Initially I wasn’t going to write about my experience on opening night. If anyone who reads this was following me on Twitter last night, you probably saw me unleash a multi-Tweet tirade about what happened, and really that should be enough. But I feel I would be remiss if I just glossed over it all. Plus, before that, I was having a pretty good time, and a lot of fun using the new camera, and if I don’t write about it, it just wouldn’t feel true to me. I have cooled down a lot by this morning, but this post will likely sound as if I haven’t. I’d like to make it clear that I am not upset at the people I know who work there. I don’t know what happened exactly or how it could have been prevented, but this was my opening night…
I got out of work around 3PM, after getting up at 5AM to make it to work an hour early so I could flex my schedule. The last two hours of work were torturous. I just wanted to be at the game, say hi to some folks I knew, and get down to baseball. I met Tom at Temple Billiards, grabbed a beer, and soon enough people started filing in. Fellow Mariners enthusiast Paul Marsh and his brother in law and another friend showed up; I believe some of the Lookout Landing crew had planned to meet there around 5; but I couldn’t wait, I was excited to get to the game. So Tom and I finished our beers, and walked down Occidental to the stadium. The crowds weren’t really opening day crowds. We didn’t even have to wait in a line to get into The Pen entrance. Once inside, there were more people, but it was easy enough to grab another beer before their happy hour ended, chat with the concessions girl who works there and always recognizes me, and just take in the atmosphere. Neither of us knew what we wanted to eat yet, so we took our time, figuring maybe somewhere in the middle of the game we’d be hungry and go grab a bite. It was a risk I’m sorry I took.
As The Pen started to get more crowded, and it drew closer to 6.30 (and opening ceremonies), we grabbed the elevator up to the 300 section, and took some pictures, and enjoyed the weather. It was the first home opener where the roof was open in years. The sun was out, people seemed in high spirits, and I got a patriotic shot from over center field.
We strolled around the top deck towards our seating section, and stopped at a concession stand so I could get a hot dog and one last beer. I had been thinking over the past few days that I’d give the new sushi bar a shot, but figured there would be other days, and I just wanted to keep things simple. Tom and I stood in line for a while before I started to notice that all the registers had a little red laser-light blinking on them. This had happened downstairs too, but I didn’t see any signs or hear any conversations in passing that anything was wrong, so I kept waiting. When we got to the front of the line, we were told that the registers could not accept debit or credit cards, and that they were now cash only. Tom fortunately had a $20 in his wallet, and paid for two beers. I put the dog off, thinking we’d wait a few innings and by that time their problems would be fixed.
We found our seats, got settled, and I started taking a bunch of photos to get used to the action of my camera. The opening ceremonies were similar to previous years, but it didn’t matter. I was at a baseball game, I was excited about it, and let’s play ball! They did their red carpet run, where the players come out of the center field gates with fireworks and, this year, a song I really love. This last bit is important, because sports venues rarely play music I like, so seeing all of this happen to a current favorite was starting to make for the perfect evening.
Just prior to the National Anthem, though, there was a moment of silence for Frank Mattox and Greg Halman. In the moment, I had completely forgotten about this, and it took me by surprise. I stood there and sniffled for a few moments, and Tom put his arm around my shoulder, which only made it worse.Tom’s not a sports guy, but he knows how much it means to me.
If it is one thing the Mariners organization really does excel at, it’s pre-game program time flow. They followed up a sad moment with two happy ones; a young Make-A-Wish girl whose cancer is in remission taking her turn – in full Mariners gear – to run around the bases, and Mike Cameron’s return to Seattle to throw out the first pitch, and announce his retirement as a Mariner.
The lineup was announced again as they took their places on the field to the strains of (if I remember correctly) Nirvana, everyone cheers and freaks out over Felix, we take our seats and it’s game on.
After the second inning, I realized that hunger was starting to get the best of me, and what I really wanted was just some good old-fashioned stadium junk food. A dog, maybe a soft pretzel or a corn dog or something. So we left our seats, and this was the last picture I took from them, thinking that I would be able to get more shots from elsewhere in the field…right?
So we wandered around the top deck towards left field and the Lookout Landing. The lines and crowds seemed strange. People didn’t look particularly happy, for being at a ball park, and the lines were long, like really long, with big crowds of people blocking the walking traffic flow. But still, there was nothing out of the ordinary, really, not that I noticed. We made it to the Lookout Landing Lounge, a new feature of the park. I noticed a girl with a little cardboard bowl of corn dog bites. Perfect! I would eat my baby corn dogs, and take some pictures of the field and the sunset – everything was going to be just fine.
