Monday, March 31, 2008

Opening Day for a fair-weather fan

It was unseasonably warm and sunny here a couple of weeks ago when I noticed the Mariners would be hosting Opening Day baseball with an afternoon game, so I went online and bought a ticket. Michelle would be working, I figured, and being able to catch a day game has to be one of the joys of a debilitating illness. My calendar was open ... Play ball!

When I told Michelle of my plan though she protested that she could have scored a half-day off and joined me. I tried to change my single ticket for a pair, but by that time the game was sold out and the Craigslist scalpers wanted way more than I was willing to pay.

Besides, I thought to myself, there are some times when Mich's Springsteen philosophy applies to baseball: that is, when it's best to go alone. In this case, by buying only one ticket I was able to score a good lower-level seat down the third-base line. Also, while I'm often happy to chit-chat through a game and focus much of my attention on my hot dog and peanuts, as Michelle and I like to do, once in a while the baseball geek in me asserts itself and I feel like really concentrating on the game.

Opening Day, although it's usually as much about pomp as baseball, struck me that way this year. I'm a huge baseball fan, but I don't live and die with one team, the way second- or third-generation Cubs and Red Sox fans do, or even the way I felt as a kid about the Willie Mays-era San Francisco Giants. Still, the Ms are my home team and I root for them and watch most of their games. This year the Mariners have a new pitcher, southpaw whiz kid Erik Bedard, whom they traded half the franchise for over the winter and who would be making his debut today. The word on Bedard: many strikeouts, few home runs, a lot of innings pitched. It was a controversial trade but one I supported, and I wanted to see how he did.

So Michelle went off to work and, an hour or so before game time, I donned my Ichiro jersey -- over a sweatshirt, and under my winter coat -- and walked up to the Junction to catch the bus to Safeco Field. Immediately I felt overdressed and too warm. I stopped twice and pondered walking back home to shed the ski jacket for a windbreaker, but I didn't want to miss the opening pitch.

At Safeco, the modern/retro home of the Mariners, I was surprised and disappointed to see the retractable roof was extended over the playing field. After the opening ceremonies and introduction of the players, though, the PA announcer said in his booming voice that Opening Day baseball was "meant to be played on real grass and under blue skies, so let's open the roof!"

And to great fanfare -- the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey," in fact -- the roof rolled back.

Immediately it was obvious that the blue-skies line was wishful thinking. It had cooled off and clouded up, and even before the roof was all the way open I felt raindrops. By the first pitch the roof was closed again, though without fanfare, or even a clip of Gilda Radner's "Never mind."

Bedard fired the first pitch for strike one and the crowd went crazy. Two more pitches, strike two and strike three, and the cheers were even louder. What a great trade!

He got a called first strike against the Texas Rangers' second batter too, before missing with two balls and then watching as the hitter, shortstop Michael Young, deposited one over the WaMu sign in right field for a home run. Texas 1, Mariners nothing. Suddenly I heard murmurs around me in Section 147 of "Adam Jones," the can't-miss outfield prospect who the Ms traded, with four other guys, to Baltimore for Bedard.

He struggled through the rest of the first inning, though without giving up any more runs, then the Mariners went down 1-2-3, and it was back to another slow, rough (though scoreless) inning for Bedard.

About this time the wind started whipping through the stadium and I decided that my seat, close to the concourse and near an outside breezeway, wasn't as sweet as I'd imagined. An hour into the game it was still only the second inning, and getting yet colder -- I was glad I'd stuck with the jacket -- and beginning to feel like a long afternoon.

After three innings I was really cold and weirdly not that into it and decided to bail. The earliest I've ever left a Major League Baseball game.

Not a great decision, weather-wise. Outside, waiting for the bus back to West Seattle, a driving rain turned to snow -- snow! on Opening Day! -- and I bailed yet again, choosing to wait out the storm at the Starbucks across the street and phoning Michelle for a ride home. What a wuss.

When we got home I turned on the TV to find the Mariners had rallied to win 5-2, though Bedard left before the scoring flurry and didn't figure in the decision. Anyway, the Ms have a winning record, which isn't always to be expected around here.

Tomorrow, Michelle and I are going back for Game 2. She scored us free tickets from the P-I in the snooty (and warmer) Terrace Club.

Here are a few pics from my short day at the park.

Crowds arriving, with downtown Seattle beyond Qwest Field, where the football Seahawks play:

You can almost see our house from here. This is the view from Safeco's upper deck. That peninsula is West Seattle, where we live. On a sunny day you can see the beautiful Olympic Mountains beyond.

The view from my windy seat today. Tomorrow Michelle and I will be just above the scoreboard visible to the left of home plate.

Waiting for a bus in the snow.


Rita said...

Great post. Loved the pics.

Janice said...

I spent the last two weekends watching college basketball and was a little miffed that baseball was intruding, until Sunday night. Then I decided that college basketball was intruding! Baseball just sets the rhythm for summer and I'm glad it's here. Our minor league team opens at home April 11, and we'll have a good team for a month or two before Dusty Baker wears out the Reds and plucks the minor leaguers for Cincinnati.

Mark said...

Thanks Janice. Yes, I know what you mean: Baseball just says spring to me -- even in the snow.

Louisville of course has a great baseball tradition. Do you go to Bats games? That's supposed to be a nice ballpark, right? It would be fun to catch a game together when we're there.

BTW, it turns out your namesake ended up this season on my old fantasy baseball team, now under new and improved management. I wish Ryan well.

Janice said...

The minor league stadium here is great, a converted railroad warehouse. At one time you could pull a train in one end, unload it onto raised platforms then pull it out again. Before construction began I pulled a truck in on the railbed to pick up some stuff. There's a microbrew in the building in case of weather delays. I have two season tickets, behind third base which is the shady side (more important in Louisville to stay cool than seek heat). There's always empty seats around me so we can get two more seats and all sit in my regular spot. Because I have season tickets and the stadium is two miles from my house, I often stop in for part of a game. It's a little much to go 5 or even 10 days in a row. Minor leagues just take themselves so less seriously than those majors. The players will cut it up with the mascot or the famous chicken or the guy who folds himself into a pretzel. Got a love it.