August 27, 2007: Seattle, Washington
After 5+ years of the Ballpark Tour, Mike and I were prepared for our final trip. Although the Washington Nationals were set to open Nationals Park in 2008, traveling to Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area would be our final “big” trip. I was excited to start in Seattle; family and friends had nothing but positive things to say about the city known for Starbucks, Microsoft, grunge rock and gray skies. After spending two days in Seattle, I can say that it’s one of the finest cities I’ve visited throughout the Ballpark Tour. Seattle Mariners Baseball was born in 1977; eight years after the Seattle Pilots left for Milwaukee. It took the Mariners fourteen seasons to give their fans a winning ball club, but the M’s fortunes began to turn in 1989 when Ken Griffey, Jr. made his way into the Mariners lineup and began rewriting the record books. Junior played the game with the joy of a Little Leaguer. Whether it was hitting a home run with his picture-perfect left-handed swing or climbing the center field wall to save one, Junior showed his love for the game with his trademark smile. While at the top of his game, Ken Griffey, Jr. was the best player I have ever seen. He put the Mariners on the baseball map and helped save their place in Seattle’s culture. During the 1995 season, the Mariners overcame the Angels for the AL West Championship, defeating them in a one-game playoff. Many have said that the Mariners’ success during the 1995 season (they would go on to defeat the Yankees in the Division Series only to lose to the Indians in the ALCS) saved the Mariners from relocating to Tampa Bay. The Mariners’ success would spur voters to approve building them a new ballpark to replace the Kingdome. The Mariners’ new home could be called The House that Junior Built.
Safeco Field replaced the Kingdome during the 1999 season. It was time for the Mariners to trade in their septic and domed home for a new open-air baseball-only ballpark. Having an open-air ballpark in “rain city” can be risky, so Safeco field was equipped with a retractable roof that serves as an umbrella for fans and players. This offers the best of both worlds as fans can enjoy the crisp Northwest air without having to bring their own umbrellas. Safeco Field’s most unique feature is the active train tracks behind the outfield gate. During the game, fans are treated to the sounds of working locomotives as they ride along. In a sense, the opening of Safeco Field was the dawning of a new day in Mariners’ history. During the 2001 season, the Mariners set a modern-day baseball record with 116 regular season wins. They also led the AL in attendance during the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Following a string of losing seasons the 2007 Mariners were competing for the AL West championship and the division-leading Angels were coming to town. The stage was set for a memorable night.
Safeco Field was loud, the roof was open, and 45,998 Mariner fans were on their feet. The three-game series against the Angels was an opportunity to cut in to their 2.5-game lead. The Mariners had just returned from a long road trip and came out flat. Mariners’ manager John McLaren sensed this and was thrown out of the game in the first inning in an attempt to fire up his club, but John Lackey was too much for the M’s, shutting them down with a 7-hit complete game shutout: Angels 6, Mariners 0. The game signaled the end of the Mariners’ playoff hopes as they relinquished their wild card lead and never came close to challenging the Angels for the AL West.
Despite the Mariners’ poor performance, I love Seattle! It’s true what people say about the Pacific Northwest; the air is lighter, the trees are greener and the seafood is delicious. Spend a day walking around downtown Seattle; make sure to visit the Pike Place Market where you’ll come across the original Starbucks and men throwing fish. Take a tour of Seattle’s historic Underground. It’s old downtown Seattle the way it used to be. I can’t say enough great things about Seattle and Safeco Field. A return trip is definitely in my future.