BY BRIAN HIGHT
Every baseball season since my wife and I moved to Seattle, a little over five years ago, we have made a point to attend at least one Seattle Mariners home game, usually a mid-week day game as she likes pretending she is playing hooky from her computer and data intensive job in market research, working for one of the team’s, not to be named, sponsors. Let’s just say, they know where you are watching the game, via Twitter hashtag.
The odd thing about this semi-tradition, if you can call a five-year ritual a tradition, is that my wife comes pretty close to loathing sports, which makes for a challenging relationship with someone who writes for a sports site. But, she does really enjoy attending baseball games. I didn’t’ say watching baseball games. I said attending baseball games.
So, a few weeks ago, as the opportunities for mid-week day games on the Mariners schedule were dwindling down to one in July, one in August, and none in the short week of September, she asked me if I’d like to go to the Mariners / Giants game on Wednesday, July 25th. My initial reaction was hesitancy. For those of you who attend major league baseball games or, for that matter, virtually any professional sport, you know that a single game outing can set the bank account back three figures, even with it’s just two of you. God help those with children.
Then the “catch” came. We would be sitting in the afore not really mentioned, but alluded to, employer’s suite and doing so as a friendly comp for all of her hard work. Oh yea? Sure. Let’s go.
How Most of Us Take in Ballgames
My previous experiences at baseball games have evolved from attending minor league games in Memphis, Tennessee, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The parks are quaint, for the most part. Redbirds Park in Memphis is routinely named to lists of best minor league parks in the country, with its throwback styling, reminiscent of Camden Yards. Dickey Stephens Park, which is actually located in North Little Rock, a completely different municipality from Little Rock, is nice and clean. But, locals still lament the retirement of Ray Winder Field, an Arkansas fixture which garnered charity auction bids on everything from bleacher seats to dugout rails. Driller’s Stadium in Tulsa shares much of the former ambience of Ray Winder, if not the reverence.
I was fortunate enough to attend a game in the old Yankee Stadium for my first major league game. It was pre-9/11 and smack in the middle of the four World Series win run. Sitting in the second deck in right field with an obstructed view that blanked out Paul O’Neil, I could only dream of the left-handed home runs that had landed roughly where I was sitting. Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Reggie.
But to be honest, the place was a little run down and seemed antiquated. And, what could you expect from a stadium built in 1922-23 and renovated in 1973-76? I haven’t been to the new stadium. My loan applications for single game seats keep getting turned down and with the hindsight of nostalgia I miss the old place. After all, it was my first.
For the first “splurge” to a major league park, my fairly new bride and I attended a San Francisco Giants home game. For the record. I love Safeco. It is a beautiful ballpark. But, AT&T park, situated on the San Francisco Bay, is awesome. Anywhere a baseball can be hit into the ocean is going to top most other ballparks.
We sat on the third base side among a huge contingency of Oakland Athletics fans and I spent most of the A’s half of innings transfixed on left field where one Barry Lamar Bonds resided. Even despite the steroid controversy, Bonds was, in my opinion, the greatest left-handed hitter of all time. I stop short of greatest hitter of all time because Ted Williams served his country for three years in WWII and almost two years in Korea, forfeiting, or sacrificing, putting up the gaudiest numbers imaginable in baseball history.
The view was great. The ballpark food was just starting to evolve into the delicacies we might take for granted now and was delicious and cutting edge for the time. I loved that the ushers wouldn’t let you go to your seat during the half inning, less you distract fans from the game. And did I mention the San Francisco Bay? I think we went back to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero and drank Napa Cabs and glowed in the experience. At least that’s how I remember it.
The next big-league park extravaganza was in Denver for a Colorado Rockies game. To say that at the time it was a culture shock to pass marijuana shops on the walk to the game would be an understatement. Today, in Seattle, it seems so passé.
Club level, which has become our bare minimum these days (we don’t attend that many games), was cool because of the presence of televisions in the section. Truth be told, my vision is quite poor and the experience of watching a baseball game is exponentially richer on an HD TV than at the ballpark, but the ballpark is special.
