By Tim Booth Associated Press
SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners are finally going to see the new look of Safeco Field.
Whether the changes make a difference for their offense remains to be seen. After a seven-game road trip to open the season, the Mariners will return home tonight to host new AL West foe Houston. It’s the start of a 10-game homestand for the Mariners where they will get plenty of opportunity to test out how their remodeled ballpark plays early in the season.
While there will be plenty of attention placed on the new video board at Safeco Field that has been proclaimed to be the largest in baseball, most of the focus will be on the new dimensions of the playing field. After being one of the most unfriendly hitter’s parks in baseball, the Mariners made drastic changes to the outfield in an effort to make the park fair to both hitters and pitchers.
The fences were brought in between 4 and 17 feet depending on the area of the outfield. The right field wall was not touched, but the extensive changes begin in right-center field and stretch all the way into the left field corner. Gone in left field is the hand-operated scoreboard and the 16-foot wall, replaced by a cantina named in honor of former Seattle designated hitter Edgar Martinez. The left-center field alley was where the most extensive work was done with hopes that area of the field is no longer a place where long fly balls go to die.
The left-center field alley moved in 12 feet to 378 from home plate, but a bit closer toward center field, the fence is in 17 feet from its previous location. Straightaway center field is in four feet, as is right-center field. The wall is now a uniform 8 feet around the entire park.
“The fences coming in doesn’t mean we’re going to hit more home runs than any other team,” Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “That wasn’t the reason for it. The reason for it was we felt was the psychological aspect of playing in a pitcher’s park 81 times a year. Watching our kids go through that, and talking to players who have been here in the past, and their feelings about the ballpark. We wanted to create a fair ballpark. It’s been well-publicized.”
Through the first week of the season, the Mariners have shown that their offseason moves to bolster the offense should be able to take advantage of the smaller dimensions. No one has gotten off to a quicker start than Michael Morse, in his second stint with the organization. Morse hit four homers in Seattle’s opening series against Oakland, the first Mariners hitter to have four homers through the first four games of a season since Ken Griffey Jr., in 1997.
“I think guys are just playing their game. I don’t think anybody is playing over their abilities,” Morse said. “Guys are comfortable up there. We had a good spring, and I think it carried over. We’re just playing, and playing good baseball.”
Lefty Joe Saunders (0-1) will make his Seattle home debut tonight and hopes to fare better than he did for most of the spring and in his first start last Wednesday in Oakland. Saunders was knocked around for four runs and seven hits in just four innings by the A’s. That came after a spring where Saunders gave up 20 hits and 15 earned runs in 112/3 innings.
“There’s a little excitement for sure. There’s only one home opener a year. It definitely will be exciting. Should be a good atmosphere. I’m looking forward to it,” Saunders said. “Anytime you have a sellout crowd it definitely jazzes you up. You get the adrenaline flowing and you want to go out there and show them what you can do with a good performance and give them something to cheer about. Hopefully we play well. It should be a lot of fun.”
Houston visited Seattle only once during interleague play, taking two of three games in 2004. The Astros will throw some familiar faces against the Mariners. Philip Humber will get the start on Monday night, having thrown a perfect game against Seattle at Safeco Field last year while pitching for the Chicago White Sox. On Tuesday night, former Seattle pitcher Erik Bedard will get the start for Houston. Bedard was a disappointing 15-14 and pitched in just 46 games in three injury-plagued seasons with the Mariners.