By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — When the Seattle Mariners told their players Tuesday about the Safeco Field fences being moved in for 2013, the best reaction may have come from first baseman Justin Smoak.
“Can we do it tonight?” he asked.
The dimensions will be cozier if not quite hitter friendly next year, with general manager Jack Zdurienck’s stated goal “to make the park fairer for everyone.”
That means the right field fence, for instance, won’t change, while the deepest part of the park — from left center field to center — will come in as much as 17 feet.
The idea was that Seattle pitchers would accept and adjust, and Mariners hitters might feel that squaring up a ball would be enough.
“In April and May with the cool, damp air, we’ve all hit balls we thought were out,” said outfielder Michael Saunders, who has a career high 19 home runs this season. “How much will that change? I really have no idea.
“The big thing is if guys don’t go up there thinking ‘I’ve got to muscle one up to hit it out.’ Around the league, you see guys hitting 0-2 pitches out, but not because they’re trying to. When you swing normally, you hit the ball better than when you try and crush one.”
Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez said moving the fences in didn’t bother him.
“If someone hits one against me, it would go out anyway,” he said. “I don’t give up cheap home runs. If it’s better for my teammates, I’m for it. It makes me want to hit here.
“I’ve had teammates who hated this ball park, who thought it was way too big. When Adrian (Beltre) played here, he used to get so pissed. I have to think it will help us.”
When a committee studied the past few years — they didn’t look at 2012 numbers — assistant GM Jeff Kingston said the fences in center and left center field made the most difference on fly balls.
“We came up with between 30-40 home runs a season difference, for both teams combined,” Kingston said. “When we looked at the ‘09 season, for instance, Franklin Gutierrez was really hurt by the park. We figured he’d lost five home runs that season.”
Gutierrez perked up when he heard that.
“Does that mean I get them back?” he deadpanned. “I know it’s frustrating to hit one to the deepest part of the park here now, so we’ll see it it works.”
Kingston said one of the challenges was to adjust the fences without changing the look of the ball park. Rounding off the outfield, for instance, was a no-go from the start.
What are the changes going to look like?
n In the left-field corner, the distance remains 331 feet.
n Instead of dropping away to 341 feet, the corner of the left-field wall will be moved in to 337 feet.
n The hand-operated scoreboard will be moved, and the height of the outfield wall will be a uniform eight feet from foul pole to foul pole.
n From the left-field corner to the power alley in left-center, the wall will be moved in four feet — and the left-center-field power alley will be moved from 390 feet to 378 feet.
n From left-center to straightaway center field, the fence will be moved in, and will vary from four feet to a maximum of 17 feet. Straightaway center field will drop from 405 feet to 401 feet.
n From straightaway center to the right-center power alley the fence will come in four feet and the power alley will drop from 385 feet to 381 feet.
n There will be no change from the right-center-field power alley to the right-field line.
Who will the changes help more, the Mariners or the opposition?
“We play here 81 times, other teams come in for — what — eight games, maybe?” Smoak asked. “It’s more an advantage for us than for the other team.”
There will be more home runs hit at Safeco Field next season, but there will be some extra base hits lost.
“Our analysis said with the alleys shortened, doubles and triples will go down,” Kingston said. “Offense is down across the game, but this will make it a fair ball park.”