By KIRBY ARNOLD
EVERETT – It sometimes took a special baseball fan to be a bleacher creature at Everett AquaSox games.
You had to arrive early to claim the best seats in the general-admission wooden grandstands down the first and third-base lines. If you got there late, chances are you’d have to slide down a few spots to find an open seat.
And once you finished plucking the last splinter from your pants, you often looked up to learn you couldn’t see home plate because the main grandstand blocked the view.
“Probably a third of the seats in those sections you couldn’t see home plate,” AquaSox owner Mark Sperandio said.
Next year, fans in the bleachers will enjoy some creature comforts as they watch the Seattle Mariners’ Class A short-season minor league team.
The AquaSox have torn down the old wooden seats and replaced them with aluminum bleachers that are elevated so every space offers a view of the entire field. Best of all, the bleachers will have backrests.
The new seating is part of a $275,000 project, funded mostly by the team, to improve the stadium both on and off the field. Work also is nearly complete on the field to solve drainage problems, and on the outfield fence to improve the background for hitters.
Sperandio said the new bleachers will cost $230,000 and changes to the fence – the green hitter’s background is being expanded and the fence will rise to 22 feet tall in right-center field – should be about $10,000. The AquaSox are paying for those projects and donating them to the Everett School District, which owns the stadium.
Work on the playing surface will cost about $35,000 and be funded by money from the 1998 stadium renovation that was designated for future field work, Sperandio said.
Here’s a detailed look at changes for next season:
“It’s going to be a heck of a lot more comfortable,” Sperandio said.
All seats in the stadium will be reserved, which may ease the rush into the stadium as fans raced to the prime seats and avoided the obstructed-view areas of the old general-admission grandstand. The only general admission area in the stadium next year will be the lawn seating behind the right-field fence.
“The theory there is that it’s a better seat now. It’s a far more comfortable seat,” Sperandio said.
The only other price increase will be in field box seats, which will go up 50 cents to $9.
Prices won’t change in other areas of the ballpark ($10 for diamond club behind the plate, $7 for upper box, $5 for lawn). Season ticket prices also won’t change ($315 for diamond club, $265 for field box and $220 for upper box). Seven-game mini-plans will cost $63 for field box (a $3.50 increase) and $49 for upper box (no change).
Sperandio said there will be several discount opportunities such as 2-for-1 nights and family nights, and opportunities for free tickets for kids through school reading programs.
The sign will be relocated atop a higher right-center field wall near the hand-operated scoreboard. The wall on either side of the scoreboard will be 22 feet tall, six feet taller than the rest of the outfield wall.
“We’ll have sort of a mini Green Monster,” Sperandio said. “That’s the shortest part of the ballpark (from home plate), so hopefully that will cut down on some of the cheap home runs.”
Crews have installed drainage tile behind home plate and down the foul lines near the coaches’ boxes, and they also have improved soggy spots behind the pitcher’s mound and in short right field. They also improved drainage in left field and replaced sod that had been invaded by a foreign grass and weed that had discolored the outfield.
The lip of the infield grass also had become pronounced where it meets the dirt, and crews cut that down, Sperandio said.
The mound is being rebuilt with a more sturdy mixture of dirt and clay that will resist holes where a pitcher’s plant foot lands. A similar substance will be used in the batter’s box to avoid deep holes from batters who dig in near the plate.
“It’s a facility that is used almost every single day,” Sperandio said. “We’ve had a lot of problems with the landing points, and this will make it difficult for a pitcher to dig out a big hole. It should be the same around the plate; he can still dig in but there won’t be those big valleys there.”
The Mariners have asked for more room in the bullpen for catchers to work on drills, and crews are expanding that area and replacing the current gravel-like substance with a hard-packed clay.
The annual Fantasmo intrasquad game is scheduled for June 8, and the AquaSox will open their season on the road June 19 at Spokane.
The AquaSox will play 21 home games on days when the Mariners are at home, which Sperandio sees as a positive.
“We’ve had our biggest attendance nights when the Mariners are in town,” he said. “I think it’s because everybody’s antennae are up and they tune in to baseball a little more when the Mariners are in town.”
The league has changed its North-South alignment into East and West divisions, with Everett, Vancouver (British Columbia), Eugene and Salem-Keizer in the West and Spokane, Yakima, Tri-Cities and Boise in the East.
Two teams have switched affiliations, Yakima from the Dodgers to the Diamondbacks and Eugene from the Cubs to the Padres.
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