Standing at the concourse railing for section 141 along T-ball Park’s third base line during the pre-game of MLB’s All-Star orgy of spectacle, a wife and mother from North Carolina, now living in San Diego, was gushing. In her first visit to Seattle, she was thrilled with the weather, the ballpark and the friendliness. She told a story about being lost and of a local resident, frustrated with her own attempt to give directions, telling the family of four to get in her car. She drove them to their destination.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said, grinning. “I’ve always told my kids to never accept rides from strangers, but . . .”
Good story, I said. I hope your seats are as good.
“This is it,” she said, tapping the rail. “Standing room only.”
Really? I said. I didn’t realize . . . well, I have to ask.
“Two hundred fifty dollars each,” she said, smiling again. “Worth it.”
Hmm. I guess Seattle levels up, one way or another. I figured the only way anyone in Seattle would pay $250 SRO was to see Donald Trump pantsed.
Then again, MLB scales the house, and it knows how to monetize every square foot of any host city. Since 47,159 officially and happily paid much more Tuesday night to sit, then witness a star-filled extravaganza whose outcome came down to the final pitch, who’s to say what price is fair?
The game, actually a five-day sequence of host-city festivities designed to create and hold fans of a sport fighting the currents of the entertainment industry, was a bit of an anti-climax. The National League won 3-2 on a two-run, eighth-inning homer from obscure Colorado catcher Elias Diaz, breaking the American League’s nine-game winning streak in the 93rd version of the event.
But there wasn’t much in the way of memorable moments, or freakish developments. Such as the last time the game was Seattle’s turn, in 2001, when the bat of Vladimir Guerrero Sr. — father of the winner of the Home Run Derby Monday, Vlad Jr. — came free of his hands and clanged into third base coach Tommy Lasorda. The rotund, voluble Dodgers manager was sent sprawling, but uninjured. Thus was born the best-ever All-Star Game-inspired nickname: Vlad The Impaler.
So Tuesday was more of a curtain call for the week. For local fans, the play of three Mariners selections for the AL team didn’t amount to much — starting pitcher Luis Castillo wasn’t used, and starting pitcher George Kirby gave up two hits and the NL’s first run in the fourth inning. Star centerfielder Julio Rodriguez joined the game in the sixth, only to strike out in his first at bat. His second AB had all the elements of high drama — down 3-2, a runner on first with two outs and a full count with a full house on its feet, screaming. But ball four sent him to first and deflated the drama, finally ending when Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez struck out.
Actually, the Seattle fans themselves were “players” in the game, the curtain call amounting to a sales pitch.
Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani was greeted in his first at bat with fans rhythmically chanting, “Come to Sea-a-tul.” The amusing call to action stems from the belief that he will play out his final contracted season in Anaheim and become a free agent. The Mariners tried hard in 2018 to sign him, and are said to be more eager now after the hitter/pitcher has become the most phenomenal player in the game’s history.
The baseball cognoscenti are of the general belief that the Mariners are the last of five West Coast teams in the hunt, trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and the Angels, who could re-sign him but is seen as unlikely.
At a press conference packed with Japanese media members that seemed to number in the hundreds, Ohtani, who walked in his only other at-bat and did not pitch, acknowledged he heard the chants.
“Every time I come here, the fans are passionate,” he said through an interpreter. “I’ve actually spent a couple of off-seasons in Seattle. I like the city, it’s good.”
His Seattle visits were previously publicly unknown, so that news nugget sent a spasm through Mariners fandom. In the big picture that will become clear in the winter, it meant nothing. But hey, local, national and global media are nothing if not incremental, so the remark will be treated as if it was found on parchment from Mount Sinai.
Fans also had a say in another amusing development. During MLB’s annual draft Friday that is now held in conjunction with the All-Star Game, Commissioner Rob Manfred was tasked with announcing at a public podium the name of the first selection. Seattle fans booed him so vigorously that Manfred blanched and paused. Unlike other commissioners schooled in the performative arts, Manfred’s flinch suggested a gotcha. Unclear was the source of the anger (letting the Oakland A’s move to Las Vegas, evoking previous relocation wounds?), but Manfred seems likely to be among the few who might acknowledge an unpleasant week in Seattle.
Things did go a little far when Seattle’s contempt of anything related to the Houston Astros included Dusty Baker, this game’s AL manager and the boss of the hated rivals. One of baseball most-liked figures, Baker was booed during the pre-game introductions, along with players from the Astros, even though Baker was hired long after the cheating scandal.
But as a failure of taste, it paled in comparison to MLB allowing apparel provider Nike to put out to a local, national and global TV audience a National League team dressed in dark jerseys and dark pants. It was the worst sports fashion mishap at least since Tuesday morning’s Red Carpet event at Pike Place Market. Somehow, Vlad Guerrero Jr. showed up for the dress-up program in matching jacket and pants made of a mysterious furry/carpet-like material that made him look like a beige Wookie.
Trifles? Well, yes. So? It is a frothy exhibition game, and we are Americans. As noted baseball historian Stephen Sondheim once wrote: Something appealing, something appalling.
If MLB can get people to smile after paying $250 for SRO, it is impervious to the slings and arrows of taste.