For the Mariners and their fans, Niehaus tributes provide a much-needed distraction

With a 12-3 loss to Cleveland, the worst home opener ever at Safeco Field, the night was all about white-shoe-wearing and Diamond-Vision tributes to the late, beloved announcer.

With a 12-3 loss to Cleveland, the worst home opener ever at Safeco Field, the night was all about white-shoe-wearing and Diamond-Vision tributes to the late, beloved announcer.

When you’ve lost four straight, playing 2-4 major-league baseball while amassing all of two home runs during 54 innings, what’s the strategy?

That’s easy: Change the subject, as Seattle Mariners management gamely did Friday night (April 8) when the 2011 home season came into being at Safeco Field.

Hours before the game, a stretch of barely navigable road west of Safeco was named for Dave Niehaus, the departed patriarch and chronicler of the franchise since the first pitch was tossed (and first loss recorded) April 6, 1977. The Niehaus appreciation proceeded through pregame ceremonies. Fans had been asked to sport white shoes as a show of street-level solidarity (sole-idarity?) for the franchise and its bygone announcer, known on occasion to affect stylishness with blindingly bright footwear.

The white-shoe promotion evidently missed the attention of Mariners management types. The guys largely responsible for last year’s 61-101 club were, ahem, better-heeled for the occasion, their dark oxfords in sharp contrast to the whites worn by many fans. M’s players also booted the sartorial call — along with the ballgame: 12-3, the worst home-opener loss at Safeco.

Because it was the local season premiere, the game against Cleveland was the inevitable occasion to recall last year’s achievements of the home team’s two stars. Ichiro Suzuki collected his perennial Gold Glove award with an acknowledgement by Edgar Martinez of Ich having eclipsed the M’s storied designated hitter as the club’s all-time best at batting success. Felix Hernandez then accepted for perhaps the last time in public his richly deserved Cy Young Award from the 2010 campaign.

Following all this was an Oscar-night-style Diamond Vision recollection of baseball-connected luminaries who succumbed during recent months. Niehaus, of course, was last to be noted. His screen visage precipitated — get this — a rap appreciation (with inexplicable chamber-music ensemble, yet). The ensuing cacophony and choreographic excess was such that perhaps it’s just as well poor Niehaus never had to see it.

Baseball then was played, much better by Cleveland. The visitors inflicted a 10-run fourth inning on their hosts in an assault that had scorekeepers scrambling to count up the hits and total bases. The flood of runs swamped the M’s nominal best lefty, Jason Vargas, and doused what passed for fan enthusiasm.

Seattle has had an unexpected advantage this nascent season. The M’s, that is, still are not technically the worst team in the American League. As Saturday dawned, both Tampa Bay and, improbably, Boston were 1-6. By that measure the M’s after week one may have seemed playoff-bound — unless you dared take a peek at Seattle’s dubious first-week stats on offense and defense.

As to the latter: A pair of early errors by Jack Wilson at second base Wednesday in Texas prompted a he said/he said early-season clubhouse controversy. The converted second-sacker had claimed that manager Eric Wedge, after the costly errors, removed the veteran shortstop from the Wednesday lineup. On Friday Wedge insisted that Wilson had taken himself out of the game.

In any case, Adam Kennedy played the position against Cleveland and — ta-dah! — had a hit and no errors.

The rest of the club’s numbers still looked suspect Saturday morning, when the M’s awoke 2-5. Friday they had tallied a token couple of ninth-inning runs but by then a lot of white shoes had trundled off into the wintry night.

Anyway, the season is young. If you’re looking for reasons not to go to Safeco, transportation to the construction-cluttered sports district doesn’t have to be among them. I took the 24/19 Metro out of Magnolia Friday and 40 minutes later had transferred to my swivel chair in the M’s press box. A 15-buck cab ride home is less than what I would have paid for parking.

The six-game home stand proceeds through a Wednesday matinee with Toronto. If you went to every game you’d be able to come home with a garage-sale array of promotional gewgaws, including Saturday’s inevitable Felix Cy Young bobblehead — all that and by Wednesday the Ms (not to change the subject again) might leave town at 2-10.


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