Friday, July 20, 2012

How to Be a Yankee Fan in Seattle -- 2012 Edition

The Yankees are on the West Coast, for a 7-game trip against the A's and Mariners.  I've already done this year's edition of "How to Be a Yankee Fan in Oakland," now, here's Seattle.

DISCLAIMER: I have never been to the Pacific Coast, so all of this information is secondhand at best, but much of it does come from the opposing teams' websites.

Before You Go. Seattle is notorious for rain, and according to the Seattle Times website, Friday and Saturday are supposed to have light rain. However, Safeco Field has a retractable roof, and it will probably be closed. Sunday is expected to be partly cloudy, but not rainy, so the roof may be open. Outside temperatures should be around 70 in daylight, about 50 at night. You might want to bring a light jacket if you're going to be outside in Seattle after dark, even if it doesn't rain.

Getting There. It’s 2,854 miles from Times Square to Pioneer Square in Seattle, and 2,856 miles from Yankee Stadium to Safeco Field. In other words, if you’re going, you’re flying.

You think I’m kidding? Even if you get someone to go with you, and you take turns, one drives while the other one sleeps, and you pack 2 days’ worth of food, and you use the side of the Interstate as a toilet, and you don’t get pulled over for speeding, you’ll still need over 2 full days to get there. One way.

But, if you really, really want to... Get onto Interstate 80 West in New Jersey, and stay on that until it merges with Interstate 90 west of Cleveland, then stay on 90 through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, into Wisconsin, where it merges with Interstate 94. Although you could take I-90 almost all the way, I-94 is actually going to be faster. Stay on I-94 through Minnesota and North Dakota before re-merging with I-90 in Montana, taking it through Idaho and into Washington, getting off I-94 at Exit 2B.

Not counting rest stops, you should be in New Jersey for an hour and a half, Pennsylvania for 5:15, Ohio for 4 hours, Indiana for 2:30, Illinois for 2 hours, Wisconsin for 3:15, Minnesota for 4:30, North Dakota for 6 hours, Montana for a whopping 13 hours (or 3 times the time it takes to get from New York to Boston), Idaho for 1:15 and 6:45 in Washington. That’s 50 hours, and with rest stops, you’re talking 3 full days.

That’s still faster than Greyhound (70 hours, changing in Chicago, Minneapolis and Billings, $470 round-trip) and Amtrak (69 hours, changing in Chicago, $474 each way). But flights, usually changing in Chicago, will be a lot more expensive.

In 2009, Seattle opened Link Light Rail, which includes SeaTac Station to get out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and Stadium Station to get to Safeco and CenturyLink Fields.  However, being right downtown, you can probably walk from your hotel to the ballpark.

Tickets. The Mariners are averaging just 22,285 fans per home game this season, and got 23,411 last season. So, even for a game against the Yankees, getting tickets shouldn’t be a problem.

Infield Lower Boxes will set you back $87, outfield Lower Boxes $40, Upper “View Boxes” $45, View Reserved $25, left field Bleachers $23, and center field Bleachers $20 – and you’ll be a lot closer than you would have been if you’d had similar seats at the Kingdome. The upper deck outfield seats in that concrete toadstool might as well have been in Spokane.

Going In. The official address of Safeco Field is 1250 First Avenue South. First Avenue is the 3rd base side, the 1st base side is Atlantic Street/Edgar Martinez Drive, the left field side is Royal Brougham Way (Royal Brougham was not a car or a brand of booze, but the name of a Seattle sportswriter who championed the city as a site for major league sports), and the right field side is the railroad. With Safeco being at the southern edge of downtown, you’re likely to enter on the left field or 3rd base side.

Michael Kun and Howard Bloom, Red Sox fans and the authors of The Baseball Uncyclopedia, have said that Safeco is the best ballpark ever built, better (mainly because it’s more comfortable and convenient) than their beloved Fenway. It’s certainly a far cry better than its predecessor, the hideous concrete King County Domed Stadium, a.k.a. the Kingdome (1976-2000).  But there are two things that I believe damage the atmosphere: The roof hanging over right field makes it look less like a ballpark and more like an airplane hangar (the effect is worse in Houston, worse still in Milwaukee and worst of all in Phoenix), and being next to King Street Station, you’re going to hear almost as many train horns as you would hear planes in Flushing Meadow. But it’s still a pretty good ballpark.

