Take me out to the ballgame …   1 comment

I had been thinking about attending one of the Seattle Mariners’ ballgames for some time but was holding off until there was a good weather forecast. Although Safeco Field, the Mariner’s home ballpark, has a retractable stadium roof, I wanted to attend a game under sunny conditions, not only because watching a baseball game under warm sunny skies is much more enjoyable, but also because the lighting would be better – or so I think – for photography. I had planned on attending an earlier game but the weather forecast for the game I was considering predicted rain so I decided to wait for a better forecast. Turns out that the day the weather gurus predicted to be rainy was instead, a beautiful, mostly sunny day. Obviously, the weather here in the Pacific northwest does not take its orders from the weather forecasters and indeed, can be quite fickle.

After the blown weather forecast, I just decided to ignore the weather predictions and pick a date that suited my fancy. After discovering that the Boston Red Sox were coming to town and were scheduled to play the Mariners in a weekend series, I decided that I would purchase a ticket for a Sunday matinée game – that is, until I checked out the ticket prices! Seems the Mariners, like many other clubs, have adopted a ticket selling policy known as “dynamic” pricing. (In other words, the club is “dying” to squeeze as much money as they possibly can from ticket buyers.) According to the club’s official website, dynamic pricing is a flexible pricing plan, where the cost of tickets is based on many factors, including “opponent, team record, etc”. Weather is also supposed to be a factor in the pricing although I don’t see how weather can enter into the equation due to its unpredictability!? In any event, the opponent relates directly to the “attractiveness” of the game and seeing as how the Red Sox were the opponents in this upcoming series, these games were deemed to be quite attractive – to the degree that the cheapest ticket I could find was in the neighborhood of $100! No way, Jose! Fortunately, the relatively “unattractive” Oakland Athletics were coming to town for an earlier midweek series and I was able to purchase a comparable ticket for $50 (seating similar to that of the “cheapest” $100 ticket for the Red Sox game). Considering the cost of the ticket, transportation, parking and a bag of ballpark peanuts, the total cost of the Wednesday matinée game with the Athletics was close to $100. I had thought about buying a draft beer at the stadium, but at $8 a cup, I opted for a bottle of Aquafina (H2O, that is), at a mere $4.50. (Pricing beer at those prices is definitely one way to keep the fans from getting drunk & rowdy! Apparently, some of the Phillies and Giants fans must be smuggling in beer or making their own brew inside the stadium.)

Seattle Shoreline, Space Needle on Left

Luckily, the game day weather was fantastic: temps around 70 degrees and mostly sunny skies. A baseball fan’s nirvana. Not so good for the players however, as sunny skies can be an outfielder’s nightmare when it comes to judging towering fly balls. (Just ask Jose Canseco, who formerly played with the Athletics – he once had an ordinary fly ball bounce off the top of his head.) After a very pleasant ride on the ferry to Seattle as a “walk-on”, I started my walking journey (a distance of a little over a mile) to Safeco Field. Getting caught up in the throng of people departing the ferry, I ended up a block past my intended route and consequently, my walk led me pass a downtown mission; considering that the game was a matinée event, I happened past the mission just as they were serving lunch. There was a considerable line of homeless folks extending down the sidewalk outside the mission waiting for a free meal, and I couldn’t help but feel bad for these people. Here I am shelling out nearly $100 just to see a baseball game and most of these people can’t afford a cheap meal. There appears to be a sizable homeless population in Seattle and the city appears to “tolerate” them pretty well and to some degree, the city even sustains their existence, as they provide shelter and social services for those that seek it. Unfortunately, many homeless people prefer to “live” on the streets and many refuse social services. (It should be noted that about a third of all homeless people apparently suffer from some kind of mental illness.) And although these missions provide free food on a regular basis, it’s hard to walk the streets of Seattle on any given day without being approached by numerous panhandlers. (And yes, I know that many of the panhandlers aren’t begging for money with which to buy food. Even though I may know otherwise, I usually carry a few dollars worth of pocket change with me during my walks so that I can selectively dole out a few coins to those who really appear needy and who don’t come off as being aggressive.) By now I’m quite sure that you are  wishing that I had taken another route to the stadium!

