Safeco Field, My Home Away from Home
Today is the first day in almost two weeks that the Rays can officially sit back and relax a bit while jetting on to the West Coast for a road trip to visit one of my favorite spots and stadiums in baseball. Since it is an off day, I am not going to talk Rays baseball. I have been thinking this past off season that on true “Off Days”, I am going to try and find something outside of the Tampa Bay area to enlighten and bring to light for fans around the country. My first one has to be my favorite place to visit both for baseball and for relaxation.
I have to start by saying I am not impartial when it comes to my favorites. If I like something, I will proclaim it to be the best, and I will not back down from that until something better has moved it down on the list. But my favorite stadium will not ever be moved down the list. It is in a town that has had my mind and heart since 1976 when I first came out here as a child during a summer vacation. My uncle used to be a Navy submarine commander and he had a place in Coupeville, Washington that took my breath away from the get-go.
For that reason, it is going to be the place where I call home in my golden years ( which are not too far away some days). I love the smell in the air, and the fact that if I look east I see the beauty and elegance of Mt. Rainer in the backdrop. And if I glance to the west I see the expansive waters of Puget Sound. I forget about the smell of the paper plants and the strong aroma of coffee houses that line the streets and cobblestone paths of this great town. For it is here that I have enjoyed numerous exciting games, and some of the greatest stadium foods..Yes, I am talking about the town that funded a monster stadium after their team went to the playoffs. Where Ken Griffey Jr. used to smile as a wide-eyed kid under the dome and where the turf was as rough as sandpaper with small rolls and hills in it at field level.
I love Seattle with every bit of my being. Sometimes it might be for the awesome seafood and delicacies you can get in this region, like the royal and Bing cherry. But then other times it is the 12-egg omelete at Beth’s that still boggles the mind that people even try such a gastronomical malfunction for fun. Safeco Field has so many great qualities to it that I might have to do a two-part blog to truly get everything on the blog. But here we go with some of the wild thing I have seen, heard and also been told while sitting in this palace of baseball. When you first drive into Seattle you see to your west side of the car a set of while roofs that poke their way out of the tall buildings and watery backdrops to let you know you are close. One of the greatest functions of this stadium is their retractable roof, and the ceremonial music that goes along with it opening. The music streaming from the speakers, “Flight of the Valykries” is amazing while watching it either open or close…….breathtaking.
Even from miles away on Alaskan Way you can see the white monument. I always stay at a hotel in the Queen Anne district right across from the Sir Mix-A-Lot famous Dick’s hamburger ( Yes, I stay on Broadway ) stand just a stone throw from the Key Center and the Space Needle. The sight of that roof is a reminder to me of great baseball in this country. But it is not only the baseball that makes me yearn for this city. The fans are some of the best in the league, bare none. I am saying here that they are the friendliest and most open fans I have ever met in my baseball travels. Because of the businesses in this region, people from all over the globe have been called to Seattle. Be it American, Japanese, Korean or even Canadian, these fans respect the game and make you feel at home in their house.
No disrespect to Boston or New York here who defend their home. It is just a different way to approach the visiting fan. Both have their meaning and objectives, but Seattle fans want you to come back again and again. And there is so much interesting things around this stadium. From the Bullpen areas that seem to showcase the visiting team like livestock above the left field outfield walls, to the grassy and wooded terrain of deep center field. Even when you arrive at the stadium you get a different vibe when you enter it. The baseball bat structure positioned over your head is an example of art coming into play with baseball. The sculpture shows the classic baseball swing from start to finish and is an interesting sight to take in and follow to the end.
But then you take the first set of stairs up into the ballpark and you can finally see what all the fuss is about. 360 degree viewing, and you walk down into the lower bowl area. The concourses are huge and laid out in an expert way to invite you to chat with the regulars and take in the sights of the game from a high vantage point. If you wander to the north end of the park you can take in the breathtaking sights of the city and Puget Sound to the west. Take a few sets of stairs up into the upper regions of the stadium to really get a feel for life in Washington. At game time you might have on a light jacket and there might be a hint of coolness in the air. By the sixth inning, you are seeking a blanket or someone to keep you warm as the chilly breeze rips through the stadium, which is actually a great way to meet women ( hehehehe).
But if you have to get out of the cold, you can always go to the Diamond Club and see some amazing photos on their walls. They even have a picture of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig fishing together on the Gulf of Mexico in Tampa Bay. I was intrigued by this picture and was told it was one of the only times that they are photographed outside of a baseball uniform and in public together. Then your attention wanders to a photo of Babe Ruth in a Red Sox jersey throwing off the mound. And all of this is in a club section of the stadium that would rival any 5-star restaurant in town. I did not get to eat in this splendid setting, but it made me yearn to be a big wig for one night.
But some of the true treats in this stadium is the odd things that make it special. Things like that wind that comes in and engulps you during the late innings, or that almost haunting but comforting train whistle that blows from beyond the right field tracks during the games. I found it quite inviting and comforting myself to hear that whistle blow as the trains were whisking themselves past the outside of the stadium. It brought a small town feel to the stadium, and a comfort level of small time living in the big city. But something that caught my eye while strolling in the center concourse behind home plate might be the true test of being a Mariners’ fan.
The compass laid into the flooring of this stadium was also a work of art that must be seen if you ever get here. With every member of the original team that first played in this stadium immortalized in the compass points, it is a thing of beauty and elegance to view from above. From the Press Box area with their gas station type roll up windows, to the usher not letting any one sit down during the innings, this stadium is my top pick in this league. I know there are better places to different people, but the elegance and the baseball legacy here is still unfolding daily.
Every time I have come back to this Safe haven, I have found something new and exciting to see or hear. The last time was going into the Louisville Slugger shop in the gift area and watching them make a bat from a lump of wood. All the way to the engraving of the name and the branding of the bat are done on site, and can be completed during the game. Or maybe it is the huge mural of Ichiro on a building near the Space Needle that rises up out of the ground to make you take in this 20 story masterpiece. Most people come to this town for it coffee and it’s seafood. I came here for baseball and regain some of my youth.
I really do plan on spending my older days sitting in that ballpark looking up as they close the roof after a night game and seeing the star disappear for a few moments. I might not be as thrilled to come back for the sushi, but I am glad to take a sip of that Pyramid beer brewed not over 50 yards from the front gates. Seattle has a feel both in their baseball culture and city personality that makes you forget you are in a hub city for travel to Alaska, or even your hometown. It is my perfect home away from home, which is over 3,597 miles to my northwest right now, but I can travel there in seconds.
Photo credits: 1) Tartlime@Flickr.com