SEATTLE — At Safeco Field, the 2013 Seattle Mariners season began Monday night with an existential question: What if they didn’t host a baseball game and lots of people showed up?
A sneak preview of baseball’s largest high-definition scoreboard — the video display contains 4,147,200 pixels (whatever those are), more than the big board at Dallas Cowboys Stadium — was the ostensible drawing card for the Mariners’ open house. Those who registered for the free event also received complimentary T-shirts, and were able to walk around the warning track.
But the primary inducement that brought a crowd of 15,376 to the park was the return of baseball. Before the sound of foghorns meant the gates were open at 5:35 p.m., the family-centric crowd formed block-long lines that emanated good cheer.
No, not yet, and maybe not this year. But baseball was in the air, or at least on the scoreboard, and another afternoon of unseasonably radiant weather turned a festive occasion into a memorable one.
“We’d kicked around the idea of inviting fans to watch the season opener here before,” Randy Adamack, the Mariners vice president of communications, said as dusk gave way to an enchanted evening. “The new scoreboard really gave us a reason to put it together.”
The video board was as advertised. All those pixels provided a clarity unprecedented at Safeco Field — you could read every line of Felix Hernandez’s new neck tattoo — and the booming sound system allowed broadcasters Dave Sims and Mike Blowers to be heard throughout the park.
Another notable alteration, associated with the adjustment of the outfield fences, is a downstairs cantina in the left-field corner with an upstairs “home-run” porch, both under a neon-blue sign blaring “Edgar’s.”
“This is amazing,” Edgar Martinez, the franchise icon who has entered into a restaurant partnership with the Mariners, told the Safecoo Field crowd.
(The first-row view from the cantina is crazy: You feel like you’re standing on the warning track.)
As for the fence the Mariners have moved in from the left-field foul pole to the right-center power alley? Fans used it for photo opportunities, not seeming to care that the new fence looks quite like the old fence and pretty much resembles any other fence.
The warning track remained open for the entire game — the procession around the field was steady and orderly — and as King Felix’s pitches produced outs and the outs piled up over six innings, then seven, nobody seem to care that the rest of the field was empty, that nothing was going on, that nobody was playing.
When “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was followed by “Louie, Louie” during the seventh-inning stretch, it was no different than any other seventh-inning stretch enjoyed last season at Safeco Field.
Well, OK, maybe there was one difference: There were more fans on hand Monday to watch the Mariners at Oakland than there were during a typical spring or September weeknight in 2012, when 25 games were seen by crowds smaller than 17,000.
For that matter, there were more fans on hand Monday to watch the Mariners at Oakland than there were for the first big-league opener in Seattle history. On April 11, 1969, the Pilots made their debut at Sicks Stadium in front of 14,993 curiosity seekers.
Beyond the novelty of the high-definition video board and the intimate sight lines from “Edgar’s Cantina,” Safeco Field fans saw the kind of baseball game they’ve come to expect and (at least when Felix Hernandez is pitching) appreciate.
After pounding 58 homers during the Cactus League season, the 2013 Mariners showed up in Oakland and resembled every Mariners hitting attack since Edgar Martinez was in his prime. Leadoff man Franklin Gutierrez struck out on a breaking ball thrown by A’s left-handed ace Brett Anderson, who then got both Michael Saunders and Kendrys Morales to swing and miss for strike three.
Two runs, courtesy of Gutierrez’s line drive through the box, would be all Hernandez would get as a cushion. But he knows the drill as well as anybody, and when he was replaced with two outs and two on in the bottom of the eighth, his eight-strikeout, three-hit, no-run effort served notice that he’s serious about winning another Cy Young Award.
In Seattle, meanwhile, the open house proved such a success, it’s fair to wonder if the Mariners will be tempted to make the event annual.
“It’s too early to tell,” said Adamack, “because so much depends on the schedule. We could be opening at home next year.”
Come to think of it, they opened at home this year, too.