Around the fifth inning of last night’s 4-2 Seattle Mariners win, the video board made its typical rounds through the stands. Music blared, extolling the well-bundled crowd to get their blood flowing, move around and repel the brisk 43 degree conditions. The camera panned to various groups: a family or two with children swaddled like freshly-baked bread, pensioners chatting amiably and enjoying the space they’d been given by the rowdier in attendance, and packs of those young people ranging from what seemed like friends in their thirties to packs of high schoolers, all relishing in a $10 ticket on a weeknight. It felt like a wide swath of the community. It felt like home.
Attendance of 9,374 is the third-lowest crowd in the history of Safeco/T-Mobile Park (not counting 2021 and obviously 2020)— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) April 21, 2022
There are plenty of explanations for last night’s low attendance, many of them reasonable. The aforementioned weather, the competing Seattle Kraken game on the north end of downtown, the renewed surge in COVID cases in King County, a school night game for a franchise still working to prove they deserve the faith of their fans facing a possible cellar-dweller divisional opponent. Culpable too, perhaps more than any other cause, is the owners lockout, which halted the enthusiasm for the season over most of the winter and frequently threatened to eliminate at least the first month of the season. And yet, much like the final stretch of 2021 when Seattle swept the Oakland Athletics in front of raucous crowds of 11k, 12k, and 17k, the numbers were slim, but the voices were loud.
I love attending Mariners baseball games for many reasons. The full-throated roar of a packed house like Friday night’s home opener where the Mariners romped over Houston is unparalleled, there can be no doubt. But every midweek snoozer has its devotees, and I will forever be one of them. The fans who can’t justify $30 for a ticket can gain entry to the park on a weekend can justify a “Value Night” more easily. As someone whose day job is in childcare, my budget is catered towards nights like these, just as it was when I was a high school student like the group the video board found last night. Spectacles like opening weekend help cement fandoms, of course, but so do nights like this one, where those that make it to the park are treated to a space much their own for three hours. They rewarded the Mariners with engagement and enthusiasm, perhaps closer to a home generator than an “Electric Factory”, but powerful nonetheless.
The Mariners are at their financial core a private entity, subsidized publicly at times but little more legally obligated to the public than a K-Mart. Nights like Wednesday remind me, however, of the public ownership we tend to feel and experience at the ballpark, a sensation the club is actively hoping to cultivate as their business is dependent on that local fervor and unity. It’s a wonderful thing in many ways, a reason to give a nod or strike up a conversation with a stranger when traveling if you recognize a hat with a familiar compass rose or upturned trident. The park itself serves that purpose too, offering an increasingly rare open-air gathering place for those of all ages, increasingly filling the niche created by the long death of the supermall. It has an entry fee of course, but it is somewhere relatively easy to access, safe, and multi-faceted to meet and to socialize, with entertainment to boot. It may not be the traditional agora, but it is a space than can be all of “ours,” at least for a little while.
I suspect we’ll see a few more nights like last night over the course of the season, albeit probably with slightly better attendance as the weather improves and kids enter summer breaks. Those games will be vibrant and worth celebrating too, make no mistake. But these nights, we happy few get to relish the park in a unique way, and the Mariners were rewarded with every drop of our fervor.