CenturyLink Field, formerly Seahawks Stadium and Qwest Field, home of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and MLS' Seattle Sounders, is just to the north of Safeco, across Royal Brougham Way, on the site of the Kingdome. It is regarded as the loudest outdoor facility in the NFL (especially now that the Washington Redskins have left compact RFK Stadium and moved to their far less atmospheric stadium in the suburbs), and it has one of the better soccer atmospheres in the U.S. as well. In case you're wondering, Safeco is an insurance company, and CenturyLink is a telecommunications outfit, which bought similar company Qwest.

Food. As a waterfront city, and as the Northwest’s biggest transportation and freight hub, it is no surprise that Seattle is a good food city, with the legendary Pike Place Market serving as their "South Street Seaport." Fortunately, Safeco lives up to this.

They have the usual ballpark fare, and baseball-named stands like the Batter Up Bar at Section 6, Big League Burger at 106, High Cheese Pizza at 109, 132, 141, 241 & 329; Grounds Crew Espresso at 111, The Natural (I'm guessing no artificial flavors) at 131, the Asian-themed Intentional Wok at 132, Double Play Chicken & Sausage at 137 & 341, Grounders Garlic Fries (the snack made famous by the San Francisco Giants) at 148, 326 & 337; Bases Loaded at 212, the Hot Stove Broiler at 218, Frozen Rope Ice Cream at 313 & 330, Good Hops Beer (as opposed to "bad hops") at 320 & 330, the Sweet Spot at 332, and the Caught Looking Lounge behind the bullpen.

The Left Field Gate has a stand called Blazing Bagels and a bar called the Flying Turtle Cantina.  There are local favorites like Ivar’s Seafood & Chowder, and ShishkaBerry’s chocolate-dipped strawberries. There’s no Starbucks or Seattle’s Best Coffee stand, but the city’s coffee-soaked reputation is backed up with Grounds Crew Espresso.

As far as I know, Safeco is the only ballpark that has a vegetarian-only concession stand, All American Vegetarian, under Section 132.  The ING Direct Hit It Here Cafe is behind the right field fence and provides views of the field.

Former Yankee and Mariner 3rd baseman Mike Blowers, who grew up near Seattle and is now a Mariners broadcaster, started a food-related team tradition in 2007. During an Interleague game against the Cincinnati Reds, a fan tried to catch a foul ball along the right-field line, but instead spilled his tray of fries along the track. While chatting on the air and seeing the mishap, Blowers' partner, former WCBS-Channel 2 & WFAN announcer Dave Sims, suggested that Blowers should send a new tray of fries to the fan. Blowers agreed, and sent his intern to deliver a plate of fries to the man. However, on the next game, fans made signs and boards, asking Blowers for free fries as well. Coincidentally, every time the fries were delivered, the Mariners seem to score or rally from a deficit, and thus the Rally Fries were created. This became so popular with the fans that signs were even seen when the Mariners were on the road, though Blowers doesn't award winners on the road. Sometimes, in the tradition of the game show Let’s Make a Deal, fans wear costumes to get Blowers’ attention. Silly? Sure, but it beats the Angels’ stupid Rally Monkey.

Team History Displays. The Mariners began play in 1977, and have never been to the World Series. There are only 3 teams in the 4 major North American sports that have waited longer to get to the Finals: The NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs (1967) and St. Louis Blues (1970), and the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks (have played in Atlanta since 1968 and haven’t reached the Finals since they were in St. Louis in 1961). If you count multiple cities, add the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals (1969/2005) and the NBA’s Sacramento Kings (have only played in Sacramento since 1985 but haven’t reached the Finals since they were in Rochester in 1951, beating the Knicks).

Nevertheless, the Mariners have won 3 American League Western Division titles, in 1995, 1997 and 2001, and also won the AL’s Wild Card in 2000. In ’95, they beat the Yankees in a remarkable AL Division Series before losing the AL Championship Series to the Cleveland Indians; in ’97, they lost the ALDS to the Indians; in 2000 they beat the Chicago White Sox; and in ’01 they beat the Indians.  But in both 2000 and '01, they lost the ALCS to the Yankees. (Remember: 116 wins don’t mean a thing if you don’t get that ring!) The 3 Division Title banners hang in right field. There is no mention (as far as I know), anywhere in the stadium, of the Mariners’ Pacific Coast League predecessors, known as the Indians 1903-37, the Rainiers 1938-64 and again 1972-76, and the Angels 1965-68. Seattle won PCL Pennants in 1924, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1951 and 1955.

