Seattle, Friday September 28th, 2007

Safeco Field, Seattle WA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We managed to squeeze in one more baseball trip at the tail end of the 2007 season, visiting the Pacific Northwest for the first time. The trip was planned around the final series of the season for the Seattle Mariners, but we were just as interested in seeing Seattle, a place I long wished to visit. For this trip, an old friend of mine joined us, as we explored Safeco Field (now known as T-Mobile Park) and beyond.

We left from Newark NJ on a non-stop flight to Seattle-Tacoma Airport, and the six hour flight was long but uneventful. At the airport, we met up with my friend Mike, who flew in from Boston and arrived not long after us. A fellow Met fan, Mike finally took the opportunity to join us on one of our baseball excursions. We didn’t know it at the time, but being as far from the travesty that would occur in Queens NY that weekend spared us from having to witness it.

Strong storms just missing Safeco Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Heading toward the hotel in Seattle, we were greeted by a severe thunderstorm, something of a rarity in the Pacific Northwest, especially in late September. Luckily, the storm passed us by, leading into a clear and comfortably cool evening at Safeco Field. Finding parking at the stadium was not difficult; there were at two lots at the field, with many offsite options available with walking distance (generally less than one-half mile). However, the prices for the offsite locations were not cheap.

As is the case when we visit a stadium for the first time, we walked around Safeco Field to get a feel for the place. Though I was aware that Qwest Field (now known as CenturyLink Field) was close to Safeco, I didn’t realize that they were across the street from each other. Adjacent to Safeco Field down the street is WaMu Theatre, home to live music.

The view of Seattle from just outside Safeco Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In fact, there was quite a bit to do and see around the sprawling sports complex. Even among the points of interest within walking distance, the most striking was the view of downtown Seattle. From the ballpark, the skyline was spectacular, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t considered how large Seattle was. That view stuck with me long after the trip ended.

Following our exploration of the environs, we headed into the park. Despite being a relatively new ballpark (which opened its gates for the first time in June 1999), it had a vintage look and feel, as evidenced by the rotunda that serves as the main entrance. Once inside, Safeco Field seemed huge, departing from the “newer” ballpark trend for smaller, more intimate experience. Not as large as the multi purpose colossuses from the 1960s and 1970s, it nonetheless was bigger in person that I thought seeing it on TV.

Safeco Field from on high. Note the roof over right field, and Qwest Field beyond the left field seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

While we were able to cover much of Safeco Field via the lower level concourse, it did not allow us access to the entire field. Still, our initial impression of the stadium was largely positive, and the clear and relatively cool late afternoon/evening added to the ambiance of the park. Ducking back into the main concourse, we discovered the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame.

Celebrating the rich baseball history of the Pacific Northwest, the Hall contained multi media exhibits chronicling baseball’s beginning in the 1870s, the Seattle Pilots and their lone MLB season in 1969, as well as Mariner greats through the years. Luckily for us, the Hall was not crowded, and we were able to appreciate the understated display. While not as expansive or detailed as Halls we’ve explored in other MLB ballparks, fans will appreciate the expression of appreciation of baseball in Washington.

Edgar Martinez and his classic stance on display at the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Mariners hosted the Texas Rangers for the first game of the last series of the season, slated for a 710 pm start. Before heading to our seats, we went in search of baseball style dinner. As might be expected, there was myriad places to eat and drink, featuring local favorites as well as classic ballpark standards. Rather than indulge in some of the more exotic offerings, we chose the standard fare, and headed to our seats.

We witnessed something unique in my experience at the food court. Typically, the US dollar is stronger than the Canadian dollar, and I have never seen Canadian dollars accepted in US stores. However, during our visit to Seattle, the US dollar and Canadian dollar were about equal, and the food courts and team stores within Safeco Field were accepting Canadian dollars for payment.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The view from our seats was spectacular, as the weather was good enough for an open roof. As the sun was setting toward game time, the lights from the stadium were just taking effect, unveiling the beauty of Safeco Field. Much like Minute Maid Park in Houston, the massive roof towered over the right field stands. Clearing skies and seasonably cool temperatures set the stage for a great evening for taking in a ball game.

Both teams were finishing out the 2007 schedule with little to play for, other than pride. Neither team was headed to the playoffs, completing mediocre seasons. The Mariners sent veteran right hander Jeff Weaver to the hill, and the Rangers countered with 23 year Edison Volquez, making his sixth and final start of the season. Both teams sported relatively potent offenses, so a high scoring affair was in the offing, especially with the roof open.

Safeco Field with the Seattle skyline as a backdrop. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Beyond the stadium, the main baseball attraction was Ichiro Suzuki. Finishing yet another outstanding season, Ichiro led the AL in hits and at bats, his .351 batting average second in the AL to Magglio Ordonez. Leading off and playing right field for the hometown Mariners, Ichiro was definitely THE fan favorite, receiving a rousing ovation before his at bat in the bottom of the first inning.

Ichiro Suzuki leading off in the Mariners half of the first inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Rangers struck for two runs in the top of the third inning, while Edison Volquez mowed down the Mariners through the first five innings, effectively dispelling the notion of a slugfest at Safeco Field this evening. Though the game was fairly well attended, there did not seem to be anywhere near the 31,000 plus fans announced for the game. The less than capacity crowd should have been expected, since neither team has much left to prove at the tail end of the 2007 campaign.

Volquez’ s start unraveled in the bottom of the sixth, as the Mariners scored three runs before he could record an out. A phalanx of Rangers relievers managed to contain the damage. The Rangers offense pushed two runs across on the top of the seventh to take a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning stretch.

Safeco Field at night with the roof open. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Even with little left to play for in 2007, I was impressed by the passion of the Mariners fan. The combination of the venue and the fans instantly made this one of my favorite places to see a ball game, and we had just reached the bottom of the seventh! The Mariners bats woke up in the bottom of the eight to tie the game at 4-4, and the crowd responded according.

Mariners’ closer J.J Putz held the Rangers scoreless in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, Rangers’ pitcher Mike Wood yielded a single to Mariners 3B Adrian Beltre, then retired the next two batters, seemingly dodging a bullet. However, 2B Jeff Clement ended the game with a walk off HR to center field, giving the Mariners a 6-4 victory. The raucous hometown crowd reveled in the victory as the filed out the Safeco Field. The walk off HR was a fitting ending to the end of a highly enjoyable baseball experience at a great ballpark.

The Mariners celebrate a walk off victory! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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