Safeco Field is the farthest north of all Major League ballparks. That was one of the more interesting things I learned on the tour I took July 6th. I was set to see a pair of games between the Mariners and the Twins at my new second favorite park.
Traveling to baseball stadiums nationwide has made me look forward to going to Nationals Park a lot less. Washington’s main advantage for baseball fans like me is that it is not crowded during batting practice and has a lot of outfield seating. If that weren’t the case, I’d hardly ever go to Nationals games. Safeco Field opens 2.5 hours before game time, like Nats Park and many other stadiums, but only the left field and center field areas are accessible until 2 hours prior. Safeco Field also does not have any lower-level outfield seating on the left side, meaning that home runs are hard to come by over there. The bullpens take up all the field-level space.
Safeco’s main pre-game draw is “The Bullpen” in center field. It’s a plaza of overpriced bars and restaurants with a party deck to view the game. They hold happy hour when the gates open with half-priced beers. Inevitably, people show up early for this. The party deck is great because it’s a flat, open space for chasing baseballs–the most field-like surface that a stadium can provide. However, it’s far from home plate and gets crowded quickly because of the aforementioned beer deals.
The first game was on Monday, July 7th. Joe and I got to the stadium at the desired time and proceeded to the party deck. I hung out at the back so that I could be more mobile and not get caught up with the crowd along the wall. A few minutes in, the move paid off when a right-handed Mariner launched a deep home run toward us. I moved over and up and used every bit of my long left arm to make the catch above a nicely-dressed woman with a beer in one hand, shading herself with the other. She reacted as though I had saved her life. Pro tip: If you show up to a baseball game more than an hour beforehand, bring a glove or stay away from the field.
That catch was my only one for the day. I traveled over to right field where the seating is a little more conventional, but the sun was absolutely brutal (even worse than it was at Turner Field back in April). Any ball hit in the air I could track for about a second and then it completely disappeared in the glare. Had the roof been closed or the sky stereotypically overcast, I might have had a shot at a few more long balls, but that just wasn’t happening. The last thing I needed was 108 stitches in my head.
I honestly don’t even know where our seats were for this game. I think they were somewhere in right field, but it wasn’t crowded and right field was in the sun so I didn’t even bother going over there. Joe and I plopped down in section 119 along the first base line. In fact, it was almost directly up from first base, a little on the outfield side. Nicest. Usher. Ever. He never once checked a ticket, asked us to move, or questioned us in any manner. My parents, meanwhile, arrived much later than we did and decided to sit in the left field corner. They said the usher in their section was incredibly strict and was throwing people out of the 95% empty section in the seventh inning and later. But for some reason he never asked my parents for their tickets so they stayed put. I think that was section 139 so another pro tip: don’t sit there.
Mike Zunino and Michael Saunders both hit solo home runs and Hisashi Iwakuma threw seven shutout innings as Fernando Rodney notched the save for the Mariners’ 2-0 victory. But the highlight for me was the fact that Seattle wore their teal jerseys, which are undoubtedly the coolest uniforms in baseball. Objections? Too bad.
Nothing terribly exciting happened the following day. Joe and I bought scalp tickets outside the field for $15 each. They were in the third deck of the infield and, you guessed it, we never sat there.
I again hung out on the party deck for the first half hour or so, and only one ball ended up reaching the people there. For whatever reason I wasn’t paying attention when it was hit, so I wasn’t even close to it. I moved over to right field where the sun was even worse than it had been the previous day. I was mostly in the wrong places at the wrong times and I didn’t catch anything.
Finally, Minnesota’s Kendrys Morales hit a long home run that was well over my head. Luckily, I was the closest person to it, and when it landed it hit a seat back and skipped right to me. I barehanded it and felt satisfied. Ever since my glove and I lost a gruesome battle to a bouncing baseball in San Diego two years back, I barehand every ball I can.
My dad joined us at this game and bought his own scalp ticket for cheap. All three of us got a picture with the Mariner Moose before the game and then proceeded to section 119. Same usher, thank goodness! While the Mariners warmed up before the game I went down to the first row for some pictures and was pleasantly surprised when Brad Miller threw me his baseball as he jogged back to the dugout. In case you missed it, Brad Miller is my favorite Mariner. Actually, he’s my favorite non-Marlin.
This game was the virtual opposite of the previous day’s. Sam Fuld hit a solo homer for the Twins and they tacked on another run later and won 2-0. Four runs over two games is not spectacular. Safeco Field, however, is. So I think I’ll get over the lack of offense.
From the first base/right field side fans can see the Seattle skyline, including neighboring Century Link Field, over the left field bleachers and “Safeco Field” sign. This makes section 119 optimal for anyone watching a Mariners game. Actually, funny story regarding that: A lot of stadiums do a “seat upgrade” promotion where they surprise some fans in the upper deck and award them seats down close to the field. Well at this game, the people who were surprised had tickets in a section close to the ones for which we had tickets, and then they were “upgraded” to section 119, just a few rows in front of us. Final pro tip: don’t wait for stadium staff to come tell you you have a seat upgrade. Carpe diem!
So I said Safeco Field was my new second favorite ballpark. This year, I’ve visited Fenway Park and Safeco Field (first timers), along with Nationals Park and the spring training stadiums. But the new parks mean I have to update my rankings. Here goes:
1) PETCO Park: As I said back in 2012, San Diego did everything right with this place. The edge over Seattle is because PETCO lies in the “Gaslamp” district of San Diego. It’s very accessible and walkable, a little easier to get to than Seattle.
2) Safeco Field: Seattle did everything right as well. But its neighborhood is in transition.
3) Oriole Park: It’s been a while since I’ve visited Baltimore for a game, so I need to go back to better place it on the list. But it’s as good as any in the majors.
4) Fenway Park: It’s tough to compare a century-old gem to the shiny new jewels that are my top five parks, but I’m trying. Fenway’s downside is the crammed seating. However, I upgraded in this game as well. All things considered, it’s hard to top the Fenway “experience.”
5) Minute Maid Park: Not a lot of people like this Park as much as I do. Houston made a retractable roof park feel cozy and ballpark-ish. The fans were friendly and passionate when I went, and there are enough quirks in its design to make it interesting.
6) Marlins Park: I really wish the Marlins had made their walls closer to the plate and less green. I wish they hadn’t spent two million dollars on the eyesore that lies in center field, and I wish the outfield seating were more fan friendly. But it’s Miami and they’re not known for baseball.
7) Nationals Park: I used to really like Nats Park, but then I attended too many games there. There’s nothing notable or spectacular about the park and the neighborhood is similar to that in which Safeco lies. It gets really hot during the summer, and on top of it all, the ushers are irritable.
8) Dodger Stadium: Dodger Stadium is a great venue to watch a baseball game…on TV. The concourses are narrow and crowded, and one has to climb a hill to enter any seating section above field level. I went to a day game and it was really warm.
9) Turner Field: The Braves. Need I say more? Sure. The Chop House music. The Kiss Cam. Evan Gattis. Craig Kimbrel. The 50/50 lottery they hold every game.
10) RFK Stadium: It’s not supposed to be a baseball stadium so I don’t think it’ll mind being last on my list.