By David Krueger and John Boyle Herald Writers
SEATTLE — There’s no place like home, even if home has just completed a heavy renovation.
The opening day festivities at Safeco Field gave fans — and some players — a first chance to see some of the offseason improvements made at the ballpark, including smaller outfield dimensions, new dining areas and a giant scoreboard in center field.
“It’s great to get back to Seattle,” said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. “Great to be back to the ballpark and see all the fantastic changes to the ballpark.”
The Mariners hitters said it’s going to take some getting used to, but should help benefit the team. As outfielder Michael Saunders said, even the “pitchers were for it. They need us to put runs on the board to win as well.
“Without a doubt. I think it’ll make a difference not only with us but anybody who comes in here,” Saunders added. “Everyone around the league knows that this is notoriously a pitchers’ park and with the fences coming in it’s probably, at the very best, going to play fair. … When I heard the fences were coming in, as an offensive guy, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m happy about it.”
The new dimensions might have the biggest impact on the games, but may not have had the biggest impact on the Mariners players.
While there has been a lot of talk about the smaller fences in left-center field, the big talk in the clubhouse was the 11,425 square-foot scoreboard in center field, the largest HD screen in major league baseball.
“We got in (to Seattle Sunday) night and they were talking about that scoreboard, and rightfully so,” Wedge said.
“My wife’s like, ‘shave and make sure you look good,’” Saunders said. “… Everything’s kind of magnified after how big that scoreboard is right now. That’s kind of where my main focus was. It’s huge and it’s beautiful. I’m excited to play.”
Outfielder Mike Morse, who leads the Mariners and the American League with five home runs, said he tries not to worry about the shorter fences. He just wants to continue to hit the ball well.
However, he did share one story from early in his career of a home run that wasn’t.
“I remember facing C.C. — C.C. Sabathia — (and hit the ball) one time to dead center,” Morse said. “It hit off the yellow and I swear that was the hardest ball I hit. I remember it stayed in.”
The players were all excited to return to Seattle and get back to their home ballpark, regardless of where the fences now stand.
“We play in a beautiful ballpark in a beautiful city so that standpoint we’re lucky,” Saunders said. “Just the fact that they brought in the fences is a nice bonus to us offensive players.”