the screener before he had to hang up because it would have been anti-social. (He was going to bitch about the lack of noise.)

I’d like to start this portion of my Seattle travelogue by acting like a 7-year-old.

putz 1

This man would never survive in the New York area. He could be The Second Greatest Closer In The History of Western Civilization, and he would not make it through half a season. His team could have a J.J. Putz t-shirt day where they dutifully instruct us that his name is pronounced “pootz” – it wouldn’t matter. No one would buy his jersey. No one would add him to their fantasy league. Mike and the Mad Dog would have a running joke daily — no, hourly — over him. Keith Hernandez would say stupid things while Gary Cohen tried to suppress his laughter. Jay Horwitz would throw his hands up in despair over his inability to stop the entire New York baseball community from acting like a bunch of grade schoolers.

P8060106

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I can tell you about our seats for this game. I had known that our friends had these seats, or somehow vaguely knew that their charter seats were in the front row, but Alan has access to a gazillion seats at any given moment and I would have been happy to sit anywhere.

Late Saturday night, as Alan showed us the video where he threw out the first pitch last September (it’s disgusting, I know), he asked, “Do you want a preview of your seats tomorrow?”
I said no because I honestly wanted to be surprised. And I never expected we were going to sit in the charter seats because there were only two of them.

Sunday morning, both Alan and I manage to wear different Mike Cameron t-shirts; neither of us can be bothered to change. We are heading out the door to the game. Alan hands us a parking pass, and then he hands us our tickets.
“Alan, this says Row 1,” my companion says.
“Yes, I believe it does,” Alan replies.

If you’re that interested, there’s surely a Safeco seating chart available, but the pictures kind of say it all.

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2

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Section 119, Row 1. I mean, ROW 1. Row 1, that you can walk down to the seats and kick out the Japanese kids waiting for Ichiro (who is done with signing autographs and isn’t coming back out). Row 1, where you can reach down and touch the dirt on the warning track. Row 1, where the Mariner Moose will come strolling along the field level and pose for pictures and sign autographs.

4

This isn’t the Moose playing peek-a-boo, it’s the Moose signing autographs – he holds the ball up to his eyeholes so he can see, is what I figure. “He’s a good mascot,” my companion grudgingly admitted a little bit later.

HA!

Row 1, where Ichiro will fly by you on his way to and from the outfield 18 times. Row 1, where you could hear the players talk if the entire experience of being THIS CLOSE wasn’t making your ears ring. The SO had to have a few moments alone when he finally settled down to fill in the starting lineups in the boxscore, he was so overcome.

All I could think was: Wow. Imagine if this was Shea? Imagine if that was Delgado standing there, or the Mets bullpen was just down the row, or if this is where I’d watch Reyes fly by as he hit a triple or Wright careen into first or Valentin angle as he threw someone out at first or or or or…

*sigh*

I will sound like a complete moron if I tell you that it was very, very difficult to concentrate on the game in those seats, but it was. From the mezz or the upper deck, you have the entire field of action in your view. Here, you had to constantly change your field of vision and if you watched a play at 1st you might miss what went on at 3rd. I would have to completely relearn how to watch baseball if I had seats anywhere this good.

5

Yes, my friends bring their kids to the game. They are just getting to the point where they are getting too squirmy, but for now, they bring the kids. (If you’re thinking about filling up the comment section with your outrage, please go do it somewhere else.) And I’m happy to report that both kids got baseballs from the A’s first base coach, whose thing is to walk out of the dugout each inning with a ball in his back pocket, and find a deserving youngster to give it to. “You gotta root for the A’s, kid,” he’ll admonish them, and they’ll nod their head half-seriously.

Lauren preferred to eat her ball:
6
“It’s mud and grass, she’s had worse in her mouth,” was the comment made by one of her parents.

Yeah, the Mariners sucked again. But it wouldn’t have mattered if they got trounced. Not in those seats.

I remarked to the SO that our plans to become rich and famous needed to pick up steam so we could come somewhere close to approximating those seats at the new Shea. Alan immediately leaned over and started offering up his strategy on how we could do just that.

Now, that’s a friend.

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