The post season of baseball is upon us, which reminded me of events of 1999 here in Seattle, and lead me to reprint what was written about it 10 years later.
Baseball, like a bright star in the heavens, return to us each spring and shine upon us until fall. A heavier Ken Griffey Jr. has returned to the Mariners this year, and the sight of him in a uniform that reads “Seattle” has brought back a memory which shall stay with me so long as this American lives.
It was 10 years ago, July 15th 1999, my law partner Lisa Micheli and her then fiancé Steve somehow couldn’t use the tickets they had to the opening night of Safeco field. She graciously yielded them to the other two lawyers in the firm at then, my father and me.
For reasons that are lost to time we elected to drive my father’s old Ford truck, which wasn’t so old at the time, to the park that evening. Parking was at a premium, some spaces near the park going for $40.00. We drove and we drove, and ultimately parked for free at a business that had shut down for the evening a mile from the park. It was a good walk.
Of course upon arriving in front of Pyramid Brewing directly in front of the park we found a free place open, waiting for some lucky fellow. We laughed, crossed the street, and passed through the turn styles for the first time. We rode the escalator up to the first deck under the baseball bat sculpture.
Apparently this sculpture lights up whenever the Mariners hit a home run, but it is situated in a place where no one can see it if they are watching the game. Curious decision I thought. This was not the only great idea implemented with unintended results it turned out in the design of our new field. We then moved on to inspect the diamond.
As we approached the first deck bleachers the expanse of storied geometry appeared before us. This new green field and brown dirt diamond, the white foul lines and bags had been impeccably prepared for the sacrament that blesses America’s cities and towns. We are of many faiths but a baseball park is our collective palace of peace. Lawyers are known to make pilgrimages to other parks in of the country. For some, spring training is a kind of Lent. On that night in July 1999 my father and I stood there in the vestibule and breathed in the grace of our new park, and ascended the stairs to our pew.
I believe it was early in the second inning where a much lighter than now Ken Griffey Jr. took the timber to the plate and smacked a ball served up by the Padres pitcher far, far into center field. In the Kingdome this would have been a home run. In the heavy marine air of Safeco field, the ball fell short on the warning track, easy pickings for the outfielder. Baseball in Seattle had changed forever. The knowledge we had built the new stadium in the wrong place swept through the stunned congregation like the discovery of heresy. My eye looked up and over the left field bleachers to the Kingdome, still standing, but being readied for demolition. Give me that old time religion, I thought.
No longer was this the long ball the primary threat here. Gone were those college days when sitting in the cheapest seats available in the Kingdome I was nearly struck by a ball sent to the left field bleachers by Reggie Jackson, an answer to a 7th inning barrage of home runs the Mariner’s had served up. Instead Seattle had unwittingly become a team which had to focus on fundamentals; getting one man on base, and advancing him around the sacks, perhaps at most a double could be expected. Suddenly a team built around home runs found itself in home field that was for different talents. We need not worry about missing the baseball bat sculpture lighting up.
Nonetheless the Mariners took the lead at some point. I decided to wander out onto the flying buttresses of our new cathedral and take in the view. The salt air which frustrated our team filled my lungs. The sun was setting, rendering the windowed towers of the Emerald City alight. But upon returning to my seat on the third base line I could see the people in right field had learned what it meant to come to the park on a nice evening. They were blinded by the sun.
Going into the 8th I thought, as did the rest of those in attendance, that the relief pitcher was doing well. Perhaps it is written somewhere, never to be changed, not even for a new park, the Mariners must find a way to lose. Perhaps it was only adherence to that scripture that lead to the reliever being pulled, but I have long suspected there was something in the relationship between the manager Lou Pinella and his closer that required Jose Mesa to take the mound that evening.
As Holy Writ prescribes, when Jose Mesa is put in to pitch for the final innings before long the bases will become full of the opposing team’s runners. I do not recall the exact sequence of events but somehow the visiting team took the lead. Finally our “closer” generated the requisite three outs and we entered the bottom of the 9th. The Mariners struggled to put men on base and overcome the deficit. They failed. The Mariners had lost the first game ever played in their new ball park, Safeco Field.
And Jose Mesa wept.