erik lundegaard

Celebrating the Tradition at Safeco Field

It’s a long walk back to First Hill from Safeco Field—two miles according to Google maps, uphill mostly, a little more than half an hour usually—but last night, after the Mariners 3-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox, it seemed longer than usual.

It’s not just that our starting pitcher, rookie Michael Pineda, struck out eight in 6 innings and gave up only three hits, all singles, but left the game down 2-0. It’s not just that the only three hits for the M’s included an infield single by Ichiro that should’ve been scored E5 and an excuse-me double by Miguel Olivo, nor that our last two innings contained no loft of hope (strikeout, strikeout, groundout/ groundout, groundout, strikeout), nor that rookie sensation Dustin Ackley looked less than sensational while the starting lineup included only three guys from our opening day lineup (Ichiro, Olivo, Ryan) way back on April 1st, April Fools Day, when we beat the A’s 6-2. In fact, I like that last fact. I like the team going young. I’ve been urging it on M’s management since 2004.

No, what’s depressing is that disconnect between the sketchy world outside Safeco and the false cheer within Safeco. You walk down James Street and through Occidental Park, with its homage to fallen firefighters, and are eyed by the men on the sidelines, the homeless, as if you might be their last meal, then past King Street onto Occidental Avenue, where you’re accosted by the scalpers, hoping to sell, hoping to buy, and you wonder why the two groups, buyers and sellers, don’t get together; but then you assume they do: that the men wishing to buy are with the guys pushing to sell, and you wonder what the profit margin for such an enterprise could possibly be. Who, these days, would buy an M’s ticket for more than face value? And you look around at the vendors urging fatty foods on fatty people and hawking jersey T-shirts with ... whose name? Who’s left? Ichiro, sure, and Ackley, yes, and is it too early to get a Mike Carp or a Trayvon Robinson? Is it too late to get a Justin Smoak? How reduced is that Chone Figgins M’s jersey? In what landfill did the Bradley and Bedard and Fister jerseys wind up? And you look at the sign advertising upcoming concerts at WaMu Theater at CenturyLink Field, which used to be Qwest Field, which used to be Seahawks Stadium, which was paid for with mostly public money, $360 million, but is now named after a private company you didn’t know existed until this year. But at least this crappily named theater is offering the equivalent, crappy concerts, haggard noisemakers (Iron Maiden) and a teenage provocateur so talentless it makes you fear for the younger generation (Ke$ha).

Inside it should be better, it should be clean, but they push false, family-friendly cheer on you until you want to puke. Here are the ballgirls. Here’s Timmy with the rosin bag. Here’s Susie announcing “Play ball!” Here is all the between-innings crap, the bloopers and hydro races and “Find the ball under the M’s cap” shite that keeps your mind off the lousy team and the lousy area and keeps you “entertained,” and thus passive; and since you are so passive, here are your scoreboard cues for the game itself, admonitions to “Put your hands together” and “Make noise” and “LOUDER,” and it works, you passive Pavlovian idiots, you actually make noise when you’re told.

But then you’re at the game, most of you, not for the game but for the freebie before the game, the bobblehead doll made in the image of a fictional creation, Larry Bernandez, a lame gag from a TV commercial in which it’s implied that Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez loves to pitch so much that on off days he puts on a wig and glasses and muttonchops and pretends to be “Larry Bernandez.” This is what Mariners fans, who once had Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer and Jay Buhner on the same team, this is what they hold onto this year: Larry Bernandez. Of course it's not that Felix Hernandez loves to pitch; it’s that M’s PR people have so little to pitch. So they pitch him. He’s not a pitcher, he’s the pitchee. A curve ball that misses the plate by a mile. M’s fans swing anyway.

You sit with a couple of these dullards, people who make more noise for the hydro races—screaming “Green!”—than they do for the team, and who crow about getting a Larry Bernandez bobblehead from Larry Bernandez himself. He looks normal at first, this fan, maybe someone you can actually talk baseball with; but that’s before he begins babbling about bobbleheads and you notice the shopping bag full of them, and you know, no, not this guy. Meanwhile, four rows behind you, four boys, late teens or early twenties, hold up their homemade signs, one of which reads, “Who’s goin’ to DREAMGIRLS after the game?,” and that may have been the most depressing sign of all. Dreamgirls is a gentleman’s club that recently opened a half a block from Edgar Martinez Drive, where men-without-women go to watch women-they-can’t-have undulate. And you wonder what’s more depressing: that these boys are proud that they are without women; or that they agree to shill for Dreamgirls for nothing. Unless they’re plants. Which would be sadder still. A fake leer insinuating itself within the fake smile of the stadium. Even our libidoes are false.

