Normally I go to both days of FanFest, but this year it’s just not in the cards. I sort of wish I was there right now, because there are a few fans and friends I’d like to see that weren’t able to make it yesterday, but yesterday also fully delivered, and now I find myself a little more excited about the start of the season than I was on Friday. Yesterday delivered so much, in fact, that between when I got there at around 11.30 and when we finally closed the place down around 4, I had completely lost all sense of time.
I began my day by being late, because that’s just how I occasionally roll. Picking up Conor from ProBallNW probably didn’t help, either. We parked in the SafeCo Field garage, and made our way through the rain to the Team Store, to take part in their Find-a-Seat program. I have now ventured over to section 185, in the second row just off the aisle. The view underneath looks like this:
I had hoped to be able to get seats somewhere in 185 to 187, but those seats are saved for families and walk-ins who just want a cheap ticket to go see a game. So it looks like a lot of bullpen warm-up shots may look like this this season. On the way up to choose seats, I was told by the attendant that Felix Hernandez has just purchased a house for his family here in Seattle so he can call Seattle his home. This was surprising news, and made me very happy. When a player loves the city they play in enough to move his family and call it ‘home’, that says a lot about his devotion to the team and its fans. But more about Felix later.
After I finally settled on a game schedule (one Phillies and one Orioles game included, thank you very much!) and the formalities were taken care of, food was next on the agenda. We made our way along the main concourse, and ran into this display of the new alternate jerseys:
I’m still not a huge fan, but they don’t look as terrible up close as they did in the first picture I saw of them, and for some reason I’m not nearly as alarmed by the choice of white pants (as opposed to gray) as I should be.
I got my hot dog and a giant Dr Pepper in this year’s souvenir plastic cups (I use them for coffee), which feature different pitches and their grips. Mine was a circle changeup. I still have no idea how to throw a changeup, and I doubt that the helpful cup will change that, but at least now I have another vessel for coffee in the mornings.
We had just missed Jack Zduriencik speaking, but made it down to the Dugout Dialogue in time to see Michael Pineda and Nick Franklin finishing up their session with the crowd. Pedro Grifol was on hand to help Pineda with translation, and also to answer any scouting questions, I’m assuming. Unfortunately, I was too busy trying to right my blood sugar to pay much attention to what was being said, but I’m OK with that. Both players seemed amiable, if not fully overwhelmed, and they took questions and gave answers much as might be expected.
Next up were Jason Vargas and Brandon League, who sat with Dave Sims and talked with him briefly before answering questions from the people sitting around us. Vargas displayed a little more confidence yesterday than he has in past interviews, and when asked about the series against the Marlins here in Seattle, was keen to get to hit in the lineup – I didn’t know this, but the Mariners/Marlins home series here will be played with NL rules because the band U2 is more important than Florida baseball, and they’ve basically been booted from their own stadium. That is unfortunate, as I know at least one Mariners fan down in Miami who was really looking forward to seeing the team down there.
Much to my glee, someone in the crowd pointed out that League had come here with a sterling strike-out reputation for his splitter, and asked why he was never using it. League said that he preferred to throw that pitch with two strikes under his belt, and admitted that opposing batters had been able to put the ball into play before he’d had a chance to use it, which makes far more sense than what they were trying to tell us last year about saving the pitch so that batters didn’t get used to it. A little honesty goes a long way with me, so big ups to Brandon League for a little disclosure. League also mentioned that his mohawk would likely be making a comeback, but for now it was grown out to avoid scaring the kids at his daughter’s school. Some people groaned at the thought of its return, but I, of course, approve.
Following League and Vargas was Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan, who looks like a more serious Nick Franklin to me:
Olivo seemed to be a subject of multiple opinions when he was acquired last year, but I think I kind of like him. He’s a charmer. He also feels that he owes the city of Seattle something after the last time he was here, and assured one member of the crowd that he was a “guard dog” at the plate (this was a question relating to passed balls and plate blockage). I will of course reserve my full opinion for when I finally see him, but I did enjoy his interview. Ryan didn’t make much of an impression, but to be fair, Olivo seemed to be doing much of the talking, so I’ll have to let Ryan’s play speak for him, too.
