By Scott M. Johnson
SEATTLE – This was supposed to be Milwaukee’s week. The quaint Midwestern city was scheduled to be the center of attention, the place every major leaguer wanted to spend his All-Star break.
But when re-alignment and a delayed stadium opening thwarted that city’s plans, John Ellis and the city of Seattle were more than happy to step in.
Ellis, the chairman emeritus of the Seattle Mariners, was the main man responsible for bringing the All-Star Game to the Emerald City. With Ellis working in the background, Seattle was rewarded with the honor of hosting Tuesday’s game when Milwaukee had to back out.
“John had been quietly behind the scenes lobbying for something, thinking that if we were really lucky we might get it in 2003 and maybe more likely 2005,” vice president of communications Randy Adamack said. “He had done a lot of groundwork, talked to people on the executive council of Major League Baseball as we knew the ballpark (Safeco Field) was going to be built.”
Ellis spent a good part of the mid-1990s secretly toiling in the shadows, trying to secure Seattle with an All-Star Game as soon as possible. In 1997, arguing that the game could help bring a new baseball stadium to the Puget Sound, Ellis finally convinced major league commissioner Bud Selig to bring the game to Seattle – unbeknownst to anyone else. Not until January of 1999 did the announcement become public.
While the city of Seattle patiently put up Safeco Field, Ellis sat on his secret until the league made it public.
“When trying to put together something as huge as a stadium, it’s nice to be able to mention the All-Star Game,” Ellis said, “but I couldn’t.”
Milwaukee was originally to host Tuesday’s All-Star Game. But two factors forced commissioner Bud Selig to delay the Wisconsin city’s day in the sun until the 2002 season.
First, the Brewers were moved from the American League to the National League, meaning they wouldn’t be eligible to host the game in an odd year (the host city is alternated annually between leagues). Then construction on Miller Park, the new home of the Brewers, was delayed, meaning there was no way Milwaukee could host the game even if the league waved the alternating league rule.
Milwaukee’s temporary loss became Seattle’s gain.
When Ellis finally made the announcement to members of the Mariners’ front office, it came as a complete shock. He gathered up his employees one January workday without telling them why they were there.
“John Ellis called us into an office on a Friday afternoon and said he’s got some news for us. We didn’t know what he was going to say,” Adamack said. “Then he told us the All-Star Game would be here in 2001. Once we picked ourselves up off the floor collectively, we sat down and started trying to figure out what we had to do.”
Initially, the Mariners met with Major League Baseball and Seattle city officials to begin preparations. Some of their duties included hotel accommodations (about 4,000 rooms have been reserved throughout the city for each of the next three nights), transportation, ballpark operation and hospitality. They also had to assist MLB in the FanFest and the events today and tomorrow that lead up to Tuesday’s All-Star Game. While MLB is responsible for the game, the Mariners’ front office definitely had its share of work as well.
“It’s enormous,” Adamack said. “For two years, we’ve been putting a lot of time and effort into it. We’ve been trying to do the best job possible.
“The goal is that nobody on the outside can tell how much effort has gone into the flow. It should appear smooth from the outside. That’s the goal, no matter how hard we’re paddling underneath the water.”
About 2,000 volunteers have been hired for the five-day event, while the chamber of commerce, city council, and police and fire departments have also been in constant meetings with Mariners officials.
When all is said and done, the week of festivities is expected to bring $50 million of commerce to Seattle. The city of Atlanta, which hosted last year’s game, brought in somewhere between $50 and $55 million, while Boston brought in around $60 to $65 million the previous year, according to a study done by University of Washington professor William Byers.
All totaled, Ellis’ work appears to have paid off – even if it came at Milwaukee’s expense.
“The neatest part of the whole thing is all these fans that have supported us for so long, it’s a reward to those people,” Ellis said. “It’s a real compliment to the fans in this area. These guys back east said, ‘Seattle will never be a baseball city.’ They didn’t know about these tens of thousands of baseball fans.”