So you hope for something clean to wash away all of this—a clean single, a clean double, a clean homer—but the M’s can’t even manage a dirty run. It’s a pitcher’s night, like most nights at Safeco, where even the White Sox three runs are dirty, full of infield and bloop singles, and homeruns that barely escape the park, but you stay to the end, the dirty end, hoping for something clean that never comes. And as you and your girl leave by the left-field gate you notice the signs, the latest PR campaign, the “Celebrate the Tradition” banners all along the entryways. They're filled with shots from the 1995 and 2001 seasons, winning seasons, but you know the true Mariners tradition—how it took 15 years before they even had a winning season; how the M’s are one of two teams who have never even been to a World Series; and how for the last two years they’ve been last in every major offensive category in the Major Leagues—and you find your friend Mike, who works the left-field gate, and who’s been a hapless M’s fan since ’77, and you point back at the “Celebrate the Tradition” banners and say, “I believe we just did,” before escaping into the night.

Safeco Field, August 27, 2011

Celebrate the Tradition.


Posted at 11:07 AM on Sun. Aug 28, 2011 in category Seattle Mariners, Baseball  
Tags: ,

COMMENTS

Bob Lundegaard wrote:

I had the bad fortune to see two Twins games this past week, which may have been the worst seven days in club history. A run in each game against the league-worst Orioles' pitching staff. Someone asked me how we could lose to the worst team in baseball. “Second worst, ” I corrected. He laughed and agreed (and we weren't talking about the Mariners.)

Yeah, I miss the days when fans' rally claps were spontaneous, not orchestrated. What really ticked me off was when a Tiger struck out on what I thought was a change-up, but when I looked for the scoreboard area that flashes (and I mean flashes) pitch speeds, instead there was a screaming banner that read STRIKEOUT!!

Hey, you morons, I know what a strikeout is. But by the time it stopped flashing, the pitch speed was gone. In fact, never appeared.

Comment posted on Sun. Aug 28, 2011 at 11:53 AM

Erik wrote:

They don't pitch the games to you and me, Dad. We're baseball fans. Why pitch baseball to baseball fans? They need to go for the others who won't normally take in a game. They need to sell them something besides baseball. And they do: bobbleheads and bloopers and hydroraces. And a tradition that isn't a tradition — or isn't the tradition they claim it to be.

Comment posted on Sun. Aug 28, 2011 at 12:20 PM

Erik wrote:

Target Field also has a greater sense of baseball history, and Twins baseball history, than Safeco. The Twins are lying to you less than the Mariners are.

On the plus side (for the M's), we now have a GM who's smarter than the Twins GM. For most of the 2000s, we couldn't say that.

Comment posted on Sun. Aug 28, 2011 at 12:23 PM

Mister B wrote:

One thing I've noticed during my travels to 39 ballparks — the “gimcracks” are a league-wide trend (except maybe at Wrigley and — for the most part — Fenway). Every stadium has a shell game. Every stadium has something like a hydro race. In Coors, it was a race between three animated garbage trucks. Most of them do music trivia (or baseball trivia) segments.

The Cardinals just had a Willie McGee bobblehead night. Is it less goofy for them to do it because they've been to — and won — a few World Series? When was the last time he played for them?

Should the Mariners not do anything of these things because they haven't been to a World Series? Hell, even the Yankees did goofy things between innings when we saw them in 1996 and 2000.

The Mariners need to add more photos to their “Celebrate the Tradition” banners? There are only three seasons covered in those photos — 1995, 2001, and 2004 (Ichiro breaking Sisler's record — and it wasn't a winning season). They need photos of Griffey, Buhner, Moyer, Perry, Ruppert Jones and Alvin Davis up there. If this is all we have, let's see more of what passes for highlights.

In the new bullpen area, there are big graphic things on the walls for guys like Sasaki, Charlton, Moyer, Randy Johnson, and Felix Hernandez. It IS kinda depressing when I see Moyer's 130 wins and realize that's the franchise record at this point, but if that's the best, that's the best.

Down in the tunnel — from the Diamond Club to the Mariners clubhouse — there's a new paint job along one wall with head shots of Mariners like Ibanez, Reynolds, and several other bigger names (none would be a surprise). Seems like a start to me and probably the best they could do at this point.

The Mariners also need to start retiring some numbers. If they're waiting for a World Series appearance to start doing it, it could be a while.

The Mariners are doing what almost every other team does — and I agree that almost all of it is directed at the casual fan. They just don't have the World Series appearances to justify it, I suppose.

