Mariners won’t move fences at Safeco Field

  • KIRBY ARNOLD / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, December 20, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By KIRBY ARNOLD

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – Alex Rodriguez would have accepted less from the Seattle Mariners. Manny Ramirez would have, too.

Less money? Not a chance in superstar heaven of that.

Less distance from home plate to the outfield fence? Hey, let’s keep talking.

Money ultimately squawked loudest for Rodriguez and Ramirez, but before the free-agent sluggers signed elsewhere last week they had other ballpark figures in mind besides cash.

They asked if the Safeco Field fences could be moved closer to home plate, and the Mariners gave them hope.

“Yes, we’ll consider it,” was the team’s response.

Well, the Mariners are done considering. The fences are staying put for at least a year.

“Our baseball people have recommended that we stay the way we are, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said.

Safeco Field’s dimensions aren’t vastly different than those of most American League parks, and no place at Safeco is the deepest in the league. There are six other AL parks with more room down the foul lines (it’s 331 feet to left field and 326 to right at Safeco), five that are deeper to left-center (388 at Safeco), three to center field (405) and four to right-center (385).

Still, Safeco has a reputation as being Death Valley to the home run because of Seattle’s heavy marine air, plus frequent cross winds that take the steam out of balls hit to left field. Towering flies that would seem to have home-run distance often have become warning-track outs, although players (Rodriguez in particular) noted loudly last season that the ball carries better when the retractable roof covers the stadium.

After their move from the Kingdome, where pop flies soared into the seats, the Mariners rebuilt their roster to feature pitching, defense and an offense built around more than the home run.

Their record proved that such a style works at Safeco. The Mariners won 91 games last season with an offense that ranked just 12th among the 14 American League teams with a .269 team batting average. The M’s showed plenty of muscle, ranking seventh in the AL with 198 homers (92 at home, 106 on the road).

Safeco ranked 19th among the 30 major league teams in home runs last season, but Mariners officials are quick to note that more homers were hit in Seattle last season than at two of baseball’s supposed home-run havens, Fenway Park in Boston and the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

“This is a fair park and I think that power hitters can hit the ball out of any park,” Mariners assistant general manager Lee Pelekoudas said.

Without Rodriguez, who hit 41 homers last season, the Mariners’ top priority this offseason is to obtain at least two hitters with consistent home-run strength.

Pelekoudas doesn’t believe the team’s firm stance on the outfield dimensions will block prospective free agents.

“The position players we’ve talked to, it hasn’t been an issue at all,” he said. “Being with a ballclub that has a chance to win is what they’re more interested in. They realize that we’ve got some opportunities here with some positions open.”

The players the Mariners have spoken with, Pelekoudas said, are more interested in the bottom line: winning.

“Our club is built for winning in this environment,” he said. “It’s got to be a mix of guys who are power hitters, but also guys who are good at situational hitting, putting the ball in play and doing the little things. It’s not like you can’t hit home runs in this ballpark.”

Changing the outfield dimensions isn’t a difficult process, although a team must notify Major League Baseball of its intentions. Baseball’s operations department, led by assistant commissioner Sandy Alderson, reviews the request and either approves or disapproves it.

The Chicago White Sox will bring in their fences considerably next year. Distances will go from 347 feet down the lines (the deepest corners in baseball) to 330 in left field and 335 in right, and from 385 in the power alleys to 377 in left-center and 372 in right-center.

The White Sox say the changes are the result of a renovation at Comiskey Park, but they also made sure Rodriguez knew about it during their early courtship of him.

Despite questions from players like Rodriguez and Ramirez, the Mariners never were close to making a formal request to alter Safeco Field. The Mariners knew that moving the fence closer might help boost the offense, but it could have a negative impact as well by aiding opposing teams that are built to play power ball.

“Do we really want to go toe-to-toe with our lineup and bring the fences in?” Armstrong asked. “That wouldn’t be in our best interest. We want a fair ballpark, and I personally think it is a fair park.”

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