This is a weekly feature in which I (and maybe you, too, readers) detail the various reasons for hating your ballpark. This week: The Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field.
A barbaric yawp over the retractable rooftop: You'll hear time and again that Safeco Field, which is less a stadium than something Boeing forgot to pack up when it skipped town, is "the best of the retractable-roof ballparks." Leave aside that this is like calling melanoma the best of the skin cancers. Why does Seattle even need a $70 million retractable roof for its $517 million stadium? "The Mariners needed a roof for their ballpark due to Seattle's notorious rain," according to Baseball Pilgrimages, a common refrain. But do they?
Here, for the sake of comparison, is a chart of New York's average precipitation:
And now, Seattle:
The baseball months in Seattle are significantly drier than those in Cleveland, Chicago or New York, three cities with newish, roofless ballparks. Safeco's roof is a costly and utterly pointless gimcrack. A "25-million-pound action toy," the architecture critic John Pastier has called it, not to mention a "waste of money" and a "waste of space." The rest of the stadium is more or less plagiarized from all the other ye olde ballparks of the 1990s, which, as we've noted before, are retro only in the sense that Medieval Times is retro. For lack of anything else, then, the roof has become Safeco's sole defining characteristic. Think Wrigley, you see ivy. Think Fenway, you see the Green Monster. Think Safeco, $517 million Safeco, and what do you see? An exercise in large-scale, rigorously engineered public masturbation. My oh my.
In the tank: Glance over some of these giddy headlines in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1999, the year Safeco opened:
"Safeco's field of dreams is 105 days away from becoming reality"
"Success with flush at the new ballpark" (an actual news story in which we're actually informed that the toilets actually do flush)
"It's my stadium: Safeco workers talk about their experiences"
"Safeco: The tingle tells you it's working"
"Not a bad seat in the house"
"My stadium's better than your stadium ..."
These stories came after the stadium had been built and, I suppose, could be chalked up to a relatively harmless spirit of civic boosterism. But consider what came before, when the Mariners first began shaking their sorry little tin cup in the public square. From Field of Schemes, by Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause:
In Seattle, for example, after voters had narrowly defeated a proposal to build a new stadium for the Mariners baseball team in 1995, The Seattle Times — which had provided free ad space for the pro-stadium campaign — first editorialized that this represented "a striking affirmation of the region's commitment to baseball ... half of King County voters would tax themselves to keep the team there." (That slightly over half had voted not to tax themselves wasn't deemed worthy of notice.) The next day, the paper ran a front-page story headlined "Stadium Not Yet Dead," in which it suggested ways that the state government could go ahead with the stadium despite the popular vote. One month later, the state legislature would do just that.
The same press corps that never tires of unearthing minor-league boondoggles in massive federal spending bills is the same one that, with rare exception, happily rolls over whenever some local baron floats the notion of a gleaming new ballpark built on the public dime. A horrible new stadium goes up; the taxpayers are on the hook for years; but it's all OK, because some sportswriter up in the press box looks out at the emerald expanse and starts to feel a little tingle.
The view from the stands (everything sic'd):
We were once sitting out in the left field bleachers and my out-of-town aunt was hit on the leg by a home run hit by Miguel Olivo. She didn't bother to get out of the way or try to defend herself in any way whatsoever. She then demanded that the boy who had wound up with the ball give it back to her (which he did) and then, while the ushers and paramedics were attending to her (you should have seen the bruise the ball left), she ordered the ushers to go get the kid who she'd taken the ball back from a free t-shirt from the souvenir stand (which they promptly did). Morale of the story— it's easy to boss people in Seattle around. (Andrew R.)
I took my dad to an M's game at Safeco a few years ago. He's getting up there in age, in his 70s with a bad hip. But he likes baseball and I thought he'd still have a good time. So we sit down in our seats about 100 yards away from home plate. And every time the M's aging Edgar Martinez comes to bat, the guy next to my dad yells in the loudest voice of all time right into my dad's ear, "EDDDDDDDDD-GARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! EDDDDDDDDD-GARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!" Maybe that chant was moderately worthwhile back when Edgar was still good and when everyone else in the stadium was yelling it (like "YOUUUUUK" in Boston). But when Martinez sucks and you're the only fucker left yelling his name and there's a 70-year-old man right next to you who is visibly flinching, then SIT DOWN AND SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!!!! (J. Davis)
True story — The Washington Nationals were in town to play the Mariners and Elijah Dukes was the starting Left Fielder. I watched the game with a die-hard Mariners fan and was able to tag along and get his "partner seat" for season tickets, which was right behind Elijah Dukes. Unfortunately, there was a fan who brought her kid to the game. Fortunately, my friend and I noticed this and decided to give Dukes the business about his underage love and "You dead, dawg" without swearing. Apparently that wasn't good enough for the mother, who, after the bottom of the third inning TURNS AROUND and tells us she doesn't want her daughter to hear any of that stuff. Now, we have not said a swear word the entire night and the kid is obviously too young to pick up on any language, but the mother wanted to protect her child's delicate sensibilities. My friend then said "Well, I'm a season ticket holder, where have you been all season?" to which this person said "Oh, well I've been a season ticket holder for years and I've never heard anyone say things that are as horrible as you've said." Right.
