Safeco Field has forever changed baseball in Seattle

Posted: Monday, July 09, 2001

SEATTLE -- When Gaylord Perry thinks back on his pitching days in the Kingdome, the Hall of Famer remembers being surrounded by the stadium's depressing gray cement walls.

Not so at Safeco.

The 2-year-old open air ballpark has changed the atmosphere of Seattle baseball in so many ways -- something that will be very clear to fans tuning in to Tuesday's All-Star game, the biggest national stage yet for Safeco Field.

Its manicured grass, vistas of downtown and Puget Sound, and unique international flavor are making many former Mariners just a little sorry they missed out.

''This is a lot different,'' Perry said Sunday as he sat in the home dugout before managing an exhibition game of minor league prospects. ''I'm excited for the Seattle community that they got behind it. It's a big plus for the town.''

The Kingdome, which was imploded last year, was the city's premier pro sports venue for 24 years and the site of the 50th All-Star game in 1979. The roof leaked, chunks of the ceiling fell and it lacked the personality and charm of Safeco.

''There's no comparison,'' said former New York Mets outfielder Lee Mazzilli, who hit a pinch home run in the eighth inning of that All-Star game to tie the score and then walked with the bases loaded in the ninth to lead the National League to victory.

''It's like day and night,'' he said. ''It's a palace compared to the other place.''

On a nice day at Safeco, the retractable roof slides back to allow the sun to shine in. Trains rolling just beyond the center-field bleachers toot their whistles, at times competing with the game announcer.

Because of the Mariners' two Japanese stars -- Ichiro Suzuki and Kazuhiro Sasaki -- many fans fly in from Tokyo and wave flags from their homeland, often outnumbering the Stars and Stripes in the stands. Sushi, ramen noodles and stir fry are on sale in concession stands like The Intentional Wok. For this year's All-Star game, signs are even trilingual -- in English, Spanish and Japanese.

From Interstate 5 to the east, to the Pyramid Alehouse and the waterfront to the west, the buzz at Safeco is apparent to anyone within about a half-mile of the ballpark. Music blares for blocks and the big scoreboard can be read from outside.

Yet Perry still has fond memories of the Kingdome, pitching in that 1979 All-Star game. A five-time All-Star, Perry became the 15th major league pitcher with 300 victories when he defeated the New York Yankees 7-3 in the dome on May 6, 1982.

Another Mariners pitcher, Chris Bosio, would have loved to have played at Safeco. He pitched a no-hitter in the Kingdome on April 22, 1993, a 7-0 win against the Boston Red Sox.

''This place and the Kingdome have a lot of similarities?'' Bosio joked Sunday. ''Don't they both have a front entry? Who would've thunk from 1993 to 2001 I'd be standing here in the best stadium in the world?

''This is truly the jewel of the Northwest. It's an unbelievable facility and I'm proud to be a Mariner,'' he said.

''How can you have a bad day here? Sometimes I turn my head and take a peek and think 'What if I'd pitched in a place like this?'''

The brilliant sunshine on Sunday also had Mariners general manager Pat Gillick in a joking mood. He said he preferred the Kingdome because he didn't have to worry about leaving with a sunburn.

Safeco even has helped Seattle to the best record in baseball this season, Gillick added.

''Our team really is a pitching- and defense-oriented team, and this park lends itself to that,'' he said. ''It's in our favor when we play in this facility. ... From a revenue standpoint, people in the Northwest are participants. They like to be outside as opposed to going to the Kingdome where you're basically locked up inside for 81 games a year.''

Former New York Yankees great Don Mattingly, who played his last game in the Kingdome, was a little wistful about the old domed stadium.

''I liked the Kingdome a little bit, to be honest with you,'' Mattingly said before playing in an All-Star celebrity softball game Sunday. ''But this is beautiful. It's what Seattle needed. This is an outdoor city.''

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