One of my New Years resolutions was to attend 2016 Mariners Fan Fest. So I rounded up three of my dearest friends, baseball fanatics all, and we committed to attend Saturday. Unfortunately, Tim (of the balky back) had to cancel, so snagged Dave and Dave in the Subaru and headed north for the Saturday session.
Let me just repeat myself. There are some things the Mariners organization does extremely well-Mariners Hall of Fame Inductions, bobblehead nights, and FanFest are just some of them. The M’s are always respectful to the public which may account for a certain amount of residual fan loyalty despite the decades of losing. if only they could do better about the winning thing.
Dave S. and I attended FanFest in 2014, and something kept me from attending last year, but we knew a bit of what to expect. For Dave D. it was all new. Compared to our earlier experience, yesterday was a revelation. There were crowds, long lines waiting to get in at the home plate and left field entrance. In 2014, the M’s broke records for attendance at 15,000+ for the weekend. There were 15,000 people there yesterday.
The place was packed, mostly with families (kids admission is free,) ready to partake of all the events on the field-the zip line, whiffle ball, throwing in the Mariners bullpen, running, er, actually walking the bases. Baseball groups including men’s senior baseball and women’s baseball, lined the concourses. And of course, the M’s had their sales people out in force, and honestly the 10 game flex plan looked pretty good and affordable. Lines were long, but moving, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
But there were a few things I had on my wish list. First was a trip out to Edgar’s for a morning beer. Second on my list, another item on my resolutions, was a photo with the Dave Niehaus statue in the center field concourse, and then some time listening to GM Jerry DiPoto and manager Scott Servais during the Dugout Interview series. I can say mission accomplished, managing to follow through on all three.
The three of us agreed to head out to left field to Edgar’s Cantina for a quick morning brew, and gave us a chance to survey the schedule. We also listened to Chris Ianetta begin the Dugout series, and that prompted us to head out along the crowded outfield concourse toward the Mariners dugout where the interviews were held.
Along the way we encountered the bronze statue of Dave Niehaus at his desk, relatively free of fans. I persuaded Dave S. to take a picture with my phone and it came out pretty well. I was quite happy with it.
We made it around to the first baseline and down to the Dugout series. To give you an idea of the difference between 2014 and 2016, two years ago we were within a row or two of the speakers. Yesterday we easily sat at least a dozen rows back.
Jerry DiPoto spoke at noon, and as far as I was concerned this was must see. He said some interesting things. DiPoto confirmed that he was a fan, and that as a fan it was important to succeed. He didn’t promise a world series championship, but did insist the 2016 Mariners would contend for the playoffs. He went over some of the moves the team had made with interviewer Brad Adams of ROOT Sports-lengthening the rotation, deepening the bullpen, and building a more athletic outfield. Most importantly, however, was his commitment to an organizational philosophy that valued the use of statistics, athleticism, and controlling the strike zone. It was worth a listen. Even so, the crowd didn’t let DiPoto off the hook, many of the questions came from long-time season ticket holders who had heard the promises before and expressed a degree of skepticism and cynicism. It was good stuff.
Players came and went–Charlie Furbush and Steve Clevenger, Kyle Seager and Tai Walker. All were interesting as Furbush fielded questions about who would be the bullpen ringmaster with the departure of Tom Wilhhelmsen, Tai Walker appeared in a new hat and beard combo, and Kyle Seager took any number of questions, many, oddly about his brothers. All were swarmed afterwards by a cloud of autograph seeking adults and children.
But I anxiously awaited the arrival of Scott Servais. Servais impressed me as someone who is at once passionate but methodical, is a lifelong baseball man committed to “doing things the right way,” but is also deeply rooted in analytics. He took lots of questions about players and lineups and provided a sample line up of Aoki, Seager, Cano, Cruz, Lind, Smith, Marte, Ianetta and Martin. He recognized the difference Cruz’s production as an outfielder and his diminished offensive effectiveness as a DH. He definitely said the right things.
It was an intriguing day. It seemed that everyone was ready for Spring Training to start, and that time should be taken now to see what the M’s have. If there was a downside on the day, it was the weather. Though dry, it was chilly and after noon it also became windy adding to the cold. By 2:30 we were definitely ready to retire to Henry’s across Edgar Martinez Way, only to learn they were out of Lucille on tap. A very good day if not perfect.