By the way, eventually Elijah Dukes told my friend and I to "shut up, bitch." Great times. Except the Mariners lost and got swept. (Keith)
I actually just got back from Seattle so all the wonderfulness of the park is still fresh in my mind. There are many things that stick out: the annoying train right by the stadium, the overly lengthy hat trick and boat race, the alcohol reinforcement, but what really made me think "this stadium sucks" has to be the fans. I dedicate this to the fan behind me who pointed to the White Sox dugout and stated "look over there, there are a bunch of White Sox fans at the game today, they're all sitting in the front." (Kristina)
Okay, the mere mention of Safeco sends chills down my spine. I worked briefly for an internet company that was HQ'd in Seattle. This was in 2000 and within hours of being hired by said firm I realized it was merely a racketeering scheme run by senior management to go public and sell a lot of worthless stock before all of the venture capital circled the drain. You know, the business model of just about every internet startup of the time.
Our CEO was big on sales force teambuilding to the point that every waking hour you spent on a trip to the home office had to be filled with some group effort. He decided early on that Mariners games would be the perfect outing so he hinted strongly to our national sales manager that all of us should attend. Of course he and senior management had no interest in attending but we were essentially coerced into spending every free night of more than a few business trips at a Mariners game. On our dime, too and since we were being paid reasonably well the group always sprung for the most expensive seats. I not only had to act enthusiastic, I had to get all fired up because "man, we're gonna get to see A-Rod" He hadn't yet signed his laughably absurd deal with the Rangers so he was still wallowing in collective mediocrity with the M's.
If this was Fenway or Wrigley, I wouldn't have minded killing time watching a bunch of infantile steroid freaks putting on some of the most insufferably dull tedium ever presented as entertainment. But it wasn't, it was a sterile, soulless, corporate hunk of plastic coated with a veneer from Pottery Barn. By the third inning, I would start wandering the stadium to try and find something of merit. Because the stadium was deliberately several blocks from any place that served food or beer, you had to wait on long lines to spend a fortune on "sausages" and "microbrews". The yuppification of even getting shithoused as an option to get through this torture was ruined to the point of rendering it inoperable. I once stumbled into one of numerous Mariners apparel outlets only to find dozens of middle age women diligently combing through the racks in search of some bargain sale item. You might as well have been in a department store on a Saturday afternoon.
These journeys really impressed upon me that professional sports in the US really is no longer about anything going on on the field. It's really just a corporate beer garden designed as an alternative to some big budget action film, or theme park or shopping mall or some sort of mindless "family" entertainment in which the goal is to placate your offspring with as much food as they can ingest and to acquire some more cheap, shiny stuff from China that no one really needs.
How soon before they blow up Safeco? (Ghost of Zelmo Beatty)
It's hard to rip on Safeco for fans who remember the travesty that was the Kingdome, but whoever decided to put a god damned train track through the stadium, with the idea that a train horn blaring into a canyon of people would be a good idea, should be shot. (Erik H.)
Safeco's twin failings are the lack of diehard fans and domineering fun police. Fans of the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays (making the trip from Canada) regularly overwhelm polite Seattleites. The sellouts help the Mariners' bottom line; this team won't sell out many non-bobblehead games the rest of this season. And all those pink Sox hats radicalize Mariners fans to actually make some noise and occasionally get out of their seat when something exciting happens.
We have our outliers, though. One in particular was a guy in the front row of the left field bleachers at a Red Sox game last year. With just a glance him, you'd have trouble figuring out his loyalties. He wore a brown-on-brown argyle Yankees hat. He had tattoos on each elbow–the right for the Yankees, the left for the Mets. But he wore an orange Ichiro jersey from the All-Star game in San Francisco. While he lacked fashion sense and integrity (three teams?), he did cause a ruckus on behalf of the Mariners. The third base line seats had a virulent strain of Red Sox Nation–they cheered Jason Varitek as he trotted out for Bartolo Colon's pre-game warm ups. All we $14 seat fans had in our arsenal was the guy in the front row. He argued with the Sox fans in our section and single-handedly tried to turn every "Let's Go Red Sox" fan into a "Let's Go Mar-i-ners" one.
Actually, he did that double-handedly, because he pounded on the corporate signage right in front of our seats. That proved to be his downfall. As the M's mounted a comeback in the bottom of the ninth, the Safeco Field ushers told Yankee-hat that he had to leave. A county sheriff was brought in, yet rows of fans around him chanted "Let. Him. Stay." When he asked the sheriff why he had to leave, he heard back "Because I said so." Way to go, police! As he was escorted out onto the narrow concourse, he shouted out his last words: "tell all your friends."
Now, my friends, you all know. (Brad Iverson-Long)
Photo via ArtBrom's Flickr account.
Next up: The Boston Red Sox's Fenway Park. Got any horrible experiences to share? Send them to email@example.com.