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Safeco dressed to the nines.

Byline: Steve Mims The Register-Guard

SEATTLE - It's Saturday night, perhaps the nicest Saturday night of the summer here, and the hottest bar in town is an outdoor, two-level section of center field.

The Bullpen Pub, located 395 feet from home plate, can hardly hold the couple of hundred fans who have ditched their seats at Safeco Field to see and be seen on an 87-degree evening.

Sunglasses and cell phones are the required attire for this destination, which features many of the city's beautiful people. Beers are expensive - $5.50 to $7.25 - but hardly anyone stands around empty-handed.

This is the place for the hip crowd in town to hang out, and hardly a soul is paying attention to the nearby baseball game.

Directly above the pub is the Children's Hospital Playfield. Think Papa's Pizza playland times three with a baseball decor.

Kids are packed in line waiting to climb, roll and slide throughout the fun zone. Televisions let parents keep an eye on the game while their kids run around the baseball diamond-shaped carpet.

The kids don't see the adults roaming below in the pub, and the bar patrons pay no attention to the childish activity going on above.

Welcome to baseball's most-populous ballpark, where there is plenty to see and do for people of all ages.

Baseball fans in this town remind you of Portland Trail Blazers fans in the early 1990s.

The players are heroes throughout the city and known simply by first names or nicknames. There's Ichiro, Edgar, Boonie, Freddie and the rest of the gang.

The fans don't boo their beloved Mariners, and often cheer a nice defensive effort even if it doesn't result in an out. Every batter gets applause, ranging from an ovation for Ichiro to a subdued welcome for catcher Ben Davis.

Like the Blazers of a decade ago, the Mariners have won a lot of games in recent years and claimed division championships, but have not yet claimed a world championship.

The stark difference between those Portland basketball fans and the Seattle baseball fans is that the Blazers played in worn-out Memorial Coliseum during their glory days. The Mariners are celebrating the four-year anniversary of Safeco on Tuesday, and the 47,447-seat stadium seems to become a more popular attraction every year.

Last year, Seattle led the majors in total attendance for the second straight season as 3,540,482 fans entered Safeco.

Seattle is home to intelligent baseball fans who know the game, and it's no surprise when you take a look around the ballpark. Fans can seemingly get as much information as their team's broadcast crew throughout the game.

There is play-by-play of each inning on one scoreboard, and a pitch-count for each pitcher with the speed of each pitch on another board. Complete lineups are left on the center-field scoreboard throughout the game with in-depth statistics on each hitter as well as what he did in previous at-bats.

An out-of-town scoreboard constantly updates the scores of other major-league games. Broadcasts of the game are shown on televisions in many of the covered seating areas.

Food is everywhere, and everything has a baseball theme. You can eat at the Intentional Wok and High Cheese Pizza, or grab some coffee at Grounds Crew Espresso.

Action on the field begins with the Mariners' batting practice before fans can even get inside the gates. A crowd gathers outside the stadium well before fans are let in two hours before game time, and once inside the park it is a mad dash toward the home dugout.

On this particular Saturday, San Diego's Ryan Klesko was hitting home runs in batting practice as Padres manager Bruce Bochy chatted behind the batting cage with Mariners Mark McLemore and Arthur Rhodes, while broadcaster Dave Henderson listened in.

When the conversation ended, McLemore started making his way toward the dugout as the fans applauded. The Mariners utility player climbed up on the dugout and signed autographs for a half-hour as hundreds of fans, young and old, brought down memorabilia.

Meanwhile, another line formed outside the Hit It Here Cafe, as nearly 60 fans filled a hallway that features photos of Reggie Jackson, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays.

The crowd is somewhat smaller than normal because this is not a night for indoor dining. It's the kind of night when the thought of a retractable roof seems silly, and the 22-million-pound structure certainly won't move from its setting above the train tracks east of the field for this game.

One of the more intriguing areas of Safeco is the bullpen, located a few yards west of the Bullpen Pub. It has the look of a pitching zoo, as fans can get an up-close look at the relief pitchers but are kept at bay by a chain fence.

The opportunity to get within shouting distance of major-league millionaires brings out the hecklers.

"You're rattled, Hackman," one fan yells at Padres reliever Luther Hackman. "I can't wait for you to get in and blow it."

Hackman holds his hand to his ear as a sign that he can't make out the words. Veteran relievers like Rod Beck and Jesse Orosco, meanwhile, have seen it all during their decades in the big leagues, and pay no attention to the onlookers.

Not even the three attractive and scantily-clad young ladies who stroll by the pen. Hackman may turn a deaf ear to some fans, but he certainly notices the trio of beauties who have called out his name as they walk toward the nearby pub.

There they join the rest of Seattle's hip crowd at the trendiest night spot in town, Safeco Field.


Seattle Mariners fans these days are reminiscent of Portland Trail Blazers fans of old in their enthusiasm, either cheering for a hometown star or a visitor's hustle.
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Title Annotation:Seattle's Safeco Field features amenities to suit just about any baseball fan; Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 13, 2003
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