Saturday, September 02, 2006

Safeco Field

The first time I went to Safeco Field was five years ago. Seattle had just hosted the all-star game a few days earlier, and the Mariners were hosting the Giants. Bonds, of course, was chasing* the home run record and the Mariners were in the middle of their 116-win season. Ichiro was taking America by storm in the middle of his rookie of the year season, and he and Bonds had been the top all-star vote-getters in each league. At the time, it seemed like there wasn't a more important place to be in all of baseball.

Safeco was also only the second of the newer retro parks that I had seen (after Camden Yards), so I was legitimately impressed. The views from the upper deck were amazing, with Puget Sound, the Space Needle, the downtown financial district, and the still under-construction football stadium next door (where the Kingdome used to be) all visible. Walking around the lower concourse, you could always see the field, and walking around the upper concourse, you could always see some incredible scenery. Despite the fact that everyone and their sister was still smitten by Camden Yards, I still maintained that Safeco was the best park I'd seen.

Now, it's a little different. For one thing, the Mariners aren't very good, and Ichiro is old news. Despite the fact that Curt Schilling was starting for Boston, this game between a last place Mariner team and the free-falling Red Sox didn't really seem to matter the way the Giants game did years ago. The Mariners routinely don't sell out, and after seeing the new parks in Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia last year, Safeco had a much higher standard to live up to.

It's still a nice park with sweet views (from the right seats), and it still has that new park aura, but compared to the other parks I just listed, Safeco is lacking. From the outside, it doesn't even look like a ballpark - the steel girders and bland facade make it look more like an industrial factory. The food and drink choices are plentiful, but the hot dogs are mediocre, and they didn't even have souvenir soda cups, which are a must for touristy types like me who want to see and collect something from every ballpark. The programs were only $4, though, and that price even included a pencil (which some places don't, but that's another story).

I don't mean to sound like Safeco's a lousy park - it's not. It's comfortable, the ushers and the fans are nice (except for that one woman who knocked over my beer and just kept walking without as much as an apology), and you can see the whole field from everywhere. But other than the retractable roof, nothing stands out about it, and plenty of stadiums have retractable roofs now. Of the parks I'd seen to that point, I'd rank them like this:

  1. PNC Park
  2. Great American Ballpark
  3. Fenway Park
  4. Camden Yards
  5. Comerica Park
  6. Citizens Bank Park
  7. Safeco Field
  8. Kaufman Stadium
  9. Jacobs Field
  10. Yankee Stadium
  11. Rogers Center
  12. Shea Stadium
  13. Veteran's Stadium
Pretty much the middle of the pack, but there are plenty of newer parks that I hadn't seen as of the August 24th game. And yes, it's possible that I'm underrating Safeco unfairly because I saw a stinker of a game where Schilling and the Red Sox taxi squad were blanked by Jake freaking Woods and the Mariners, and I reserve the right to adjust my rankings after future visits to new or repeat parks. But four of the parks that I saw for the first time in a six-day span last summer just put the Safeco experience into perspective - it's very good, but not great.

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