So yesterday was FanFest! I woke up, knocked back some coffee, threw some clothes and makeup on, and by the time I was on the West Seattle bridge driving towards 1st Ave S, jitters had already set in. Would I find decent season seats? Was I going to miss anything, since I hadn’t left the house until 10.45am (it turns out that the answer was yes, I missed Jason Vargas talking during the Dugout Dialogue)? Would the lines to get in be long? The drive down was fine, but the walk from my car down the two blocks to the Field were fraught with anxiety. After four years, I still get that way; I still get excited for baseball or anything to do with baseball. I still get those butterflies in my stomach and chest, just like I do on Opening Day. Or even when tuning in to the first Spring Training game. I hope it never stops.
Getting in to the field was easy. Instead of waiting in the lines that were still wrapped around the side of the building, I merely walked into the Team Store, went up the stairs to the “Pick A Seat” area where they keep the more expensive memorabilia, and a ticket representative took me out to the left field bleachers. Section 181 of the left field bleachers. We walked up the stairs, and across about row three, looking at the rain-soaked construction paper with the lists of games plans and seats on them, for the one plan I could take, the one that would not interfere with my work schedule. Section 181 yielded nothing, but section 182 yielded…row 4. Seats 3 and 4. If any of my friends who went to games with me in 2010 are reading this, you may (or may not) recognize these as the same exact seats I had for the 2010 season. Without hesitation, I told the girl I’d take them. She pulled the label off the bleacher, and we went back downstairs, where I ponied up a down payment, was given a pocket schedule and a lanyard that enabled me to go to special lines in FanFest where I could basically get into autograph signing events or onto the field in a manner better suited for royalty, and sent me off on my merry way.
It’s difficult to find people you’re looking for in a ballpark, because everyone is wearing approximately the same color – and during an event that takes place in the winter months, it’s even harder to try and find a single person, because you not only have a lot of navys and grays to search through, but a lot of blacks and other dark colors, the Seattle uniform from October to the end of April or so. But not everyone has purple hair, so I decided to sit near the Dugout Dialogue area, wait for friends, and cool down a bit from running around the park in 100% humidity.
The roof had broken earlier in the week, but they had managed to keep the main section over the middle part of the field, trying to keep people as dry as possible. For the most part, it seemed to work.
After I connected with my friend Su, I went up to the concourse to grab that first hot dog of the year, and then back down to sit closer to the dugout and listen the players and broadcasters talk to one another. The first group I caught involved Miguel Olivo and Trayvon Robinson, who talked a lot about last year, and of course the catch he made in left field during a game against the Angels. Olivo and Robinson were all smiles. Here, I have proof!
The King’s Court area was blocked off with colored plastic. There was a red velvet throne above it on the concourse, but it was constantly populated with people, so I neglected to take a photo of that. I could have sat in it and had someone take a picture of me, but I decided not to torture what few readers I have, so you’ll just have to imagine a big wood and red velvet chair that looked vaguely like a throne that might have been used in a high school play about King Arthur. It worked.
Next at Dugout Dialogue were Brendan Ryan,
a bear Mike Carp, and little Hisashi Iwakuma, who is just the cutest little thing ever. And I don’t mean that in a creepy old lady cougar-ish sort of way, I mean it in the way I mean when I talk about kittens. Before they walked onto the dais, however, the stands were inundated with Japanese fans and press, ready to take pictures first and ask questions later in both Japanese and English. One small child even tried his hand at asking a question in English before it proved too much for him, and he resorted to Japanese; I applaud the effort, as his tiny bit of English was better than any amount of Japanese I will likely ever be able to muster up. Iwakuma (and the audience) were assisted by long-time translator Antony Suzuki. Iwakuma was asked at one point what he felt the difference between US and Japanese fans was, and his response was that he thought US fans were more enthusiastic. He may be in for a terribly rude awakening, but I am also guessing that this could have been Japanese manners in play. Whatever the case, he seems like a nice kid, and I hope his experience here is a good one.
Brendan Ryan was six different kinds of excited to be alive yesterday, and full of laughter and comedic responses to audience questions. I can’t remember the exact question (if someone who was there could help me out, that would be swell), but at one point, Ryan blew off the threat that it is being indicated that the Angels will now provide, causing cheers and applause from the fans in attendance. I wish I could remember exactly what was said, but the question and Ryan’s response took me by surprise, and I never bring note pads to these things. My point is that everyone was laughing, and that seemed to be the theme for the day. Ryan and Carp talked a little about who would hit the first dinger off Michael Pineda, mentioning that they were all still friends, but that Pineda’s new status on an opponent changed how they viewed that particular dynamic.
