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At last! Old-fashioned baseball comes to Seattle
By MARC STILES
When they started talking about building a new ballpark for the Mariners, New Century Park was to cost $260 million. That was four years ago before voters, by a razor-thin margin, said no to this field of dreams, and the Legislature subsequently turned around and said yes. Today, the price tag for the tax-funded sports palace now called Safeco Field stands at a shocking $517 million.
In a very strange sense, I couldn't be happier. Oh sure, my enthusiasm is tainted with a dump-truck load of embarrassment over the whole deal's underhanded processes. Even so, I am with the pro-ballpark crowd.
Safeco Field is going to make Seattle sit up as if it just heard the crack of an Edgar Martinez double down the left-field line. It's been 160 years since baseball was born, and this town finally is about to discover baseball's true joys - and agonies, if the club doesn't beef up its pitching. Seattle, a modern-day mecca of high technology, is getting a stiff dose of old-fashioned baseball, and I want to stand up and yell, Woo-hoo! Call me a sap, but I maintain it's going to be marvelous. For $517 million, it better be.
Give thanks because - finally - Seattle isn't doing something like this on the cheap. All bitterness over the deal melts away when one gazes over Safeco Field's fresh turf. Compared to the fake field across the street, this is heaven.
Anyone who needs to assuage his or her guilt must try believing that baseball today is as egalitarian as the days just after our nation's pastime was born.
That's impossible to do with a straight face when one sits behind home plate in what will be the elite, 379-seat Diamond Club where tickets will go for a galling $100 to $195 a pop.
The egalitarian bit is not, however, so hard to buy into when you're in one of the 3,684 left and center field bleacher seats that go for a very reasonable $5 to $7. Magnificent views of not only the game but Seattle's skyline, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains from the upper deck can be had for $13. All total, there are 12,242 of these seats and another 2,900 $16 outfield seats.
"Some of the cheap seats have some of the best views," said Kathy Johnson, spokeswoman for the state Public Facilities District. The district is overseeing construction of the ballpark.
Views of the skyline will improve dramatically once the Kingdome is imploded round about April 2000. Its open-air replacement football/soccer stadium will further enhance the view from Safeco Field, which after the Dome razing will look right into the heart of downtown Seattle.
"I bet that after people get in there and figure out how great those seats are that we'll have a run on season tickets for seats from Section 306 to about 319 or 320," said Mariner spokeswoman Rebecca Hale.
If you're still not convinced that Safeco Field is an every man's venue, consider how pedestrians along South Royal Brougham Way will be able to peek into the stadium during games. This is the way baseball was meant to be and thank heavens that NBBJ Principal Dennis Forsyth, the architect who led the design team, recognized that. An interesting side note: Forsyth is from Iowa, home of the real Field of Dreams.
It is obvious that Forsyth and his colleagues realized the importance of place and community. You'll know you're in Seattle when you look out of the ballpark and see dockside cranes loading and unloading cargo from around the world.
On the inside, Safeco Field definitely feels like an open-air stadium despite the hideous-looking, but necessary retractable roof. From the outside, the lid makes the place look a lot like the Kingdome. Some folks say that's a shame, but in some respects their criticism misses the mark. It rains a lot here, you know. And remember how loud it got during the during the Mariners' miracle run in 1995? Credit the closed-in Kingdome. Forsyth says to imagine the thrill that will ripple across the crowd when a Mariner launches a long one onto South Royal Brougham Way and the whistle of a passing train reverberates off the roof on a soggy Seattle day.
There is at least one other slight problem with the 47,000-seat stadium. While zealous cheering is encouraged, according to the Safeco Field A to Z Guest Guide, air horns, cow bells and other noisemakers are not. For the love of Lou Piniella, it's a ballpark, not a tearoom. Seattle sure could stand to loosen up some.
Fortunately, it's but a silly rule that can and should be changed. And it's minute when compared to the ballpark's bevy of amenities. Combined with a decent team, they could make Seattle a world-class baseball town.
I can't wait.
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