Major League Ballparks: No. 4 Safeco Field
With Fenway Park celebrating its 100th anniversary and Dodger Stadium its 50th this year, our editor Matt Hurst, who was a baseball beat writer for four seasons in the mid-2000′s, takes a look at the ballparks he’s worked at in his life and ranks them from worst to first. We continue the series with No. 4 – Safeco Field. To see the previously reviewed ballparks, click here.
Only once in all the times I’ve been to Seattle did it rain. And it wasn’t even rain. It was drizzle, barely enough to cause concern about a canceled game. I guess that’s the benefit to going to Seattle in the late spring and throughout the summer.
And that might be part of the reason I enjoyed Safeco Field so much.
A beautiful stadium with the exposed steel beams giving it a retro feel, there was something about sitting inside Safeco’s press box and watching a game that was so enjoyable.
Most of the games were good games as the Angels over my years on the beat were built on pitching and Seattle had a few decent teams that made the match-ups good for drama and baseball.
Sitting inside the box, though, gave one of the best views we could enjoy after the Mariners rolled up the garage-like doors and allowed the crisp air of the Pacific Northwest inside. Perched in prime foul ball territory and right behind the plate, you could hardly ask for a better seat in nearly any stadium.
And, inside the press box was one of the best in ball. There was always Starbucks coffee available – which, needless to say, was much better than a lot of the coffee elsewhere around the league – and I enjoyed the food room, even though it was small. The press meal room had a few options, which wasn’t entirely the case in a lot of places. You could get a salad bar for one price, a sandwich and salad bar for another, or a full meal for a different price. It was nice to have options and the Seattle staff always had delicious cookies around, which were key in the seventh inning or so when you grabbed that cup of Starbucks.
Standing in the dugout and on the field were great at Safeco as both were led to from one of baseball’s best visiting clubhouses. Large, roomy and new, the space inside Safeco’s visiting clubhouse allowed you to do your job by working the room appropriately. The clubhouse was also the only one that had porn magazines sitting out in the open. All clubhouses had televisions and a wide array of movies. Some had magazines for guys to flip through as they sat at the various food tables set up in the room. None had dirty mags sitting out, except for Safeco. It was comical.
Adding to the comedy of the Safeco clubhouse was the soft serve ice cream machine on the edge of the player’s food room. Whenever Kendrys Morales was on the roster, he was seen constantly crushing ice cream cones, so much so that someone who will remain nameless, PhotoShopped a picture of Morales’ head on top of an ice cream cone and sent it around.
That wasn’t the only comedy I remember from Safeco, though.
One night I got a call from my girlfriend asking if we had TV’s up in the press box.
“Yes,” I said, “of course we do.”
“I think the home plate umpire’s fly is down.”
As CB Bucknor got into his crouch, she was absolutely right. You could see Bucknor’s gray pants split in the crotch region, which led to me announcing it among the visiting beat writers. Word trickled through the press box and soon enough the Mariners’ PR staff called down to the grounds crew. Between innings someone went out and put their arm around Bucknor and told him. He turned towards the field, zipped up, and you could see him laugh about it. Although when a national baseball writer on the road that week asked him about it for a small, funny note, Bucknor grew testy (not testes) and didn’t want to talk about it.
That wasn’t the only off-the-wall story from Seattle …
One night, as we were wont to do, a couple of visiting guys went out to grab a beer or two after the game. We ran into a couple players at the bar we went to and usually when that happens, the players will send over a beer, wave, and you’ll both avoid each other. For the most part, that was how it worked. It wasn’t often that you’d chat with them or if you did, it wasn’t for very long.
This night, however, the players told us that they knew the bartender really well at another bar and were headed over there to drink all night. They extended an invitation. Me and another writer accepted.
While this might have crossed some sort of journalistic ethics, this was also a very rare opportunity and one that could help break down the walls between writer and ballplayer.
We walked in and there were at least six players there and a few staffers at this bar that was closed off to the public even though it wasn’t even midnight yet. They had bought out the bar for the night.
Drinks were flowing, stories were being told, myself and this other writer were inside the circle, for one night at least. We got all kinds of off-the-record tips and stories, and we also showed we were human – perhaps to each side.
Finally at 4 am we were told we had to go. Somehow I made it to my hotel room, but the other writer wasn’t so lucky. He decided to walk back to his room – a good three to four miles away – and didn’t make it until sunrise … because he fell asleep on the street.
I got a text from him the next day (neither of us were up until well after noon) asking what the hell happened and what did I remember?
With some food in my belly and a walk to the ballpark, I was ready to function through my hangover to work the next day. He showed up and was clearly hurting. As he walked into the clubhouse, much later than we normally showed up, John Lackey , who was part of the group the night before, looked at him, pointed and bellowed “That’s rock bottom right there!”
Which is quite the opposite of Safeco Field.