At this point, Su and my friend Robert and I went downstairs to maybe get a little warm, check out the Mariners Melee quiz that they hold every year, and check out the cooking demonstrations done by both the Field and team chefs every year. Field chef David Dekker of Centerplate was making small brisquet sandwiches for people, so I waited for one, and it was well worth the wait. Dekker talked about the improvements in food they were working on for this next year, and made it a point to mention the economy, and the fact that the organization made every attempt to give people the most bang for their buck food-wise. I wholeheartedly agree; even if the baseball is not what we want it to be sometimes, the food at Safeco never lets me down. Dekker also talked about his past and other people he had worked for, and kept things entertaining while his assistants doled out tiny sandwiches to the crowd. When his presentation was over, I went back upstairs to see some more talking and get some more photos.
Next up at Dugout Dialogue were Brandon League and Casper Wells. More audience questions and laughing, and jokes about other teams. Wells had several “save opportunities” during question time. A fan asked him about coming from New York, and whether or not he was a fan of east coast teams growing up. He said that yes, he had been a Yankees fan when he was young, but now they were the “enemy”, so things had changed. Whether or not they truly have we may never know, but it was the right thing to say to a group of Mariners fans, and more applause erupted. Wells seems comfortable here, and after watching his interaction with fans yesterday, I like him a lot better now than I did when he just appeared part-way through last season in our uniform.
After that, the final attraction of the day, Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker came up to talk about getting drafted and adjustment from college ball to starting to play with the professionals. They both seemed very articulate and comfortable, but oh so ridiculously young. At one point, Walker introduced his mother to the crowd. She was sitting in the stands and there is just no way she’s even as old as I am. She stood up and waved at people, perhaps a little shy to have been put on the spot, and Rick Rizzs made a comment that he thought that she was Walker’s sister. The audience murmured in agreement. She must be terribly proud of her son and his accomplishments, and of the possibilities that lie waiting for him. And for what it’s worth, the rest of us are, too.
After this part, Dugout Dialogue was over, so I walked up the stairs to the main concourse, and found my friend Patrick by the Everett Aquasox booth. He informed me that the Mariners Care booth had a Garrett Olson signed ball in it, and since I am a massive sucker for all things Garrett Olson, I went to find the booth and purchase the ball, a steal at ten bucks (plus, CHARITY!). Patrick and I strolled down the concourse through a thinning crowd, and stopped in front of this, which completely bummed me out:
Now, I’m not trying to forget Greg Halman, but the incident was something I had definitely come to terms with. It still resides in a little shelf on my brain where sad things live; they hang out there for recall purposes only, and the rest of my brain is pretty cool with that. It’s a segregationist situation, but it’s necessary for my sanity. Patrick and I chatted about the situation for a few moments, and then parted ways.
I went down to The Pen area, and discovered that while hot dogs are indeed delicious and FanFest-traditional for me, a torta from the Flying Turtle had been available all along, and a pint of beer could have also been had for $5, had I known that the entire area was open. I ran into S331 reader (I have them, I swear) and fellow fan Eric and his lady friend (whose name I cannot remember, I’m sorry – but she has lovely hair!) and we talked about the renovations at Cheney Stadium, and our hopes for Chone Figgins for 2012. Yeah, I know I said I gave up on Figgy a while ago, but as long as he’s here and not getting traded or causing trouble on the staff, I still support him as a player. There’s nothing I can do about any of it, so I might as well surf the tide rather than fighting the current. I had dinner with friends to take care of, and pants to dry off (it was way too wet for the hem of my leggings yesterday), so I parted ways with Safeco Field and headed back to my car.
That’s kind of a down note to end things on, isn’t it? I don’t mean to, so let’s change that a little. I have to say that the thing I noticed most about this year as opposed to last was the amount of laughing and smiling done by the players while talking about the upcoming season and their careers. Compared to last year, things seemed far more upbeat. I think that maybe last year, coming off the tragedy of losing Dave Niehaus, the staff’s heart just wasn’t quite in things; but this year is much different, and I really am looking forward to the season now. So instead of leaving the last photo as the final one in the series, I’ll leave you with the smiling face of Danny Hultzen, which perfectly sums up the way I felt after leaving the stadium yesterday:
LET’S GO MARINERS!