July 23, 1999
Safeco Field: A Tour
A report from the newest ballyard
I went to the game at Safeco Field Sunday afternoon. It was a good one, as the Mariners came back from a 7-1 sixth-inning deficit to win in extra innings, netting their second win at the new park.
The ballpark is spectacular, though not without problems. Aesthetically speaking, it's very pretty; it's assymetrical, in my opinion a good thing in a baseball-only park. The right-field bleachers climb into the stratosphere, while the left-field bleachers only extend into the second level, providing a view of downtown Seattle.
One of the best aspects in the stadium's design is the handling of the roof supports. The architects turned what could have been a colossal eyesore--the steel girders needed to support the roof's weight--into an asset. The girders are left unpainted and are arrayed around the exterior of the ballpark, not visible from the inside. From the outside, with the roof clearly in view and the massive steel girders everywhere, this configuration makes the ballpark look solid and somewhat stately.
There are a ton of seats at field level. I'd guesstimate that at least a third of the seats in the stadium are at field level. They've done an oustanding job of making sure that you can see the field from anywhere in the park. All the concession stands are located 20 feet or so back in the walkways that ring the stadium, and there's no wall between the concessions and the field. If you're standing in line for a beer, you can just turn your head and see the ballgame. Very well done.
There's an unexpected side benefit of moving to natural grass and shrinking the foul territory: the silly "Mariner Moose" mascot was absent for almost the entire game. Hand in hand with this, they've stopped playing sound effects every time someone hits a foul ball, though they continue to play music much too loudly between innings.
The scoreboards are well-thought-out and well-designed. In addition to the ubiquitous giant color screen for showing highlights, there's an enormous screen in center field for displaying in-game box scores. It always stays on, and never displays anything else. Up-to-date lineups for both teams are continuously listed, while at the bottom of the screen is the box score. In the middle, there's a box that displays the current batter's stats for the season, as well as a summary of all of his plate appearances in the current game. All of this information is up there all game; they don't use this board for anything else.
Scattered around the park are other scoreboards, including one that primarily displays out-of-town scores. There are also a couple of scoreboards that have, along with the balls/strikes/outs, the radar reading of every pitch. I realize that opinions are divided about how meaningful this is, but it's still pretty cool to see it up there-- "93...92...oh look, no wonder he was way out in front of that one, it was only 81 ".
A New Issue: Weather
The biggest problem with the ballpark is going to be the temperature. More than two-thirds of the park was in shadow for most of the game. The retractable roof and the overhangs each cast shadows. And even on a warm day in July, it gets downright chilly in the shadows in Seattle. I'd guess the temperature in the sun was a very pleasant 72 degrees, and the temperature a few rows back--where I was sitting--was probably closer to 60. Definite sweatshirt weather, even at 3 p.m. on a sunny day.
If you're planning to see a day game at Safeco, here's my advice: if you want good seats, get field-level, first-base-side seats in the first fifteen rows. If you get seats on the third-base side, you'll spend the entire second half of the game in shadow. If you get field-level seats that are farther back than row 15, you'll spend a significant portion of the game in shadow even if you're on the first-base side.
For cheap seats, the second-deck left-field bleachers are the way to go, since there's no upper deck above them to cast a shadow. And regardless of where you sit, don't wear shorts and bring a sweatshirt! April, May and June are going to be brutally cold--it's going to be like San Francisco, I think.
Alex Rodriguez is already complaining about how hard it is to hit homers at Safeco. So far, Ken Griffey has taken a "as long as we win, I don't care about my stats" stance, at least when talking to the media. Griffey hit his first Safeco dinger at Sunday's game, a deep blast to straightaway center field. It will be interesting to see just how many homers Safeco actually takes away from him.
I saw an 8-7 game, and the only homer by either team--Griffey's--would have been a homer anywhere. For that matter, the first two games played at Safeco had scores of 3-2 and 2-1, with errors by Lou Pinella possibly accounting for the outcome of both games. It may be a different brand of baseball at Safeco; we'll know a lot more later this summer.