Safeco Fences, From Another Point of View

As I stand in the outfield at Safeco Field, I look from foul pole to foul pole, from left field to right field. There’s a light breeze blowing in from left, a touch of salty sea air that contrasts nicely with the sweet smell of freshly-mown grass. It’s quiet, though the sounds of trains and traffic echo in the distance. I walk slowly towards the right field foul pole, thinking that a future hall of famer has spent most of the last 12 years running through this same grass. As I approach the foul line, the bright yellow number “326” looms large at the top of the wall. Is this year the last time that number will grace her?

“I’m told, that I was purposely built here, to make Ken Griffey, Jr. happy,” says Right-Field as she sits on her back porch, her two daughters swinging happily on their swing-set. Both girls look like their mother, dark green skin, with a bright yellow top, their foul poles reaching to the sky. “It’s funny, I only saw him for a couple of months before he left. It was really disappointing.” I nod thoughtfully, as it seems she has more she wants to say. “When Ichiro showed up I was excited, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect.” She pauses. “That’s not true,” she says. “I had expectations, but they were so far from what actually happened that I don’t even remember what they were now.” She stops again, smiles, and waves to her girls, their grins matching their mother’s. “We’re happy here, you know. I’m not sure how I feel about moving. The kids are in good schools, we’ve got lots of friends. I’m not sure I’m ready to start over.” I ask her if she’s thought about the increase in offense that might come from moving in a bit. “Sure I’ve thought about it, who hasn’t? Still…” She pauses, again. “With this year maybe being Ichiro’s last year, I’m not sure what to think. Things are going to change whether we want them to or not. I just don’t know if I can handle moving on top of everything else.” She looks from her porch, across the way to Center-Field. “You might want to ask him, he’s not tied down the way I am.” She smiles at this though, and I can tell that she’d rather be “tied down” with those two girls than be anywhere else.

I stroll along the warning track towards center field, the right field foul pole slowly receding behind me. I pass the 385 sign, the 405, and finally come to 388. It doesn’t look that much farther from home plate, but tell that to Justin Smoak, Adrian Beltre, or Franklin Gutierrez. This is where fly balls go to die.

“Look bro, I don’t know what the problem is.” We’re in the gym, standing in front of a full sized mirror. There’s a bar with more plates than I can count in front of Center-Field. Center-Field is big. Twice the size of Left- or Right-Field, he’s 405 feet from home plate that plays a lot more like 420. He’s cocky, and reminds me of a former frat-boy who’s never been able to get out of the past, Biff Tannen if he were green, 8 ft tall and several hundred feet long. “I’ve been here in this same place for 13 years. A dude gets bored, right?” He puffs up a bit, sticks his chest out, tries to look even more intimidating. “’course the problem ain’t the distance. It’s these pussies who can’t hit the ball. Man up, bro.” I tell him I’m confused. Does he want to move, or does he want to stay put. “Yeah, I want to move, just not closer to home plate. They say I play more like 420. Let’s move back another 20 feet. I bet I play like 450!” I point out that it would probably be more like 440. “Whatever, bro. What am I, one those sabr-geeks? Point is, I say let’s move back. Put those Petco punks in their place.” I mention Mike Cameron, Franklin Gutierrez, and Michael Saunders. I ask if he’s enjoyed watching them fly around, catching everything in sight. “Yeah,” he says, “yeah I have. ‘course, it’s fun when they crash into me too.” He laughs; an unpleasant sound. The frat-dick comparison seems even more apt now. “There was this one time, that Guti guy crashed into me…” he’s barely able to contain the laughter now. “I thought he was dead. Aw, man, that shit was funny!” Center-Field is laughing so hard; he’s in danger of toppling over. I just want to leave, but I have a job to finish. I ask one more question. “How would I feel if I was moved closer to home plate? I don’t know. I don’t want be some bandbox wall like those Arlington pansies, but man, I bet a lot more dudes would crash into me. Maybe I’ll finally kill one!” He’s laughing again. This time, I’m not sure when he’s going to stop.

I continue my walk around the outfield. I finally reach the left field foul pole and stop and look straight up. The wall starts at 11 feet and climbs all the way to 16 feet at the top of the scoreboard. The foul pole starts at 331, but quickly goes deeper. This part of the yard is the problem, I’m told. The wind blows in from left field; back towards home plate and down, knocking down anything that gets in the air.

“It’s a ‘Fair’ pole, you know.” I’m taken by surprise, not sure what he’s talking about. “If the ball hits the pole, it’s a fair ball. Fair pole is more correct.” Left-Field is sitting at his desk, typing on his computer. I ask what he’s working on. “Oh, just a new defensive metric. There are so many people who complain that metrics like UZR and Defensive Runs Saved have flaws, I’m trying to come with something better. It’s a difficult problem, one I probably won’t solve today.” Left-field takes off his glasses, leans back in his chair and looks at me for the first time. “So ‘move in the fences,’ that’s what all the hoopla is about, right?” I nod. “It’s a good idea,” he says. I must show my surprise, because he immediately explains. “The wind is the problem. That, and my height, my distance. Hell, everything.” He stops for a second, then looks at me critically. “Do you know how many starting leftfielders I’ve seen in the last 13 years?” Ten, I say. “Ten! More if you count spot starters. Do you know Raul Ibanez holds the record for most starts in left field in Mariners history? Raul Ibanez!” I can tell he’s getting agitated. “Look at Fenway Park. Manny Freakin’ Ramirez was not a total disaster in left field there. If I was 20 feet closer all around…. If I was 10 feet closer…. Yeah, I think moving closer is a good idea.” He stops, for a second and considers. “Maybe not the others.” He motions toward Center- and Right-Field. “Hell, I doubt they move me. It’d be nice to have a right-handed power hitter actually want to come here, though.” Left-Field turns back to his computer, types something in, then stops. He looks up at me, and then goes back to typing. It’s obvious that he’s got something to do. I politely excuse myself.

I walk back towards home plate, taking in the sights of the stadium. Does it really matter? If we move the fences in or back or leave them, will it really change anything? I turn around, and look back at the walls. Yeah, I decide. It probably will. What will change, though? To that, I have no answer.


Any inaccuracies are my fault. I either made shit up or read it wrong.