Mariners enhance fan experience at Safeco Field

SEATTLE — With opening day just around the corner, a more fan-friendly Safeco Field is almost ready for its 2013 debut as well.

The new fence is up, creating hitter-friendly(ish) dimensions that should mean more offense, which is a nice change of pace for fans who have seen far too many 2-1 ballgames in recent years.

Construction workers are putting the final touches on Edgar’s Cantina, the new spot in left field that will offer food and drinks close to the action (seriously, pay attention out there. And bring a glove).

The most noticeable difference, of course, will be the ridiculously large HD video display in centerfield that has replaced the old scoreboard.

Of course, the Mariners know all too well that none of these changes, the total bill for which came to about $15 million, will mean much to fans if the on-field product isn’t also improved. But a demonstration of the new MarinersVision display, as well as a brief walk around the stadium made it pretty clear that the game-day experience at Safeco Field will be a bit better this year.

In addition to the new scoreboard, which at 11,425 square feet is pretty spectacular, the Mariners have created another “beer garden” are for fans to hang out in left field above the new Edgar’s Cantina (though they won’t call it a beer garden). Even better, the center-field area known as “The Pen” or as fans informally know it, the original beer garden, has increased in size thanks to the center-field walls moving in.

And from out there in center field, from that place where so many young people drink beer while sort of watching baseball, the view looking up and to the left at that new scoreboard will be quite impressive. Imagine the biggest, high-defiest TV that any of your friends owns, then blow it up about a million times and that’s what this new scoreboard looks like. (Note: that math may be a bit off. And yes, I know high-defiest is not a real word.)

The stat geeks will be happy to know that players’ on-base plus slugging percentage will be displayed this year along with the more traditional stats. But again, if those OPS numbers for the home team aren’t improved, Safeco’s shiny new toy won’t mean a lot to fans.

Even so, this was a needed upgrade for the Mariners. When Safeco Field opened in 1999, it was one of baseball’s best stadiums, and in a lot of ways it still is, but the old scoreboard was showing its age.

According to Mariners marketing wizard Kevin Martinez (OK, his actual title isn’t marketing wizard. At least I don’t think it is), the No. 1 fan request was for an upgraded scoreboard. And yes, a cynic — OK, me — could quickly point out that fans might like something else even more than a new scoreboard, namely, a winning team.

However, that big new scoreboard will provide a not-so-subtle upgrade to the stadium experience. And as a quick aside, if any gentlemen are going to end up on said gigantic screen, just a heads up, a few days of stubble really doesn’t look great on a 4,147,200-pixel screen. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.

Now if that power-hitting team that has gone 21-11 this spring can show up for the regular season, then Mariners fans will have something much better to look forward to than an impressive new scoreboard.

Herald columnist John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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