And we waited in line. And waited. And waited. After a good 10 minutes of not really moving much, I realized that the cashiers were just standing behind their machines, looking at the crowd, and that only one person was taking money from anyone. So I decided to ask “Is everyone cash only?” The girl nodded at me, explaining that the machines were down. At this point in time, this was not a problem; I would simply go down to the BECU machine on the main concourse over left center field, take out some cash and go get food. Right? Tom followed me down the stairs, and we pushed our way through an increasingly large and irate crowd, past the King’s Court section (which I hear was just terrible when people who were sitting there were trying to get their shirts), and to the BECU machine. In back of at least 30 other people. We stood there and listened to the drunk guys in front of us talk about it like it was some kind of conspiracy (“This is how they make their money, man!” *insert straight face from me* The school system and simple economics has failed you, sir), before deciding that maybe the ATMs outside would be a better option. We went down the stairs, and tried to get out the door at the bottom of the stairs, but were stopped by an older gentleman in a Mariners NW green jacket, who told us that we couldn’t leave through that door. The open door he was just standing next to. He instructed us to go towards the entrance to The Pen, so we pushed our way slowly through more people…and found it locked, with no guards or any indication that we could leave. I attempted to talk to a fellow who was letting a couple of police officers, and told him we just wanted out, that was it. He apologized and said he couldn’t let us out. A man in charge of a door couldn’t let us out of a ball park.
Growing increasingly frustrated, we went back up the stairs, and back towards through the mess of people waiting in line for Grounders and to get back to the King’s Court seats, trying to cross an impossible crowd of people. I am probably not conveying exactly how bad the crowd situation was. I have been to less crowded mosh pits at sold out Henry Rollins shows than the group of people I was in last night. If there had been a fire or emergency of any kind, people would have been trampled to death – and I don’t say stuff like that lightly. It was a disaster.
Still, I was not giving up. I had waited through winter for this night, and I wasn’t going to let the failings of a few registers mess things up for me. So we were patient – or rather, I was patient, Tom had just about had enough of everything – and figured we’d go out of the building via another set of stairs in the left field area. We walked down these stairs, and were confronted by two NW green-jacketed employees, who told us we couldn’t get out of those doors, either…
I want to make it absolutely crystal clear that nowhere, NOWHERE, were there any signs or indications that this was the case. I also want to make it clear that these two employees treated us as if we were idiots for even thinking we could walk out of that door of the stadium.
By now, I had the start of a headache related to both stress and a lack of dinner, and I looked at Tom and said “Let’s go.” He stopped me and asked if I was sure, and I said yes. Even if we were able to get money, or food, we would miss the entire game in the time it would take us to acquire both of these things. It was then that Tom noticed a cardboard, handwritten sign on a nearby coffee stand, mentioning that the registers were down. This is where I make another thing completely clear – this was the ONLY sign we saw regarding the register situation. There were no signs anywhere, no announcement made over the PA (which would have been the smart thing to do, if you’re becoming a cash-only establishment for a few hours, quite suddenly), no alerts or notices about anything. And people were leaving the left field entrance in droves. I was one of them. My one last thought as we left was trying to get some cash out of the ATM outside and maybe go grab a dog from one of the street vendors; but the line outside was also growing in length, and I had to draw a line somewhere.
We stormed out of the stadium, with me vocalizing my frustration all the way back to the car (and Tom listening, bless him). We wound up coming home and ordering pizza (not nearly as delicious as corn dog bites), and watching the Mariners on TV, lose 4-0 to the Oakland A’s. I’m not even going to go into what looked like some really miserable concessions people, who I also felt sorry for, having to deal with what was undoubtedly a furious crowd. But not one of those concessions people thought to make a sign or use the talking microphone method of getting the word out – and that is just bad.
I don’t know what happened here. I vaguely remember something similar happening last year, but it didn’t last long. And I know I’m not the only one who had this experience. I was just the most vocal, and I have a Twitter account. What I do know is that it will make me think twice about going next year. Why subject myself to that kind of madness when I can invite a few friends over, grill my own hot dogs, and get food from my own kitchen and walk out my own door if I need to without being given the kind of attitude that I got, I feel I need to reiterate, for trying to leave the stadium? And if the Mariners keep playing 4-0 games I might have to think twice about my season ticket holder status, which completely bums me out.
I am normally the biggest pro-Mariners person you know. I defend my team, I love my team, I want to see them and the organization that puts them in front of me succeed, absolutely, undeniably, unquestionably. But this experience and the game it hovered around was just awful.
It is now time for me to go to work. I hope others had a better night last night than I did. I will be watching tonight’s game from the safety and comfort of my own living room, with concessions from our grill and refrigerator. And I hope my next post will be happier than this one.