Although an unusual six-game winning streak has propelled the Seattle Mariners out of last place in the Western Division, many of the baseball fans heading to Safeco Field these days may not care, ironically, because they’re going to root for the other team.
The Mariners are considered a magnet team – a baseball club that attracts a significant number of fans across the full spectrum of Major League Baseball, not just a home-town crowd.
These non-Mariners fans have a variety of reasons for rooting for the visiting team. Some are on a road trip following their back-home team. Others are transplants to Seattle who keep their old town loyalties, while many are Seattle natives who developed their passion for the sport long before the Mariners arrived in 1977. According to some Mariners staff, up to 40% of all tickets sold by the M’s go to these “foreign” fans.
Exact numbers are hard to determine, but anecdotal evidence supports that claim.
“When the Red Sox are here, it seems like half the seats are filled by Boston fans,” said M’s staffer, Karen Garcia, as she guarded the visiting dugout recently during pre-game warm-ups.
“I wouldn’t want to put an exact figure on it,” said Rebecca Hale, the Director of Public Information for the Mariners, “but we do have a lot of fans rooting for the visiting teams. And the Red Sox do have the loudest fans,” she added with the laugh. “If you closed your eyes and just listened to the noise at some of the Red Sox games, you wouldn’t know if the play went against the Mariners, or for them.”
Nevertheless, Ms Hale said the New York Yankees bring out the biggest crowds and probably pack the greatest number of non-Mariners fans into the seats.
“Yankees fans know the game,” she said, “and they really appreciate seeing good baseball. That makes them great fans, despite some of their other behaviors.”
Ms. Hale added that with her team’s recent winning streak she’s not worried about the upcoming Memorial Day weekend homestand against the Yanks.
“They may have the bats, but our pitching’s been very good this year, so I think we’ll handle them just fine,” she said.
With New York and Boston being the top draws to Mariner games, fans also come out in droves for the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Angels, and the Baltimore Orioles.
However, it’s hard to surpass the enthusiasm – and possibly the numbers – of Toronto Blue Jays fans. At a recent game, Jays fans filled nearly half the seats, and their flags and banners seemingly adorned every section of the stadium.
Shouting “Let’s go Blue Jays,” and “Two World Championships,” a pointed barb to Seattle fans that have yet to see a single World Series game played at Safeco Field, nearby Mariners fans appeared a bit intimidated – and humbled.
Explaining their boisterous nature, Jays fans Derek and Devon Lionas from Victoria, BC, told the Mountain News that the Blue Jays should be considered as Canada’s team, and not belonging to just the city of Toronto.
“It doesn’t matter what coast you’re on – they’re our team – especially since the Expos are gone,” Derek said.
“Yeah, they’re really are the Canadian Blue Jays,” echoed father and son duo Jordan and Doug Wilson from Chilliwack, BC.
In addition, the Wilson’s, who live just 20 miles north of the border, consider a Blue Jays game in Seattle a “home” game.
“It just took us three hours to get here today,” said Doug. “I don’t even think of Seattle as being in a different country – it’s really not that far away.”
Yet, other Blue Jays fans crowed how they had driven days to get to the game, including one set of four friends from northern Saskatchewan who had spent the prior two days on the road.
“It’s closer than Toronto!” they chimed, adding that they were in Seattle for the entire three game set. “We’re making a vacation of it.”
While Blue Jays fans travel, many others rooting for the visitors are Washington natives, folks whose loyalties developed before the M’s arrival.
“I’ve always been a Yankees fan,” said Helen Modie of Tacoma, “ever since I was twelve years old.” Her reasons seemed hard to put into words, but her derision of badly played baseball, either by the Mariners or the Yankees, suggests that she holds top-notch baseball and New York’s 27 World Championships in high regard.
Along those lines, Red Sox fans Ian and Iris Vandermeer of Gresham, Oregon root for the Bosox because of the rich history of their team.
“They’ve got such an amazing culture – Fenway, overcoming the curse, Yaz, the rivalry with the Yankees – the Mariners can’t touch that,” said Ian.
Some add family ties as a reason to root for their personal team.
“I’m a huge Yankees fan,” announced Wayne Rodgers. “It all started with my grandfather – he loved them. Now, my whole office is filled with Yankees stuff!”
That special connection to a team can even transcend international boundaries.
We’ve always been Red Sox fans,” said Trevor Tobohn and Dan Stevens of Shuswap, BC, just outside of Vancouver. “They’re the greatest team in the world,” added Trevor, as way of explanation.
Not surprising, many locals rooting for the visitors can’t trade their loyalty for geography, such as Gary Spradling.
“I was born in the Bay Area; I’m just an A’s home town fan,”Gary said. “And I’ve been here in Seattle for 28 years, too!” he said with a laugh.
Oakland transplant Tom Mikita, who has worked at Microsoft in Redmond for the past four years, reveals just how deeply baseball can touch a fan’s soul.
“I grew up in the Bay Area and saw Jose Canseco hit his first home run,” Tom said . “That just stays with you. It’s like Christmas every time the A’s come to town.”
Other fans clutch passionately to their old home town loyalty despite their need to relocate to Seattle. Kevin Dolphay flew into Seattle at 4 am the day of an A’s game, ostensibly to make his interview at the UW law school and tour the campus, but also to catch the evening game. If he makes it to the UW he’ll still be a visible A’s fan, though, as he just got an A’s tattoo on his arm.
“Tickets are cheaper here than in Oakland, too,” Kevin added, “that’s another good thing about moving to Seattle.”
Economics play a role in lots of other fans coming to Safeco.
“A lot of Red Sox fans come out to Seattle because they can’t get a seat at Fenway, or the prices are too high,” said Ms. Garcia at the visitor’s dugout.
Prime seats in Ms. Garcia’s territory are only $75, whereas the same seat in Fenway or Yankee Stadium could be over $1,000.
Others come to Seattle because of the weather – Yes!
“It’s 45 degrees cooler here than it is back home,” declared Terry Vandeman as he stretched back in his seat and surveyed his Arizona Diamondbacks warming up during Interleague play in 2009.
“Sitting in the sun and watching two great ball teams. Now, this is baseball,” Terry declared.
Many families use a Mariners game as a focal point to gather far-flung relatives. Numerous clans pack the 300 sections behind home plate, where tickets go for $15-20, and conduct their reunions while cheering their old home team.
Nine members of the Haskell-Verkh tribe, who all originally lived in Massachusetts but are now spread across the western United States, chose to visit a Seattle sister and watch a Bosox game.
“She’s converted to the Mariners,” said Alexandra Verkh, now of Bellingham, WA, “but we still love her.”
Similarly, the Leslie family, who were all born in Boston but now have many members living in the west, assembled at Safeco for an aunt’s 60thbirthday, with Susan Leslie coming as far away as Albuquerque, New Mexico. In what seems to have approached an epic quest, Susan picked up family members along the way.
The family spirit that seems to imbue Safeco Field and its visiting fans was aptly expressed by the Diamondbacks fan, Terry Vandeman, as he waved his arms to indicate his wife, Tracy, and a bevy of Washington-based in-laws sitting around him.
“What a great way to spend Father’s Day,” he announced.
© 2011 The Mountain News – WA
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