I'm almost wondering if the Cubs and Red Sox don't do a lot of these things because their parks just aren't built for them. Wasn't the third-oldest ballpark (Dodger Stadium?) built 50 years later than those two? :)

Comment posted on Mon. Aug 29, 2011 at 12:07 AM

Mister B wrote:

There shouldn't be a question mark after “banners” at the beginning of the fourth paragraph. I was on a roll. :)

Comment posted on Mon. Aug 29, 2011 at 12:08 AM

Erik wrote:

Mike:

1) Willie McGee is a real person, a real player, so yes that's better. I stand by the complaint. If the Mariners don't have a legacy player left to create a bobblehead for, it's probably because their legacy sucks.

2) The problem with the “Celebrate the Tradition” banners is not the pictures chosen; it's the lie. They're implying that the tradition is winning. But that's the anomaly, not the tradition. You know that better than anyone. I'm just sick of the lies, all of them. You can't pretend the team isn't what it is.

3) Because everybody does it doesn't make it right. My criticism is baseball-wide but focuses on the Mariners because that's the team I go see. And it still feels like the Mariners focus on the non-fan more than teams in other cities. Maybe the “Celebrate the tradition” banners should feature hydro races and “ball under the cap” games and rallytime videos? Maybe they should feature the Mariner Moose and bad dancing? Maybe we should have a bobblehead of the bad dancing guy?

Just quit the lies.

Comment posted on Mon. Aug 29, 2011 at 07:33 AM

Erik wrote:

4) It was Chicago so why not have Omar Vizquel bobblehead night? He's with the ChiSox. And if he wasn't, if he'd retired by then, I'm sure you could get him to the park that night. And if he wasn't, so what? But they wouldn't do this. It would remind fans with a brain — as if fans with a brain need reminding — that we gave up on him at the end of '93, after which he won 10 Gold Gloves and accumulated something like 2500 hits.

Now THAT'S the Mariners tradition. Celebrate it.

Comment posted on Mon. Aug 29, 2011 at 07:35 AM

Mister B wrote:

Personally, I was surprised when I first saw those “Tradition” banners for the very reasons you've mentioned. After all, four seasons of playoffs out of 35 seasons total isn't much of a tradition by anyone's stretch of the imagination.

Eventually, though, if they're going to do it, why stop at those six scenes from just three seasons. If they're really going to show us a tradition, show us more of it. There are photos of more Mariners in the tunnel than there are where fans can see them. Who are those photos for? Present and future players? Hoping future players live up to the standards of Alvin Davis (seven seasons, 160 homers) and Harold Reynolds (10 seasons, 17 HRs, 228 SBs)?

And I didn't say almost everyone does it to justify why we do it so much as I meant that almost every team does it and almost every team has been to — and won — a World Series. Every team has casual fans and every team tries to bring those fans out to the ballpark. Winning and tradition, however, just leaves less room for the casual fan at the ballpark, I suppose.

And these goofy things that go on during the game aren't happening at just baseball games. I can't believe all of the noise and visual distractions that go on at NFL games that have nothing to do with football. They play a hip-hop song before every kickoff. There are ads on the big screens with the replays. There's an animated four-car race through Seattle (one of them gets captured by the Fremont Troll). There's an updated, shortened version of Bruce Channel's “Hey Baby” played during a time-out in every fourth-quarter period. What's that song there for?

When we had an NBA team, the noise was non-stop during every single break of even just a few seconds. Part of a song. Audio noise trying to get people to make more noise of their own. A loud ad on the scoreboard screen hanging over the court.

It seems like the only way people can escape the increased audio-visual distractions to watch ANY sports these days is to stay home and watch the game on TV (or hear it on the radio) and tune out during the commercials.

For the love of all that is holy, when we were at SkyDome in 2000, Texas 2B Frank Catalanotto flew out to Shannon Stewart and the PA system blared “Yabba Dabba Doo!” (and there were two more times that bit was heard during the game). On three other occasions, (again, while Toronto was in the field) the Austin Powers audio clip “Yeah, Baby!” was played.

During the fourth inning (and they did this in Cincinnati when we there), they blasted hot dogs into the stands. If only someone could blast food in the general direction of starving countries. Toronto had already won their World Series by this time and Cincinnati has won quite a few of their own.

In 2001, when we were in Pittsburgh at PNC Park, they had a hat shuffle and a Pierogie Race (modeled after Milwaukee's sausage race). The Pirates have a tradition. They haven't won anything in 20 years, but they have a tradition.

Why do any of these teams (granted, Toronto is relatively new, but Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have been around forever) have to do these things — and they were doing them 10 years ago?

I had to go through my 2000 scorebook to find these things and I noticed something ironic. The only stadium we went to that didn't do any goofy things was Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

And where's that team now? :)

Comment posted on Thu. Sep 01, 2011 at 12:05 PM

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