There’s a Mariners Hall of Fame display under the 3rd base stands. Members include Alvin Davis, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, Dan Wilson and the late broadcaster Dave Niehaus. Although Gaylord Perry (who won his 300th game against the Yankees at the Kingdome in 1982), Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, manager Dick Williams and executive Pat Gillick have all been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, none have gotten in due to anything they did while employed by the Mariners' organization.

The Mariners have not officially retired any numbers, aside from the universally-retired Number 42 for Jackie Robinson. But Martinez’s Number 11, Buhner’s 19, and Yankee player turned Mariner manager Lou Piniella’s 14 have not been given out since they left the team. Nor has Ken Griffey Jr.’s 24, except in Junior’s brief comeback to the club. But Randy Johnson’s 51 was given out to Ichiro Suzuki, for whom it will likely be retired someday.  Left fielder Greg Halman had "cups of coffee" with the Mariners in the 2010 and '11 seasons, but was then stabbed to death by his brother in his native Rotterdam, the Netherlands.  He was only 24, and his Number 56 has not been reissued.  The M's also have not issued Number 00 since Jeffrey Leonard, as the number is worn by their mascot, the Mariner Moose.

Stuff. The main Team Store is located along the 3rd base side. Additional merchandise locations and novelty kiosks are open throughout the stadium during all home games.

Having never been to the World Series thus far, the Mariners don’t commemorate their history with many books, but there is an Essential Games of the Seattle Mariners DVD collection. It features only 4 games, as opposed to most of these (including the Yanks’ and Mets’) having 6: The 1995 AL West Playoff with the California Angels (as the Anaheim team was then officially known), forged when the Halos had an epic collapse and the M’s an equally amazing comeback; 1995 ALDS Game 5 (known to us as Donnie Baseball’s swan song), 2000 ALDS Game 3, and the 2001 AL West clincher against the Indians (not to be confused with the ’01 ALDS clincher).

There are books about the Mariners, in spite of their comparative lack of history.  The staff of the now-defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer chronicled their most important season, the one that got fans to vote to get Safeco built and save Major League Baseball in the Northwest, in A Magic Season: The Book on the 1995 Seattle Mariners.  C.N. Donnelly wrote Baseball's Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History.  (It may not have been the greatest postseason series in baseball history, but it sure did change history: Not only did it save baseball in Seattle, but it forced the Yankees to make the changes that led to the 1996-2003 dynasty.) A more acerbic look at this glory-hungry franchise is Shipwrecked: A People's History of the Seattle Mariners, published earlier this year by Jon Wells.

During the Game. Wearing Yankee gear in Seattle, including inside Safeco Field, will not endanger your safety. Although Mariner fans hate the Yankees more than any other team, including their AL West opponents (the Angels, A’s and Texas Rangers), they are generally nonviolent. Laid-back, even: When Clay Bennett bought the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics and moved them to Oklahoma City, there was a lot of sadness, but not much of a protest, even though the Sonics had usually been good, and won the city’s last major championship.  (That 1979 NBA Title is still the only Seattle world championship aside from the 1917 Stanley Cup won by the Seattle Metropolitans, the first time the Cup was won by a U.S. team, and that team folded in 1926).

The Mariners don’t have a lot to hold your attention during a game. Aside from the Rally Fries, there’s no special “Get Loud” device, unless you want to count the playing of "Louie, Louie" by Northwest-based band the Kingsmen, which is played after “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the 7th Inning Stretch. And, aside from the late Edward McMichael, a.k.a. Tuba Man, there’s no really noticeable Mariner fans like New York cowbell men Freddy “Sez” Schuman and Milton Ousland (Yankees) and Eddie Boison (Mets).

Fitting in with the Pacific Northwest’s image, the team’s mascot is the Mariner Moose. You may remember a real moose walking through the streets of Cicely, Alaska in the opening sequence of the TV show Northern Exposure; that sequence was filmed in Roslyn, Washington, 82 miles down I-90 to the southeast of Safeco.

