A year ago around this time, I had the privilege of attending the Seattle Mariners' annual media luncheon. While the opportunity to ask questions of players and front office staff was great, so too was sitting down and talking with some of the people behind the scenes—and that included, for me, a man who'd been with the Mariners for decades.
One of the more interesting things he told me was the Mariners planned for Safeco Field to be Seattle's Wrigley, that it'd be there for a century, still standing long after he and the rest of us were not.
On that note, the Mariners took another step to making sure their ballpark is built to last this offseason, with the addition of LED lights. Safeco Field is the first stadium in Major League Baseball to have them.
The Mariners benched some 600 high intensity discharge (HID) lights in favor of an LED system designed by the Federal Way-based company Planled, which has already converted several buildings for Boeing and other companies.
Founder and CEO John Hwang uses human studies and economics to convince companies that LED can improve their productivity and control costs.
Studies show LED can incorporate a fuller spectrum of light and mimic the blue and red components of natural light. It can improve energy levels, moods and performance of athletes and other workers. [...]
Hwang said going LED will cut the Mariners' lighting costs by 60 percent and says, under the team's current level of light usage, the LED bulbs can last 50 years or longer.
Chittim's article also describes how this isn't the first work Hwang and his company have done with the Mariners. In a New York Times piece from 2013, Hwang describes his company's work to install LED lighting in the team's clubhouse, training room, dining room and weight room:
The team hopes that by brightening and dimming the lights, players can overcome jet lag faster and become energized before games and cool down afterward.
"Living in Seattle, people talk about the seasonal disorder and cloudy days, but I didn’t think there was a way to overcome it," said Scott Jenkins, head of ballpark operations for the Mariners. "We can make the clubhouse a place where the players want to spend time and it supports their performance."
While the impact of LEDs on human physiology is still emerging, "there is a lot of basic scientific support for why they should," said Steven W. Lockley, a professor in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Chittim, on Twitter, shared a few shots of the new setup:
The Seattle Mariners make history before first pitch. Fans and players will be 1st in MLB under LED lighting. pic.twitter.com/neO94b1To0— gary chittim (@gchittimK5) January 20, 2015
MLB lighting team approves Seattle Mariners new LED field lights. Will save $ & enhance live & tv viewing experience. pic.twitter.com/zre7NVjZqL— gary chittim (@gchittimK5) January 20, 2015
Federal Way company PlanLed puts Seattle Mariners in LED lime light with league's 1st LED baseball field. Play ball! pic.twitter.com/HI9xzgLSPL— gary chittim (@gchittimK5) January 20, 2015
Now, things like energy efficiency and the ensuing cost savings are all well and good for the organization, but what does it mean for fans? Well, Chittim himself says it looks "like daylight" at the park.
For a subject that, as I research this, has been written about an awful lot, there aren't any really good quotes on the matter—though the difference does appear to be notable.
"People could walk into War Memorial and see the difference from the previous year," said Joe Casper, president of Syracuse-based Ephesus Lighting, in a 2013 Athletic Business article. His company installed lights for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch.
"It's unbelievable the difference. You don't recognize the building," said the team's president in the piece.
For a bit of an illustration, here's an image from a Reddit post I had to go and find, where a user captured the ongoing installation of LED streetlights in Seoul, South Korea.
Obviously, the Mariners were using something several step ups from streetlights previously, but it gives you a sense for how good modern lighting can look.
Now, as the subhead notes, this item goes at the bottom of a long list of off-field upgrades the Mariners have been making over the years, with renovation of the Peoria Sports Complex being another one just this offseason.
As I noted in the piece linked to there, I once wrote on this in very negative terms, that the Mariners had been spending up all the cable money on off-field upgrades—and my mind has since changed. Well, I think they've been spending some of the cable money, I just don't think it's a bad thing. Nevertheless, pulled from that first piece and since added to, here's the full list of the Mariners recent off-field upgrades:
- Mariners announce new LED out-of-town scoreboard in February of 2010.
- The following offseason, in 2011, the Mariners completely overhauled the bullpen area, creating The 'Pen— with a better view and new food and beverage attractions.
- Also during the 2011 offseason, the Mariners unveil new LED screens around the Terrace Club level.
- The Mariners didn't have any major projects during the 2012-2013 offseason. There were solar panels and charging stations, and opposing the basketball arena.
- Before the 2012 season ended, the Mariners announced they'd be moving in the fences.
- In November of 2012, they announced they would building a training academy in the Dominican Republic.
- Then you also have the $10 million video board in 2012.
- To round out the 2012-2013 offseason, the Mariners also opened Edgar's Cantina, which accompanied the fence change.
- And then, again, you have the renovation of the spring training complex.
- Now, in 2014, LED stadium lighting.
When I wrote that first piece shortly after the end of the 2013 season, I couldn't begin to understand why the Mariners were spending so much off the field while doing little to enhance the on-field product. They signed Robinson Cano for a quarter of a billion dollars two months later.
The Mariners, as we can see, are going through a bit of a transition right now. After nearly a decade under the shoe of Seattle sports diehards, they're doing what they can to pick up their game—to move towards being the first-class organization we'd all like them to be.
And while it seems they're likely done adding to the on-field side of things for this offseason, my educated guess is they might not be done with the upgrades off of it.
Update: Here's a video, by KING 5, on the new lights.