After that, when Sims came back onto the top of the dugout, it was with our new manager. I have only seen Eric Wedge, but I have never heard him speak. If his walk is half as good as his talk, I’m pretty stoked for this season. Sims and Wedge played analyst rapid-fire style – Sims threw out player names, and Wedge lit up and talked about what he thought of the player and what he had planned for their development. The amount of energy and animation he brought to the dais was amazing, and while it might just have been the fact that I needed someone to bring some encouraging words about the upcoming season, I have to say I was impressed. The man is fired up. The one thing that he said that Conor and I talked about later was the fact that he is going to push the offense towards doubles, rather than raw power, to get guys to hit into the gaps rather than over the wall or just trying for singles. I’m sure the exception will likely be Ichiro, of course. When asked about the number 3 and 4 spots in the lineup, Wedge said he would likely have to rotate out of necessity throughout the year because the team wasn’t really at the point where the lineup could remain concrete – but that Ichiro and Chone Figgins would remain his number 1 and 2 batters.
Finally, the main attraction: Felix Hernandez. Obviously, everyone wanted to hear the story of how he found out he had won the Cy Young, so he told us:
The difference between Felix a few years ago (even last year!) and Felix today is simply amazing. Not only his English, but his comfort with public speaking, and how relaxed and confident he seems are big changes from his younger years. I guess winning the most prestigious pitching award will do that to you. At that point, quite a crowd had gathered, and the two assistants running around with microphones attempted to get in as many questions as possible. There were a lot of congratulations tossed around, and a lot of applause at key moments, such as Felix admitting that he was happy to have been able to strike out Joe Mauer.
Rick Rizzs showed up on the dugout after Felix finished signing autographs for far more people than I would have been willing to wade through, and with him were Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager. Seager is a lot more loose and smile-ready than Ackley, but maybe time will change that. I waited to get a shot of Ackley smiling, but it was a losing battle. I think he might have once when kidding Seager about their two teams playing each other in their younger years.
By that point, it was a little after 3, and I realized I hadn’t actually seen a whole lot else of the day, so Conor and Su and I walked around the concourse to see what else was there – Jamie Moyer’s Camp Erin booth, the Everett Aquasox, the inflatable jump tent for little kids, the Moose Den…and a new installation, a company that makes crazy things out of balloons, which seems to be a rising art. I believe there is a new TV show coming up about it, even. We took the man’s business card, in exchange for taking a picture:
We wound up downstairs looking for the team chef and Diamond Club chef, who usually do cooking-show-style demonstrations in the Diamond Club dining room, but they were not there. Instead, the room was set up to remember Dave Niehaus, with video from the memorial in December playing, and the display of Dave’s various awards and first scorecard from 1977.
We also went through the area down further in the Diamond Club that always has all the old pictures and uniforms from older times in Seattle baseball. I do love a good old-tymey photo. I think baseball history might be my favorite part of the game, other than the game itself.
It was then that Conor reminded me that he’d never actually been to a FanFest before, something I found mindblowing, because he’s been a Mariners fan pretty much all his life. So we went through the clubhouse:
That part of the tour also leads to the weight room, which only reminds me of many fruitless hours spent at 24 Hour Fitness down in Portland with people who didn’t wipe down their machines (and I quit after giving it some thought, because I don’t want to exercise in a place where the phrase “wipe down” is a normal part of the procedure), but did give me this nice non-sequitur:
Once out of the locker room, we met Su at Last Fan Standing, once again hosted by Matt Pitman of 710 ESPN. There were some very energetic children and exhausted adults still attempting to win tickets and Mariners swag. It will never be me, I am terrible at trivia. We said hello to Matt after the room had cleared out, and chatted briefly with media relations extraordinaire (and personnel herder) Gregg Greene, who runs the Mariners Twitter account, and keeps things flowing smoothly during the Dugout Dialogue every year.
And just like that, it was over! I went to the Team Store to peruse briefly, before deciding that season tickets were a big enough expenditure for the day, and then took Conor home. I was far too tired to post this last night, so here you go. I also wanted to say hello to several people that I didn’t get to talk to long enough. Sorry if I seemed a little out of it yesterday, as I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep on Friday, so I was running on emergency power for most of the day (which might also serve as a reason that time flew by so quickly for me). It always seems like there is never enough time to really chat with people at these things, and, not being much of a drinker these days, going for a pre- or post-event beer is not really in my cards. Maybe over the summer we can have meet-ups somewhere for watching the game on TV and having dinner/drinks/whatever, if anyone is interested. Keep your eye on Twitter, and let Opening Day come sooner rather than later! I am ready for some baseball.