ALL STAR GAMES: 2001
Like Clevelanders, residents of Seattle had every reason to look askance on funding yet another gold-plated sports facility, given the costly, mediocre venue that the Kingdome turned out to be. Safeco Field cost over a half billion dollars to build, at the time one of the most expensive stadiums ever. Nevertheless, it has earned the reputation of being one of the better of the neoclassical stadiums, and it may be the best of the ones with retractable roofs. Its roof design strongly influenced the design of Marlins Park, built 13 years later. Built just as the Mariners were achieving top-rank status for the first time, Safeco Field has been filled to capacity on many occasions, and remains very popular. Shielding the game from the frequent Northwest rains, yet affording a wonderful view of the "the bluest skies you've ever seen" on good days -- and sometimes Mount Rainier itself -- it is a perfect match of aesthetics, tradition, and modern conveniences.
Safeco Field is located just south of the Seahawks' new football stadium, Century Link Field, which occupies the same site where the Kingdome used to be. The main roofs on both stadiums' are suspended with the same kind of massive arch; there are four such arches atop Safeco Field. The telescoping roof sections are tucked above the east (right field) side of the stadium when it is open. Immediately in back of that side are the train tracks, and blaring train horns are often heard during games.
The outfield walls do have a few interesting angles, but overall there is less asymmetry here than in other recent stadiums. The power alleys are slightly deeper than average, but otherwise not much distinguishes the playing field itself. Foul territory is slightly above average size compared to other neoclassical stadiums. The seating areas include two elevated bleacher sections (with bench seats), one perched above the bullpens behind the left field fence and one looming above center field, situated at a skewed angle. In addition to the huge retractable roof, there is a roof providing shade for most of the upper deck. It might seem superfluous, but in fact serves a useful purpose, since it is seldom very cloudy in the Northwest for most of the summer. The glass back side behind the uppermost row keeps the fan noise focused toward the field, accentuating the home field advantage.
Like other neoclassical stadiums built in the 1990s, a time of soaring economic optimism, Safeco Field has proven to be too big for the regional fan base. With three decks that wrap around two-thirds of the field (except in right field, where a glass-enclosed restaurant replaces the second deck), there are usually several empty sections in the upper deck. A capacity reduction similar to what has been done in Denver (Coors Field) and what is being done in Cleveland (Progressive Field) is probably in order.
Ironically, the Mariners let go of some of their biggest stars at about the same time they moved into their new home: Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey Jr. It was amazing that the Mariners remained competitive in the early 2000s, and this was thanks to players like Bret Boone and Edgar Martinez, who have since retired. In later years, megastar Ichiro Suzuki led the team's pursuit of the American League West crown, but he was traded to the Yankees in 2012. The Mariners have yet to attain another postseason berth.
Safeco Field hosted the first Seattle Bowl (formerly the Oahu Bowl), held on December 27, 2001, when Georgia Tech beat Stanford. (The second Seattle Bowl was held a year later in brand-new Seahawks Stadium, and then it apparently folded.) Together with AT&T Park and Chase Field, that makes three neoclassical-retro stadiums that have hosted football games. Weird! Another anomaly: On June 24-26, 2011 the Mariners were scheduled to host the Marlins in an interleague series, but the games were displaced by a U2 concert at Sun Life Stadium, so they played in Safeco Field instead, with the Mariners as the "visiting" team.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Pastier (2009), Rosen (2001), Google Earth
FAN TIPS: Brandon Henderson, Bob Williams, Bruce Orser