EVERETT — I had to see it for myself.
Funko Friday with the Everett AquaSox. What was it all about? Was it really the sensation I’d been led to believe? And how much had the ballpark at Everett Memorial Stadium been taken over by toy figurines with bizarre oversized heads?
Friday night I decided to find out, as I headed out to the rebranded Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium to experience my first Funko Friday.
And what I discovered was something of a phenomenon.
Funko Friday is the product of the new partnership between the Everett-based toy manufacturer with the cult following, and the minor-league baseball team with the quirky frog mascot. Funko bought the naming rights to the field where the Sox play in March, and now all Friday home games have a Funko theme, complete with toy giveaway.
I wanted to go to the inaugural Funko Friday when the Sox had their home opener on June 21, but the Seattle Storm were playing down Broadway at Angel of the Winds Arena that night, meaning I had other reporting duties. But I heard the stories of fans getting in line seven hours before the game started, of lines stretching hundreds of yards into the adjoining football field’s stands.
As someone who covered the Sox regularly from 2004-15, I’d never seen anything remotely like that. I had to see it with my own eyes. And while this Funko Friday didn’t quite reach the heights as the first one, there’s no question Funko and the Sox are onto something.
When I arrived at the park at 3 p.m., the Van Beek family of Everett was already staked out at the south gate. They arrived at 1 p.m. to make sure they were first in line for Friday’s giveaway, the Copa de la Diversion Webbly Pop!, in which Everett’s mascot is decked out in the team’s alternate Conquistadores uniform.
“We’ve been coming here since I was seven, so it’s kind of a tradition every summer that we come early,” Nicole Van Beek said. “When I saw the Pops! I thought they were so adorable, I was like, ‘I want those, they’re so cute.’ And with it being the actual mascot, it’s a bonus getting a Webbly Funko.”
Meanwhile, friends Christina Odilao of Marysville and Steve Holloway of Shelton arrived at the north gate at about 3:15 p.m. to be first in line. Odilao and Holloway are not regular Sox fans, but they are Funko enthusiasts.
“The Funko Pop!, definitely,” was Odilao’s reason for staking out a spot. “We like baseball, too, but I personally hadn’t been to an AquaSox game until opening night, that was pretty cool, and we got our free Funko. We go to Funko a lot — we are adults, but we are Funko fans. So we’re trying to get the last of the little frogs.”
At the first Funko Friday, Sox general manager Danny Tetzlaff estimated that 1,000 fans lined up at both the south and north gates prior to the gates opening, giving the new batch of seasonal workers a baptism by fire.
“It was a little overwhelming, to be honest,” Tetzlaff said. “We knew it would be a big night, but we didn’t fathom how big a night it would be, or how big a factor the Funko giveaway would have on it.”
The Sox ended up drawing a sellout crowd of 4,395 to the first Funko Friday, which is remarkable for a stadium with a seating capacity of 3,682.
As for the second Funko Friday, while it may not have been as crazy as the first, it was still a sight to behold. Several hundred fans were waiting at the south gate when it opened to season ticket holders at 5:30 p.m., and the numbers swelled again prior to the gate opening for general admission at 6:00 — the line stretched from the ticket booth about two-thirds of the way around the curve of the football stadium, taking more than 10 minutes to drain once the line began moving. And I’m happy to report there was no sign of people getting their toy and heading straight back to the parking lot as some apparently did at the first Funko Friday.
The Funko didn’t end at the gate when the 3,725 who attended received their boxes with their figures, either. The Funko presence around the park is everywhere, from the Funko logo emblazoned in royal-blue script behind home plate, to people taking selfies in front of the 16-foot Freddy Funko statue perched in the homer porch behind the right-field wall, to Freddy Funko himself wandering the plaza.
“It’s a great way for our fans to enjoy our local field, and it brings new fans to the field,” said Liz Lawson, the retail manager at Funko headquarters in downtown Everett, who had the honor of throwing out the first pitch. “Funko has their own fans, and I noticed they’re here, and I don’t think they’d ever be here if we didn’t do these Funko Fridays. It encourages people to get out of their natural bubble.”
As I made my way back to the press box for the start of the game, my progress was slowed by the crowd of bodies in the concourse, and I found myself behind a father with his toddler on his shoulders. The young girl had a Funko box pinned to her leg with her left hand, and a baseball clutched in her right.
It was the perfect summation of Funko Friday. And with four more Funko Fridays scheduled this season, including a Star Wars Pop! giveaway on Aug. 2 and a Jay Buhner Pop! giveaway on Aug. 16, I fully expect the phenomenon will continue.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.