Sometime over the past few years, I discovered how fun singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" can be. There’s something about being a kid—or, really, being teenager—that doesn't lend itself to belting out in song in public, and more-so to being obsessed with never looking not-cool. Then, more recently, a realization: when else, in what other venue, can I sing a goofy song about how great baseball is in unison with thousands of people around me?
To those who haven’t, I can’t encourage it enough: take those 45 seconds and just give in to the pure ridiculousness. There aren’t enough moments in life like that.
Over a similar timespan, while working in Pioneer Square and enduring the energy-suck that is professional life during a dark Seattle winter, I discovered one of my favorite places in the city. If you walk east up Royal Brougham from First Avenue, past murals of Randy and Ichiro and the 2001 team on the side of Safeco, past that ‘Pen gate, you’ll get to a break in the brick and glass where you can look all the way through. You can see the grass, as green as ever, and the WELCOME TO SAFECO FIELD text across the press box.
On random stressful days, I’d walk over there during lunch and just look in for a minute or two. It wasn’t much, just the perfect mental reprieve, a peaceful break from the slog that is making it through the winter months—and a reminder of whats’s not too far off.
Now, I realize that I’m over-sentimentalizing what, to some, is a nothing more than day devoted to waiting in line for autographs and maybe going on a zip line—possibly something just to get the kids out of the house.
And that’s the thing, there are a lot of kids. For those who don’t have kids, and don’t want to go because you think it’s more for them than you, you’re not entirely wrong. If the mere presence of kids upsets you, maybe that's an issue, but the fact that this is geared towards kids is kind of the beauty of it.
You check your adulthood at the door, walk into the ballpark and get excited for baseball season.
Here, an example, this is a real attraction at this year's FanFest:
You can walk up on the same mound where Felix pitched his perfect game, where Kaz dominated the ninth, where James Paxton's career is just getting started and, naturally, where Fernando Rodney ridiculousness happens—and you can take a picture. You can take a picture shooting an arrow, and because Rodney decided he was going to come to FanFest himself, you can hope that some random chain of events leads to him ending up in your picture. I don't know how, but you never know.
And that's FanFest too.
It's something they allow parents and little leaguers to do several times throughout the course of the summer, but for me, it will never not be cool to walk on the field. The Mariners call it "running the bases," which I suppose you can do, but a stroll will do—walking over the same ground Robinson Cano patrols so elegantly, and past the cut of the grass Kyle Seager charges in from to snag swinging bunts.
And out around the second base bag is a perfect spot to just pause and look around, take in the cathedral that is Safeco Field from its focal point.
Oh, and they let you play catch in the outfield too. I haven't done this yet, as I forgot my glove the last time I went, but for a random Sunday in the middle of February, I can't think of a more enjoyable activity than throwing a ball around on that lush Kentucky Bluegrass.
Naturally, there's all the behind-the-scenes stuff too. Last time I went, I saw Tom Wilhelmsen putting some stuff away after a workout during a tour through the locker room—which is good with or without player cameos. You can also hit in the batting cages, which I swear I saw advertised one year as those being the video batting cages, where you could take some cuts against virtual Felix—and that sounds pretty awesome.
Now, I set out to write this article with the intention of describing why FanFest can and does appeal to adults—and I ended up just writing up all the attractions and why I think they're great, while leaving out more than a few. There are the ones there that are definitely geared for kids, or at least people not as much into baseball—like the zip line, a rock climbing wall and the inflatable slide—but even then, there's still the Dugout Dialogue, where you can sit for a while as fans ask questions of players and coaches.
Really, there isn't much I can sell you on. Either these types of things appeal to you or you don't. If returning to Safeco for the first time since game 162 or walking across a major league ball field doesn't do anything for you, then it just doesn't. But if you're obsessed, and you're counting down the days to Opening Day, or maybe you trip down to Arizona, then go. This is for you, and if you haven't been, it's worth it.
Lastly, it should be noted: there are fans of other teams who aren't so lucky. FanFest, to some, may seem like a ploy, but it's also something to appreciate. The Red Sox and Yankees and Angels don't have one. Neither do the cash-strapped Mets. Of course, plenty that do are in less hospitable climates, and have their annual conventions in hotels or other non-baseball venues.
But Mariners fans are lucky. We get to go to the ballpark, one of the best in baseball, and do nothing but get geeked out over the approach of baseball season. If you didn't notice, Mariners pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. FanFest has always marked the the turn into the homestretch, when baseball season went from a far-off fantasy to right around the corner—so get out and celebrate, because we've almost made it.