Greetings From Wonderfully Gray and Cool Seattle
No worries about getting dehydrated while in Seattle, unlike the blazing heat of a D.C. summer. The only issue at Safeco Field was whether they would have to close the roof to keep in the body heat of the crowd gathered to pick up their Adrian Beltre bobblehead (note to Nats' front office: the Mariners have 25,000 statuettes to give away versus the 15,000 the Nationals ordered, even though Mariner's attendance is averaging about 1000 less per game).
I went to a couple of games at the Kingdome before moving away from Seattle 23 years ago, and it was like going to a game in a tomb. I went to game at Safeco Field about 5 years ago and was very impressed by the layout of the park and the ambience of the area. The stadium is located south of the downtown area, close to the Alaskan Way viaduct (some free on-street parking available) next to the Seahawks' Qwest Stadium in what used to be an industrial/warehouse area. Driving in from the airport, the stadiums look like factories, especially Safeco's sliding roof trusses.
I didn't do a scientific analysis of ticket prices at Safeco compared to Nationals Park, but even if you eliminate the absurdly high priced seats behind home plate at Nats Park, the prices at Safeco seem lower. Outfield seats are generally less expensive. The "cheap" seats at Safeco are $7 to $19 for the center and left field bleachers, while their equivalent of the Red Porch, the "Hit It Here" cafÃ©, are $44 to $51, including a $18 food voucher. (You can't even go into the cafÃ© without a ticket for the place.) View Reserved seats, the 300 level all around the stadium, go for $19-21. Good field level seats start at about $40, as opposed to the $50-75 at Nats Park.
I arrived at the stadium at 4:30 p.m., a half hour before the gates opened, and was not surprised I had the only Curly W hat. However, there were many block W hats for the University of Washington and (I-can't-describe-the-font) W hats from Washington State University. My friend Rick met me in line at about 4:45 p.m. after parking his car (for free) on the street about 15 minutes away. Gates actually opened at about 4:50 p.m., 10 minutes early, to let the bobblehead seekers enter.
One nice feature of Safeco Field is the team allows re-entry privileges. After Rick and I got our bobblehead and walked around the lower levels of the stadium a bit, we left through one of the designated exit gates. Here, our tickets were marked with a red line to designate that we already got our bobblehead. There apparently is a high demand for bobbleheads in the Emerald City. Attendance for bobblehead giveaway nights is about 10,000 more than the average. Tonight's game drew about 35,000. There were reverse scalpers buying them from fans heading over to the alehouse before the game started. You can find Ichiro bobbleheads on eBay for $35.
We were then free to go across 1st Avenue South to the Pyramid Alehouse and stand around their beer garden (actually beer parking lot) which featured a live band and varieties of sausages and beers at prices a little lower, $5.50 versus $7.50, than in the park. You can also go in the alehouse and buy pitchers of the Pyramid's full range of product and a typical American-pub menu. The indoors were much too crowded to bother hanging around, however, so we headed back to the park - after 30 minutes and one beer - to watch the Nats take batting practice.
I had a huge lunch on Friday, so I was still stuffed when I got to the game. If I was hungry, there was a pretty good variety of edibles to be had. Kidd Valley burgers, somewhat equivalent to Five Guys, were $7 each. There were lots of hot dog stands with the same kinds of tube steaks sold at slightly lower prices. Ivar's, an iconic seafood restaurant on the Seattle waterfront, had a stand that sold fish and chips and clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, which looked very good. One big difference between today's Seattle and the one I left 24 years ago is the apparent passage of a zoning law that requires a Thai restaurant on every block. This is reflected in the stadium's menu as well, where Thai Ginger has a very large and popular stand, featuring three industrial sized woks in a glass enclosed kitchen so you can watch them cooking.
The most innovative thing I saw here, however, is a call out menu service. By texting your seat location and menu choice, you can order food and drinks delivered directly to your seats. Prices are slightly higher than going to the stands. For example, a 20 ounce bottle of Pepsi is $5 via texting and $4.75 in the stands; and a bottle of mass market brew is $8.25 versus $7.50. Delivery is limited to the 100 and 300 level seats, so the proletariat sitting in the bleachers is excluded. This would be a very cool thing to institute at Nationals Park so all the people whining about long lines could finally shut up.
I prefer the ambience at Nationals Park. Safeco feels more closed in and industrial. Also, the retractable roof is dark gray and rides on railroad tracks. In addition, there are active railroad tracks just behind the stadium. The clam shell section of the roof, when open, seems to amplify the sounds of the train right into the outfield. If I were a visiting pitcher, I would have a hard time concentrating, and I doubt outfielders are heard when calling for a fly ball.
Acoustics do seem to be better at Safeco. I had absolutely no problem hearing the stadium announcer or the audio of the videos on the INCREDIBLY PUNY STANDARD DEFINITION video screen on the main scoreboard. As for the crowd, I couldn't tell whether the crowd was more enthusiastic, but it did seem a lot louder than the crowd in Washington. You could very clearly hear, "You suck, Sexson!," when the Mariner's first baseman struck out twice.
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