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Safeco Suite

The Mariners have been playing baseball at Safeco Field since July 15, 1999. On June 27 of that year, we went to their final game at the Kingdome, a place I spent my first 18 years in Seattle detesting, but one I miss a little bit these days. I’m not sure why. Maybe because their greatest moments took place there and I got to see some of those moments. But anyway, I wasn’t too sad on June 27. Looking at the boxscore, I see that 56,529 others were in the stands with me as we beat the Rangers 5-2. Freddy Garcia got the win. And check out the lineup, with A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar Martinez batting in the 2, 3, and 4 slots. No wonder I miss those days.

The Mariners then took a 12-game road trip, returning for a few gameless days before Safeco opened for business. We didn’t make it to that game. But we did show up some days earlier for the free open house, designed in part to put the staff and the food operations to a test. The best part of the open house was that visitors were free to walk everywhere, exploring the different seating options and views. We tried out seats at field level, in the third deck, the bleachers, and, of course, the luxury suites.

It took 12 years for us to get back to the suite level. We did Saturday night, courtesy of Gail’s sister, Tamara, and her husband, Jim. That was fun.

Jim worked part-time at Safeco last year, and therefore was eligible to participate in a contest that had as one of its prizes a suite for one of this season’s games. He won, and they chose Saturday to go, as a way to celebrate their 20th anniversary. The anniversary was actually on Monday, the 4th, but the Mariners were down in Oakland by then and the idea was to have the suite for a home game, so Saturday was it.

The suite has a limit of 20 people, and we were among the lucky 18 whom Tamara and Jim chose to celebrate with. So it was that we watched the Mariners play the Padres from a suite down the first-base line. Tamara and Jim also chose one of the catered food options, providing us with a full dinner as well as the game.

Guests could come at 5:00, two hours before game time, and start the festivities with hors d’ouevres. We were among the last to arrive, just before 6:00. There’s a special entrance to the suite level from the south parking garage, but we parked in our usual garage way north, so we walked down to Safeco, entered at the public entrance in left field, worked our way up the escalators, and entered the suite level somewhere down past third base. We had a long walk to get to our suite, allowing us the opportunity to see the large number of suites that are not rented for the season. As we neared home plate, we saw the largest concentration of rented suites — Microsoft, Boeing, Key Bank, and their ilk. But mostly the suites had blank nameplates.

Our suite was the basic model. One enters what you might think of as the living room. There’s a big island in the middle, which was covered with appetizers: salad, pita with hummus and other spreads, regular and sweetened popcorn. Let’s see. I must be leaving something out. Maybe shrimp. On the interior wall, next to the doorway, is a counter that had water pitchers and glasses on it as well as a sink. Below is a small refrigerator that was stocked with sodas and bottled water. Opposite the entrance wall is a high counter with bar stools looking out on the field and a doorway leading outside to a small stairway down and three tiered rows of seats. The interior bar counter functions as a fourth row, with an indoor-outdoor feel. Alternatively, windows that were folded out of the way can be closed so that one can sit at the counter and watch the game through the windows. The three rows of outdoor seating have counters as well, with desk-style rolling chairs, 5 or 6 per row.

On the right wall of the living room is a sitting area with comfortable chairs. The left wall has another counter, which had warming trays awaiting the main dishes. They arrived around 6:10. One held steaks and mashed potatoes. Another had salmon and rice. A third had asparagus. And there was a hot lamp that kept a tray of little brie-strawberry pastries warm. We were all able to enjoy the food well before the game started. And the food was quite good.

It turns out to be a bit of a distraction to watch a game with 20 people, almost of all of whom are related to each other, spanning three generations, with people moving around a lot for one reason or another. Plus, I was on photography duty. I got shots of pretty much everyone before game time, and of the food too. Then I took a seat, kept score, and got absorbed in the game. I played around with trying to get good shots of Doug Fister, the Mariner pitcher, taking multiple shots with each pitch for a while. Then I did the same with the batters. I hadn’t done this when Ichiro led off for the Mariners in the first inning, so I was making a point to be ready for his next at bat. But just as he got to home plate, Gail asked me a question, and before I knew it, he had swung at the first pitch. I took three shots of him approaching and rounding first base on a fly out to right field that ended the third ending. See below.

Soon thereafter, the Mariner Moose arrived. I ran up to the living room to get my telephoto lens off the camera and put on a wider aperture prime lens so I could snap the official anniversary photo of Tamara and Jim with the moose. I also got photos of Gail and moose; Gail, Tamara, and moose; and Gail, Tamara, Tamara’s daughter Leigh Anne, and moose.

After that, it took a while to refocus on the game, which is my excuse for missing the key moment in the game. In the top of the 5th, with Fister still pitching well, the Padres got a strikeout, a walk by Maybin, a grounder to third that was thrown to first, with Maybin going to second, a grounder to Ryan at short that just went off his glove for a single, allowing Maybin to score, and another grounder to end the inning. The Padres thereby took the lead, 1-0, and that was all the scoring. Fister pitched all nine innings for a painful loss.

The thing is, though, that walk by Maybin wasn’t a real walk. The count was 2-2 when Fister through a third ball. But the scoreboard said 3-2, the umpire got confused, anyone who knew better kept his mouth shut, and Maybin trotted off to first. The Mariners were apparently not among the group who knew better. Nor were the umpires. The walk stood, and that was that. I wish I could say that I knew better. I wish I could say that I even remember seeing the walk. I did see the subsequent fielder’s choice on which Maybin went to second and the single on which he scored. But the walk? I have no memory of it. I headed off to the men’s room before the top of the ninth, and in the men’s room was a speaker with the play-by-play of the game. That’s when I heard them talking about the sequence of pitches that led to what they referred to as the “controversial” walk. What a way to lose!

Then again, the way the Mariners were(n’t) hitting, it may not have mattered. The Padres would have won sooner or later. But Fister deserved better.

One thing I didn’t mention — the TVs. In the outer seating area, a couple of TVs are hung above the seats for each suite. And indoors, in the living room, is another TV. That’s another distraction. You look up at the monitor to see a replay of a hit or a call at first, and an at-bat later you’re still watching TV when you hear crowd noise as the batter is thrown out at first and realize that noise is for real, not from the TV, and you’re actually at the game, with that guy on TV running for real below you. Very disconcerting.

The game was quick, 2 hours and 9 minutes, a throwback to the old days. The sun had barely set when it ended. We stood around for a while in the living room, a few of us watching the post-game coverage on TV as they showed Fister’s full pitching sequence to Maybin in the walk. It takes a while for 20 people (21 counting the babe in arms) to say goodbye. Eventually, we left the suite, walked down past all the other suites to the left field exit, rejoined what was left of the crowd, and headed back to our car.

I don’t know when we’ll be in a suite again. They’re available for the taking. What with all the empty ones, I believe you can buy one for any game. Perhaps not such a good deal if you don’t have 20 takers. But it made for a great evening. Happy Anniversary, Tamara and Jim.

Categories: Baseball, Food
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