I have no idea who the Rockies played that day. I don’t know who won. It was just a really pleasant experience in a particularly stressful time in our lives and we spent it at a baseball park.
How the Other Side Lives
Fast forward through four consecutive seasons of attending at least one Mariners home game, all but one during the day, the night game to see Derek Jeter on his farewell tour. We had begun to consider ourselves a bit of a Mariners jinx. All the games we attended, the Mariners lost. Maybe we should have stayed away in 2016. That one game could have mattered in the playoff race.
So, Wednesday there’s the Giants game. Something came up at my wife’s work that couldn’t wait, and we didn’t get to the ballpark until the sixth inning. To be fair, it was a fast paced, low scoring game. The metal detector wasn’t set too high, not TSA high, not even close, so I didn’t even have to take off my belt, just empty my pockets. The elderly usher cheerfully told us where to go for the elevators to the suite level and the attendants on the elevators were friendly and engaging. When the doors to the elevator opened I thought we had been deposited into a Ritz Carlton.
This is not MY experience of ballparks. Carpet? Wood and granite? Polite and helpful people eager to get you stuff? What? This isn’t Ray Winder Field or even the Bronx Zoo. This is different.
In the suite itself, there was, I’m guessing, a 47-inch TV on the wall, leather chairs, a refrigerator disguised in the wood cabinetry, a coffee maker, and all the accoutrements you’d need to prepare a meal, if you so desired. More than one of my wife’s corporate co-workers who had been fortunate enough to attend games in the suite previously, lamented that the games are usually catered, but because peons like us were there, we’d have to go get food from vendors. (They actually didn’t call us peons. And they were just like us. Literary license makes that sentence flow better).
The outside seats were essentially leather office chairs, with swivel and tilt. No hard bleachers here. And a long table for eating (or working, I guess) spanned each row. There would be no dropping hot dog toppings in your lap while balancing your food in mid air in this section.
For the sixth and the top of the seventh, the woman to whom I am related by marriage and a whole lot of indulgence in baseball furiously pecked out emails on the touchscreen of her iPhone. Once the work fire was reasonably under control, we set out for eats. For those of you with significant others, you know that deciding where to dine can sometimes be the most trying decision of the day. But, after a few starts and stops, we landed at the epitome of ballpark food. The cuisine that says America like no other. Did we get a hotdog? No. Did we get a hamburger? No. BBQ? Considered it, but no.
Chinese Dumplings. Steamed Pork Buns. Fried Rice. Locals will recognize Din Tai Fung as the dumpling soup chain from Taipei that took the city by storm a few short years ago. They have primo real estate at Safeco, on the main concourse in the food court behind home plate. And just like in the restaurants, the food is amazing, and the line isn’t nearly as long as it usually is in Bellevue or downtown.
Back in the air-conditioned suite, we worked up a sweat on spicy pork and bok choy dumplings. Significant other skillfully consumed her chicken fired rice with chopsticks, while I relied on my hands to wolf down the steamed pork buns. Is this not what you do at baseball games?
The 2-0 Mariners margin had been erased and was now 2-2. Clean top of the inning and the Mariners pulled ahead in the bottom of the eight. Edwin Diaz came in giving the opportunity to point out that a Mariner led the majors in saves. My wife pretended to be interested. She has to do this a lot and it’s one of the reasons I love her.
And in the end, the Mariners won. A first for us in person.
The Take Away
I’m not too proud to say that I think I may be spoiled now. After luxury and comfort and even semi-private restrooms, I’m not sure I’m ready to mingle with the rabble that I was just two short days ago. It’s hot in the sun. It’s not in the suite. The seats are hard “out there.” They’re soft and comfortable for the 1%ers. Juggling food and drink with out spillage is a challenge even in the $90 seats. Not so much in the suite.
Oh, well. For at least one day, I got to soak in a ballgame in luxury. Tonight, I’ll just watch on the TV. Oh. And I found out the same company that employs my wife and sponsors a Mariners segment on Root Sports, also sponsors the Giants. Hello San Francisco.