On July 15, 1999, the Seattle Mariners hosted the San Diego Padres in the opening game at Safeco Field, a $517 million, 47,000-seat ballpark a quarter-mile south of their previous quarters at The Kingdome. Their new venue is the most expensive stadium of any type in the U.S., the most costly baseball-only venue anywhere, and is clouded over by an intense political dispute over the Mariners' obligation to cover $100 million in cost overruns.
The game marked the first time that an interleague game inaugurated a big-league park as well as the first time a major league team moved from an indoor stadium to an outdoor playing field. Quasi-outdoors may be more accurate, since the stadium is sometimes covered by baseball's first linear unidirectional rolling roof, a three-piece, nine-acre, 265-foot-high, 25-million-pound behemoth that dwarfs the field and grandstands below. Although the roof is an engineering marvel, it is functionally unnecessary, since Seattle receives less rain during the playing season than any other big-league location outside of California or Arizona. And since the ballpark is unheated, it does little to moderate Seattle's early-season and post-season cold weather.
The design of the park follows the neo-traditional pattern originated in Baltimore in 1992: angular, straight-lined, and supported by structural steel rather than concrete. Like Camden Yards and its offspring, Safeco is clad in brick, but in this case only on one street face to save money -- half a billion dollars doesn't go very far any more. The exposed steelwork on the other walls, however, is visually impressive and strikes many architects as more authentic and adventurous than the rather ordinary brick portion. All told, the stadium contains $1.2 million of public art, far more than any other American sports facility.
The playing field is a bit smaller than the Kingdome in foul territory, and somewhat larger in the outfield. Cooler outdoor temperatures, winds, and shadow patterns make Safeco an extreme pitcher's park. Astute front-office management transformed the late-1990's Mariners, the greatest home-run hitting team in history, into a well-balanced 2001 team based on pitching, defense, speed, flexibility and occasional "small ball". The result was the most wins in a single major-league season and league-leading attendance. (JP)
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