By me some peanuts and crackerjacks … Finally, after what seemed like a never-ending walk, I was able to successfully navigate my way to Safeco Field. And once I was inside the ballpark’s comforting confines, I was able to easily find my way to my seat. (My seat selection was not only based on price, but I also wanted a seat that was easily accessible for my still-healing replacement left knee.) The seat was located along the 3rd base line, not too far from the left field foul line. Turns out my seat was located in a shaded area, under an overhang, but still provided a good view of the playing field – not the cheapest seat in the ballpark, but not in the primo category either. (After sitting there for several minutes, apparently appearing as if I was freezing, one of the ushers came up and asked if I would like to have a seat in the sun: I quickly accepted his generous offering.) As I was making my way to my seat, I bought a bag of ballpark peanuts, and ever so briefly paused at the $8-a-cup beer stand. I then realized that I would need something to drink (naturally, you can’t bring beverages with you into the stadium), so I shelled out $4.50 for the most expensive bottle of water I have ever purchased.

Inside Safeco Field

Safeco Field is a beautiful ballpark. The park has a really nice  feel to it and virtually every seat has a good view of the game. And of course, it has a retractable roof, which of course means that rain or not, the game goes on. As I’m sure most people would agree, baseball is really meant to be played in an open stadium! Although it certainly does rain a lot in the Seattle area, most of it occurs during the winter months and most of the rain that does fall is light and intermittent. Consequently, I would imagine that the stadium roof is left open during most of the games, especially those played during July and August, Seattle’s “dry season”. Prior to playing at Safeco Field, the Mariners played at the multi-purpose Kingdome stadium, which was also home to the Seahawks (football), Sounders (soccer), and the Supersonics (basketball – since relocated to Oklahoma City). Because of a deteriorating Kingdome stadium as well as deteriorating attendance, the Mariners were very close to being relocated back in 1995. However, a late season comeback and a post season run reinvigorated its fan base and the owners decided to stay put and (with the city’s financial assistance), built a new stadium (Safeco Field). Safeco has a current seating capacity of about 45,000 and I would estimate that about 15,000 showed up for the game I saw.

Mariners vs. Athletics, Game Action

The Mariners haven’t had a decent record since 2001, when they won a league tying 116 games (a title surprisingly shared with the Chicago Cubs, albeit the 1906 team). Their most notable former players were Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson. Currently, Ichiro Suzuki (joined the team in 2001 and is still playing) is the lone superstar of the team. (Due to the uniqueness of his first name (at least here in the U.S.) and his celebrity status, Ichiro is known by his first name.) As of the writing of this post, the Mariners’ team batting average (.197) at home is not only the lowest batting average of any team in baseball at the present, but apparently is the lowest in baseball for more than 90 years.  The Mariners once had an infielder named Mario Mendoza, whose hitting was so bad (for most of his career, his average hovered around .200) that the baseball community started calling a batting average of .200, the “Mendoza line”. During the five games prior to this writing, the Mariners had just 25 hits in five games and scored only five runs during those five games! While most Mariner fans no doubt wish that their team were more competitive, I get the impression that – unlike Phillies or Yankee fans – Mariner fans are contented with the team just being competitive. Somehow I can’t imagine the fans here booing a player after he has had a bad performance.

Ichiro, a future Hall-of-Famer, is a throw back to an earlier era when spraying the ball to all fields and focusing on just getting on base were considered great skills. Ichiro, at 5’9″ and 160 lbs. (soaking wet), is an anomaly in today’s game. Born a natural right-hander, his father taught him to bat left-handed since from that position he could begin his at-bat two steps closer to 1st base. He also practiced the fundamentals of baseball 360 days a year, three to four hours at time, since the age of nine. His father said that he practiced in temperatures so cold that “his hands were too numb to grip the bat”. His dad once told him that the only way to succeed was to suffer and to persevere. Ichiro has said that he does not watch movies as he feels that doing so would diminish his sharpness of vision. Talk about dedication to the game! (Watching him hit reminds me (in a good way, mind you) of the best women’s left-handed fast-pitch hitters when they drag bunt or slap-hit: it seems like they are half way to 1st base by the time their bat makes contact with the ball.) Ichiro won the major league batting title with a .350 average during his first year (2001) of playing for the Mariners and has led the league in singles for most of his career. Not only is he a proficient offensive player, but he is remarkably gifted as a defensive player as well, and has won the Golden Glove for each of his first ten years in the big leagues. Needless to say, Ichiro has quite a fan base here in Seattle and is idolized by most (if not all) of the many Japanese that live here.

