"The new stadium is virtually invisible."
"Perhaps in the future, without an admission fee, people will walk through this 20th century ruin."
"The roof looms like an angry cloud."
"The place transcends baseball."
"The park is beautiful. It has its own energy."
"Ballpark is a green cathedral. Beautiful and magnificent."
Fifteen years ago, Safeco Field was christened with a loss and a leaky roof. The Kingdome still loomed next door, as one disgruntled fan described it, "the Great White Pimple." While its proximity to the aging stadium was a drawback for most, fans and critics alike were quick to laud the ballpark as one of the best in the major leagues, praising its press box, spacious concourses, sweeping panoramics of the city, and occasional blasts from the train tracks nearby.
Here are just a few of the memorable moments from Safeco's first week:
July 15, 1999: The Mariners lose their first game at Safeco Field.
No one would've traded their spacious new home for the confines of the Kingdome, but it wasn't exactly the triumphant debut expected by the press and players. Following an All-Star break in which Ken Griffey. Jr. made his final appearance in the Midsummer Classic, the Mariners tested out their new park with an eight-game homestand against the Padres, Diamondbacks, and A's.
Jamie Moyer's first pitch -- a called strike to San Diego's Quilvio Veras -- elicited cheers from the crowd. Through seven innings, Moyer allowed one run to designated hitter Phil Nevin, while the Mariners remained scoreless against opposing starter Andy Ashby. Out on the concourse, things only got worse. Concession lines stretched from one vendor to the next, television monitors fizzled out, and computer systems malfunctioned.
In the eighth, David Bell became the first Mariner to score a run in the new ballpark, picking up an RBI double and marking Ashby's exit. David Segui lashed a double to right field in the next at-bat, and the Mariners had their first lead. Moyer walked back to the dugout with a polished eight innings under his belt. He had allowed just one run and one walk to the Padres, and matched his season-high total of nine strikeouts. Under better circumstances, it would've marked his ninth win of the year.
Instead, closer Jose Mesa gift-wrapped two runs for the Padres. The ninth inning kicked off with a seven-pitch walk to Ruben Rivera, then another to John Vander Wal, then another to Ed Giovanola. With the bases loaded, Mesa struck out Dave Magadan. And then he walked Quilvio Veras. It didn't matter that Paul Abbott, who relieved Mesa, induced two outs from the heart of the order. The Padres came in to score the winning run on a sac fly, the Mariners took 10 pitches to get out of the ninth, and the five-game losing streak stretched to six.
The loss confirmed what Mariners fans already knew: even a new stadium couldn't cure the team's internal problems.
July 17, 1999: Raul Ibanez hits his first grand slam at Safeco Field.
Despite several Opening Day snafus, the Mariners bounced back for their first weekend matinee in the new park.
Freddy Garcia coasted through eight innings, shutting out the Padres through the first four and allowing just five hits and one run. In any other game, his lack of control might've posed a problem -- it marked just the second time in his career that he earned a win while walking at least five batters.
Meanwhile, the Mariners adjusted to the expanded borders of Safeco's fences, putting up nine runs in eight innings. Third baseman Russ Davis kicked off the fifth inning with a first-pitch home run over the left field fence, marking the first home run in Safeco Field history. (The ball was caught by 14-year-old Chase Houston, whose father convinced him to turn the ball in for less valuable team memorabilia.) Before Williams had a chance to catch his breath, Alex Rodriguez pummeled a ball to right field, scoring David Bell and jacking up the score to 4-1.
The crowning moment of the game arrived in the seventh, with the Mariners touting a four-run lead and the bases loaded for Raul Ibanez. Expectations were low. Ibanez was 0-for-3 that afternoon. He hadn't hit a home run since September 1998. He worked a 1-1 count against Carlos Reyes, then sunk the ball in the right field stands. The broadcasters screamed. The crowd screamed. This was the way the new stadium should've been celebrated from the start.
July 18, 1999: The Mariners earn their second win -- and first walk-off -- at Safeco Field.
While it seemed like the Mariners had conquered the dimensions of their park during Saturday's mini-Home Run Derby, the Seattle Times reported that the words most often used to describe Safeco Field were: "That would've been a home run in the Kingdome." Having spent their quota of long balls the day before, the Mariners were forced to fall back on old-fashioned base hits when the Diamondbacks came to town.
John Halama pitched his shortest start since being named a starter halfway through the year, leaving after 2 1/3 innings and a six-run explosion by Arizona. Half of the hits he gave up evaded the grasp of Alex Rodriguez and David Bell. At the plate, the Mariners struggled to get their footing against southpaw Omar Daal. Junior unloaded a home run in the fourth inning, his 30th of the year, but another RBI base hit by Hanley Frias buried the Mariners' rally with a 7-1 score.
In the sixth, the M's took a page out of the Diamondbacks' playbook, scoring five runs on three base hits and two sac flies. Daal was forced out after five singles, a walk, and a productive out, ending his night at 5 1/3 innings with eight hits and six earned runs. His replacement, right-hander Bobby Chouinard, was no less gracious to the Mariners, allowing them three more runs and a tie score through the seventh.
By the end of the night, David Segui had the opportunity to put his name in the Mariners' history books. Byung-Hyun Kim had walked two batters. David Bell stole third. Griffey stole second. The table was set. Segui whiffed on the first pitch, then skied a ball to left center field... where Tony Womack made the grab.
Approaching the four-hour mark, the Mariners began their first extra-inning affair at the stadium. Jose Mesa, who hadn't pitched since his jittery blown save the week before, made it through the tenth with three consecutive outs. Kim led off the bottom of the inning with a six-pitch walk to Jay Buhner, who was now 3-for-4 on the night with three walks. This time, the Mariners didn't need a big handout to clinch the win. With two outs and pinch-runner John Mabry zooming to second base, Russ Davis hit a line drive past Luis Gonzalez for Seattle's eighth single -- and first walk-off at Safeco Field.
Your turn: Did you attend Safeco Field's mid-season opener? What were your first impressions of the ballpark?