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Enjoying a ballgame by averting your eyes

Mariners are still a loser, but the food's getting better out in the cheap seats. Go early, leave early, and bring along some diversionary entertainment.

Fond memories at Safeco Field.

Fond memories at Safeco Field. Sue Frause

I’m a fairweather fan when it comes to the Mariners. Not that Seattle’s baseball team has to be victorious all the time, but I tend to develop a bit more interest when they’re in the win column. I was at Game 5 of the American League Division Series with my 15-year-old son back in ‘95 when Griffey scored that legendary winning run. Who could forget the celebratory dogpile scene, and the photo with a beaming Junior that continues to circulate around the sports world? Ah, sweet victory! We honked and hooted our way through the streets of Seattle following the game, sunroof and windows wide open. Being a winner felt somehow strange, but oh so good.

So when the scoreboard read 9-0 after six innings of play at the Mariners-White Sox game on Sunday afternoon (four of Chicago’s runs being a result of a gut-busting grand salami), I was feeling pretty glum. Although the Seattle boys perked up a bit in the last three innings, earning three runs by game’s end, Seattle lost 9-3 and the Mariners remained in the cellar of the AL West.

Prior to the game, I hadn’t been to Safeco Field for a couple of seasons. Our quartet of $42 seats, not including tax and convenience charge, were in Section 188, Row 22, across the field from a new venue called The ‘Pen. The area is located in left and center fields, adjacent to the Mariners’ and visitors’ bullpens, and was completely overhauled during the offseason. Once dark and uninviting, it’s now bright and spacious, and includes a fire pit (s’mores, anyone?), libation lounges, and some pretty cool food offerings. Best of all, the chain link fences have been removed behind the bull pens, and there are unobstructed views out to the field. It's a good place for watching batting practice, since the gates to The Pen open 2.5 hours before game time, 30 minutes before all the others.

Four new “anti-fast food” concession stands are also located in The Pen: Ethan Stowell’s Hamburg + Frites and La Creperie; Bill Pustari’s New Haven-style pizza at Apizza; and Roberto Santibanez’s Tortugas Voladoras (Flying Turtle Cantina), featuring authentic Mexican style sandwiches. While the rest of our baseball party chowed down on Stowell’s burgers and fries (made with Northwest grass-fed beef and Tillamook cheddar cheese) prior to the opening pitch, I wasn’t all that hungry, opting for an unsalted pretzel and a Bud Light somewhere around the fifth inning.

The other big change since my last visit to the Safe was no Dave Niehaus. The Mariners’ longtime play by play announcer, who died of a heart attack on Nov. 10, 2010 at the age of 75, was nowhere to be heard, although there were a couple of signs placed in his honor, including My Oh My! out in center field.

But something else had changed, too. For the first time, I noticed young Mariners’ fans not watching the game on the field, but the one in their hands. Seated in front of us were a dad and two young kids, who appeared to be brother and sister. The siblings were outfitted in M’s shirts, but instead of baseball gloves, they were packin’ portable video games. With their little necks in the downward duck position, they hunched over their respective Nintendo DS’s — pink for her, black for him.

OK, so it wasn’t the memory I have as a child, clutching my dad’s hand tightly as we made our way to the cheap bleacher seats at Sick’s Stadium to watch the Seattle Rainiers. But their dad seemed cool with it, interacting with them now and again, as the techno-tykes continued to do what you do with those games that I’ve never played and will never understand. Plus, he was busy on his Blackberry — most likely tweeting the score to his thousands of Twitter followers and posting status updates to his hundreds of Facebook friends.


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