The Mariners’ Ichiro at Bat

For its one-two-three strikes and you’re out …   I wish I could say that the game I watched was an exciting event, but ’twas not the case. Oakland won the rather humdrum event by a score of two to one. The good news for the Mariners was that the Athletics had only two hits – the bad news was that both of these were home runs. While the Mariners had twice as many hits (four), only one of them scored a run. Unfortunately, Ichiro went hitless and struck out twice, both times with men in scoring positions. With his slap-hitting, drag-bunting style, you wouldn’t think someone of Ichiro’s skills would strike out twice, but getting some wood on a baseball that is being hurled at you at 95 miles an hour can not be an easy feat. One of the other Mariner players, Justin Smoak, who happens to be a fan favorite (apparently due in no small part to his home run power), is dawdling dangerously close to the dreaded “Mendoza Line”. Justin was also hitless and his batting average at the end of the game dropped to a tepid .202. Kevin Millwood, who was pitching a fine game, giving up only a first inning home run, left the game in the 3rd inning with a re-injured groin muscle. (Millwood had to leave a game earlier in the year against the Dodgers in the sixth inning – a game in which he was throwing a no-hitter – because of the same injury. Incidentally, the Mariner relief staff finished that game without allowing any hits, going on to complete their first combined no-hitter since 2003.)

Mariners’ Relief Pitcher, Hisashi Iwakuma

Although the game was not as exciting and run-filled (a score of 15-14 in the Mariners’ favor would have been nice) as I would have liked, I still enjoyed the experience. The weather was fantastic, I was able to see the best baseball players (especially Ichiro) in the world in action and I was able to drink the best water in the world (at $4.50 a bottle, it had to be the best!).

Minor rant alert: Many fans apparently feel that it is OK to sit wherever they like, without having the proper tickets. Apparently, many fans buy the cheap-seat tickets (probably $15 -$25 for this game) and then just plop down in a more primo (more expensive) seat. I would say that at least 70%-80% of the people who were taking seats near where I was sitting did not have tickets for those seats. Fortunately, the ushers were on top of things and were constantly checking ticket stubs. Although some may think that it should be perfectly OK to take a seat as long as it’s unoccupied – especially after the game has started – I would respond by saying that I paid for that $50 seat and I expect those sitting in the same group, to do likewise. I have no problem with asking the usher if you can change seats but ONLY after asking.

When I wrote of the rigorous practice and dedication that Ichiro has devoted towards improving himself as a baseball player, and especially of his father’s admonition that the only way to succeed was to suffer and persevere, it brings to my mind a similar mindset (yet under very different circumstances) that a young little league teammate (Jorden) of my grandson has demonstrated towards an adversary that is dramatically unlike what baseball players and most other people in this world face. Jorden was diagnosed with a rare, very aggressive disease earlier this year and has been waging an exceptionally courageous and determined battle against this extremely potent illness. In spite of tremendous pain and discomfort, he has undergone extensive chemotherapy and just recently, he has had major abdominal surgery, and he has done all this with a measure of resilience, determination and optimism that is incomprehensible to most of us. And although Jorden has experienced some setbacks along the way, he has been able to bounce back – just as a successful professional athlete is able to bounce back from a bad performance – although in Jordan’s case, I’m referring to bouncing back from a bad experience. Fortunately, Jorden has a very loving and supporting family, as well as a legion of friends and supporters. He also has a keen love of baseball and his story has touched the heart of some major league baseball players, especially that of Johnny Damon and Javier Bracamonte, who visited Jorden at his home in Orlando. Mr. Damon now plays for the Cleveland Indians and during a recent game with the Astros in Houston – where Jorden had his abdominal tumor removal surgery – he invited Jorden to attend the game as his guest. (All professional athletes should give back to their community in the manner of Johnny Damon.) Although I believe that the quality of his medical care, the mental toughness that he possesses, and the love and support of family and friends are mostly responsible for his successful battles against his dreadful disease, the game of baseball has provided a much-needed diversion for him. Keep up the good fight and keep the hopes alive, Jorden!


Posted June 29, 2012 by whitecrow44 in Uncategorized

One response to “Take me out to the ballgame …

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  1. Great coverage!

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