Home Opener @ Safeco Field
It was Friday the 13th of April and the Rockies were 2-4, having lost a three game series to both the Astros and Giants, and looking pretty scared at the plate — with the notable exception of the horror-show they put on in a 17-8 clobbering of “The Freak” Tim Lincecum.
Meanwhile, following a family friendly game in Milwaukee, our cross-country baseball tour continued westward to Seattle where a stranger, wilder atmosphere awaited us.
Having set our sails for the Emerald City not realizing the historical connection between the two cities, it was nice to discover a kind of continuity to our travels.
In 1969, Seattle saw its first season of major league baseball end almost as soon as it began. The Seattle Pilots struggled to draw fans, due in large part to their poor play (64-98) and the antiquated ballpark they played in (aptly named Sick’s Stadium). They were sold the very next year to a Milwaukee car salesman named Bud Selig and the team was moved to Wisconsin.
Few of us can appreciate the kind of general malaise felt by most Seattle sports fans after almost a century of disillusionment. Although Colorado was arguably teased with the notion of having a pro baseball team in the past, we’ve never had a sports team stolen from us and taken to another city. On the contrary, we took the Nordiques away from Quebec. Nevertheless, most people we spoke with in Seattle seemed excited to see King Felix pitch the home opener against the Oakland As the next day.
Eager to talk with some die-hard baseball fans (should there be any left), I jumped at the first sign of baseball-related activity. I hadn’t paid for a haircut in nearly twenty years, but as we rode on the local bus past the Baseball Barbershop in the Green Lake neighborhood, it seemed like a perfect place to interview some Mariners fans and get a Tulo mullet in the meantime.
The barbershop was covered in major league paraphernalia, with one corner of the shop reserved for Mariners bobbleheads, gathered around a replica of Safeco Field. The owner and sole barber was a local lady who said she enjoyed going to Mariners games every now and again, but wasn’t really a baseball fan – she just wanted her shop to be “sporty.”
Well, at least she gave me a more socially acceptable version of the Tulo mullet. And we chatted about the Mariners for a while; the increase in ticket prices — despite several consecutive losing seasons — irritated her, but otherwise the home opener was just business as usual.
* * *
Getting three reasonably-priced tickets to the game proved much more difficult than we’d anticipated, even though my sister is a local and had some connections. We ended up buying three tickets deep in the second deck, far down the left-field line for $55 each. I’ve never spent anywhere near that amount of money for a similar seat at a Rockies game.
And if I had known just how bad the Mariners were going to play, I would’ve started a pick-up game in the parking lot instead.
We got in almost two hours early to watch Cespedes take batting practice and to take advantage of the $5 pregame microbrews on tap, wandering around the pitcher-friendly park, talking with random people, and examining the non-traditional ballpark grub for sale (crab sandwiches, pad thai, garlic fries, sushi, etc.). Mike Cameron threw out the first pitch and announced he’d signed a one-day contract with Seattle, so he could retire as a Mariner. Some people clapped, some people said “who?”, but most people weren’t paying attention, including a construction worker named Shaun — the dude sitting next to me — who was too busy eating all my garlic fries.
SHAUN: “These are good fries, man. Anyway, like I was saying, I think each player should take a needy family to every home game.”
KEVIN: “That’s a fine idea. Didn’t Griffey do something like that when he played here?”
SHAUN: “I dunno. Griffey is an a$$-h***, man. I waited for like 2 hours after a game to get an autograph when I was like 13 years old, and he just walked right past me.”
KEVIN: “Oh yeah?”
SHAUN: “Yeah, and he did the same thing another time when we were waiting for him outside this hotel he was staying at.”
KEVIN: “Bummer. So have you had any encounters with the players on this Mariners team?”
SHAUN: “I don’t even know any players on this team…except for Ichiro and the King.”
King Felix cruised through the first two innings, but then gave up three hits and a walk which led to two runs for the visitors. Watching yet another ace pitch live in person made me realize just how desperate the Rockies are for such an arm. Everyone in the stands watches the game differently when an ace is on the mound for the home team; there’s a heightened awareness during each at-bat and a collective confidence that the pitcher will prevail.
But you still gotta score some runs to win. After seven innings, the Mariners had managed only three singles against A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon and the natives were getting restless.
KEVIN: “Yeah, you don’t look too good.”
After the Mariners failed to score once again in the 8th, he left.
* * *
The general malaise I mentioned earlier is probably most palpable after the home team gets shut-out in its home opener. Just ask Rockies fans how it felt when the Giants beat us 7-0 in our home opener this year. In Seattle, though, there is little hope for a quick turnaround, no chance of an 17-8 redemption victory the next day, and on top of that, it’ll probably be cold and rainy, way down there in the cellar.
But Seattle baseball has been down there before and is expected to be down there next year, too. They’ve built up a kind of frigid defense mechanism — both psychologically in each and every fan, and strategically on the diamond as a team — in order to better cope with the stronger, flashier, and wealthier baseball that comes their way.
Some say it’s an attitude that pervades the entire city; they call it the Seattle freeze. And on that night of Friday the 13th, the hometown fans staggered out of the stadium like zombies from a graveyard, a cruel reminder of the lethargic and uninspired baseball we’d just seen, knowing full well it wasn’t just bad luck. It sent chills down my spine and caused convulsions; I couldn’t help but feel that this might be another Ice Age for Seattle baseball fans.
For the first five weeks of the season, Kevin Kroh will be traveling across the country — from big city stadiums, to small town sandlots — chattering with baseball fans all over the nation on everything from the cold, hard facts of the stat sheet, to the utopian fantasies of community ownership models. With his trusty audio recorder and baseball-loving girlfriend at his side, he’ll be posting unique perspectives from around the horn, and bringing it all back home to the Rockies in this year’s “Pro Baseball Partnership Tour: cross-country conversations in the Year of the Fan.”