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When Mariners' field needs upgrades, will we help again?

Cheney Free Press of Cheney, Washington

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In Our Opinion

Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse with all the strife in our world, guess what - things just got worse.

Seattle's Safeco Field is middle aged. Or as columnist Art Thiel put it last Monday, "Seattle's secular church of Our Men of Participation is No. 15 in years of service among the 30 MLB teams, despite entering its 13th season."

That sound you hear is the sound of our blood beginning to boil in anger and the hair on the back of our necks standing up in fright. We can practically see the words of some future headline: "Mariner owners contemplate move unless public pays for Safeco upgrades."

It seems like just yesterday we were being asked to pay for sports facility upgrades on the other side of the mountains. In reality it was June 1997, and it wasn't the Mariners but new digs for the NFL Seattle Seahawks, approved by just over 50 percent of voters - $300 million so Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen would pony up money to buy the team from KenBehring.

The vote created the Public Stadium Authority which was authorized by the Legislature to levy taxes in King County to help pay for the stadium. It's roughly the same set up the Mariner's got from Olympia after a King-County only vote in 1995 to finance a new stadium failed.

So while folks outside King weren't taxed directly, we unknowingly felt it whenever we booked motel/ hotel rooms, bought dinner, paid for a cab, rented a car or anything else "touristy" in the county.

But that's all said and done. So how did Safeco Field get to be middle aged? As Thiel pointed out, the reason is that just about every city with a Major League franchise has built a new, baseball-only facility since Safeco came on line in 1999.

Since then, 14 new baseball parks have been built, each more expensive and elaborate, capped by the opening of Marlins Park in Miami this season. Before Safeco, new ballparks were built in Cleveland, Arlington, Texas; Denver, Atlanta, Tampa, Pittsburgh and Baltimore where Camden Yards began the trend in 1992.

That's turned ballparks in Kansas City, Oakland, Toronto, two in Los Angeles (Anaheim and Chavez Ravine, a.k.a. Dodger Stadium) and Boston's Fenway Park into veritable senior citizens, and in the same process made Safeco middle aged.

So why are all the new ballparks being built? For a while through the 1960-1970s the trend was multi-use stadiums for football, baseball and anything else. We had one in Washington state, it was called the Kingdome, original home of the Mariners and Seahawks.

But while these were built for a fraction of the costs of today's specific use facilities they were really built with football in mind, changed and re-outfitted to accommodate baseball. Baseball team owners found it difficult to make money in these facilities.

And in a way you can blame the new parks on the oldest one - 100-year-old Fenway. The closeness and openness of the stands to the field, the exposed steelwork, the intimacy of Fenway served as the model for Camden Yards, which in turned inspired places like Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) in Cleveland and Safeco.

And with more team owners seeing the benefits of single-use facilities, together with perfected means of enticing fans, and even non-fans, into footing the bills for these facilities (or else), we now have discussion of a 13-year-old baseball park in Seattle that is middle aged.

Safeco is in good shape though and, as Thiel says in his piece, should last longer than the Kingdome's 24 seasons. But there are issues he points out with keeping up an outdoor facility in a marine climate, one with a sophisticated retractable roof.

Like Thiel, we too can see a day when Mariner ownership once again approaches the public asking for help in keeping Safeco a fun, state-of-the-art, profitable place to watch baseball. Will we be willing to do so?

And if not, are we willing to accept the consequences? After all, how many times do you hear local baseball fans complain about the struggles of the Spokane Indians?

Copyright 2012 Cheney Free Press, Cheney, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: April 19, 2012

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