You may also remember that, during the 1995 ALDS between the Yanks and M’s, the Moose was doing the artificial-turf equivalent of water-skiing behind an ATV, when he lost control and his rollerblades led him to crash into the outfield wall, breaking his ankle. He continued performing on crutches (though not doing the skating) through the rest of the Playoffs.

After the Game. SoDo (South of Downtown) is not an especially high-crime area, and, as I said, Mariner fans do not get violent. You might get a little bit of verbal if you're wearing Yankee gear, but it won't get any worse than that.

Two bars are usually identified with Mariners and Seahawks games. Sluggers, formerly known as Sneakers (or “Sneaks” for short), is at 538 1st Avenue South, at the northwest corner of CenturyLink Field. A little further up, at 419 Occidental Avenue South, is F.X. McRory’s. Keep in mind, though, that these will be Mariner-friendly bars.

As for Yankee-friendly bars, while there are Yankee Fans everywhere, I couldn’t find anything specific on the Internet. I’ve been told that Goldie’s (2121 N. 45th Street), the Lucky 7 Saloon (12715 NE 124th Street in Kirkland) and Big Daddy’s Place (13420 NE 177th Place in Woodinville) are good for football Giants fans, but I cannot confirm any of these. And all are a fur piece from Safeco: Goldie’s is 6 miles north, the Lucky 7 is 18 miles northeast, and Big Daddy’s is 22 miles northeast.

Sidelights. Aside from the KeyArena and the Safeco/CenturyLink complex, Seattle doesn’t have a lot of sports sites worth mentioning. The PCL team played 2½ miles southeast of Safeco at 2700 Rainier Avenue South, first at Dugdale Field (1913-1932) and then at Sick’s Stadium (1938-68 and 1972-76).

The Seattle Pilots, who lasted only one year, 1969, before being moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers and are now chiefly remembered for ex-Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton’s diary of that season, Ball Four, also played at the ballpark (built by Rainiers’ owner Emil Sick), but the book gives awful details of the place’s inadequacy: As an 11,000-seat ballpark, it was fine for Triple-A ball in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s; expanded to 25,420 seats for the Pilots, it was a lousy place to watch, and a worse one to play, baseball in anything like the modern era.

Elvis sang at Sick’s on September 1, 1957 (since it had more seats than any indoor facility in town); supposedly, a 15-year-old Seattle native named James “Jimi” Hendrix was there. A few days prior, Floyd Patterson defended the heavyweight title there by knocking out fellow 1956 Olympic Gold Medalist Pete Rademacher. Demolished in 1979 after the construction of the Kingdome (whose inadequacies were very different but no less glaring), the site of Sick’s Stadium is now occupied by a Lowe’s store. Mount Baker station on the Link light rail system.

Erected for the 1962 World’s Fair (as seen in the Elvis Presley film It Happened At the World’s Fair), Seattle Center, north of the sports complex at 400 Broad Street, includes the city’s trademark, the 605-foot Space Needle.  Admission is $18, but at least it’s open ‘til 11 PM, with great views of the region’s natural splendor).  Seattle Center also has the Pacific Science Center (think the Northwest’s version of the American Museum of Natural History and its Hayden Planetarium), the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (not sure why Seattle was chosen as the Hall’s location, although the city is a major aerospace center), and the KeyArena, home of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and formerly the SuperSonics. (The KeyArena was built on the site of the Sonics’ previous home, the Seattle Center Coliseum.) A high school football stadium is also on the site. Number 33 bus, although the nearest Link station is several blocks' walk away.

Aside from Seattle Center and its Space Needle, and the stadiums, Seattle’s best-known structure is the Pike Place Market. Think of it as their version of the South Street Seaport and Fulton Fish Market. (Or Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, Baltimore’s Harborplace or Boston’s Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall.) It includes the first Starbucks store.  Downtown, 85 Pike Street at Western Avenue.

Aside from the Pacific Science Center and the Science Fiction Museum, Seattle isn’t a big museum city, although the Seattle Art Museum, at 1300 1st Avenue at University Street, might be worth a visit.

Washington State Ferries offers service across Lake Washington to suburbs and islands, and to Victoria, the capital of the Canadian Province of British Columbia. It's a 2 hour, 45 minute, $137 round-trip voyage, and you will need a passport.

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So, if you can afford it, go on out and join your fellow Yankee Fans in taking over the Mariners' ballpark. And if they bring up 1995, feel free to bring up 2000 and 2001.

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