The ultimate summer baseball road trip: best seats, best food, best hotels — Stop #2: Seattle

I’m deep into research for the third edition of my book, Roadside Baseball. I started planning a West Coast ballpark road trip because in this edition of the book, I want to include even more special pieces of history found both in and around the parks.

Marriott International stepped up to the plate and it became a different sort of road trip; for me, the ultimate way to enjoy a baseball road trip by staying in some truly exceptional hotels. Throw in some of the best seats in the house and you’ve got the makings of a truly unique adventure. Ready? Let’s go!

Tour stop #2: Safeco Field, Seattle

I could not wait to get to Seattle from Oakland. First of all, I LOVE Safeco Field. I also love the city. But best of all, my son Charlie would be joining me for this leg of the trip and we hit the ground running once he landed at Sea-Tac airport. He was quite young the last time he had been to Safeco, and like me, he couldn’t wait to get back.

My son Charlie, and me, at Safeco Field 7–3–18

This gem of a ballpark really turns 20 next year? It’s hard to imagine. It still feels sparklingly new, innovative and as forward-thinking as it did back in 1999 when it first opened (right next to where the old Kingdome once stood). The Mariners’ state-of-the-art ballpark (with a retractable roof) officially opened for business on July 15, 1999 after more than five years of planning and construction. Since then, it has become one of the premier facilities in Major League Baseball.

Rebecca Hale, Director of Public Information for the Mariners, took Charlie and I for an in-depth tour before the gates opened up, and her knowledge, enthusiasm and baseball smarts brought the place to life for us.

The entrance

Safeco’s dramatic entranceway (where the Ken Griffey Jr. statue is located by the home plate gate) is no accident. As Hale explained, because the Kingdome (like other domes) had no true “main” portal, they wanted Safeco to have a special, “grand” entrance, just like classic long-gone parks such as Ebbets Field, Shibe Park and Forbes Field.

The many artistic touches at the entrance include a surreal sculpture made up of hundreds of regulation MLB bats. The rest of the interiors’ textures and colors all reflect the tone and emotion of the local area; with water being a major theme. There are marvelous ballpark aesthetics at work from floor to ceiling; all made more appealing by the rich consistency of the many soothing shades of green that seamlessly define the park’s look.

The weather may be rough in the spring, but in summertime it’s often nearly perfect and it stays light up here in the north until after 9 o’clock in the evening.

Hale took us up to the stadium roof top, just above the main entrance, now a family-friendly space where kids can play and wander while parents can kick back and take in one of the grandest views of the Puget Sound (and nearby Mount Rainier). Do not miss this breathtaking view when you visit.

The Pen

As I have written, I LOVE to be able to wander in ballparks and watch from different perspectives. Hale explained how Safeco is a wanderer’s dream park. The main concourse is designed with literally dozens of fun and unique vantage points — open to all. Want to stand behind home plate and watch the entire game? No problem. But to truly understand the freedom of ballpark space, one must visit the Pen.

As the Mariners describe it, “The hottest spot in town isn’t in Belltown or Ballard. It’s The ‘Pen at Safeco Field, right next to the Mariners bullpen in centerfield. Gates open 2 ½ hours before first pitch, a half hour earlier than all other ballpark gates. Enjoy tasty food choices from local celebrity chef, Ethan Stowell, and happy hour specials all season long.”

The Pen is an open area in center that’s one part spring break, one part outdoor tavern and one part the best social gathering spot in town. It’s literally a 9-inning party. The Pen features:

  • Centerfield ‘Pen gate opens 2 ½ hours before the first pitch.
  • Un-obscured view of the playing field.
  • One of kind vantage point of the bullpens (both Mariners and visiting teams).
  • A cozy fire pit at the entrance just inside the Centerfield Gate.
  • Caught Looking Lounge, a full service cocktail lounge and Coors Light Rail Bar for all our beverage needs.

Before every game, The ‘Pen is home to the best Happy Hour in Seattle. Get $6.50 draft beers at all concessions locations in The ‘Pen starting 2 1/2 hours before every game. Here are the times to be there for each:

  • 7:10 p.m. game: 4:40 p.m. — 6:10 p.m.
  • 6:10 p.m. game: 3:40 p.m. — 5:10 p.m.
  • 1:10 p.m. game: 10:40 a.m. — 12:10 p.m.
  • 12:40 p.m. game: 10:10 a.m. — 11:40 a.m.

The views are jaw-dropping. The party atmosphere is infectious and the viewing opportunities are many and special. And don’t miss that small plaque in the visitor’s bullpen marking Cal Ripken’s famed home run at the 2001 All Star Game — right where the ball landed.

Plaque marking famous Ripken home run

Food in the Pen includes:

Ballard Pizza Co.
Ballard Pizza Co.,by Ethan Stowell, serves pizza by the slice, as well as Caesar salad. Selections include: cheese; pepperoni; Funghi (seasonal fresh mushrooms and thyme); Staple & Fancy (pepperoni, pineapple and jalapeño); Primo (Zoe salami, red onion, pickled peppers and fresh mozzarella). Gluten-free crust will also be available.

Dynamite Chicken
Dynamite Chicken is another Ethan Stowell concept from his Bramling Cross restaurant. Menu items include Dynamite Chicken (Stowell’s own buttermilk-marinated fried chicken); hot wings with honey-chili sauce; “Seattle Wings” (Taylor Shellfish Farms fried oysters with Frank’s RedHot sauce); salty, vinegary pickle fries and spicy tater tots.

Great State Burger
Great State Burger, a Josh Henderson restaurant, brings its take on the classic American burger to the ballpark featuring organically raised beef with a single or double patty, with or without cheese. There’s also Great State’s signature veggie burger (organic grains and seasonal vegetables, deep-fried). Sides include crinkle cut fries and organic chocolate, strawberry or vanilla milkshakes.

Edgar’s Cantina
Poquitos authentic Mexican cuisine takes over the Northwest Mex concept at Edgar’s Cantina and Edgar’s Tacos, which offer a selection of street-style tacos (chicken, beef and pork) served on hand-made corn tortillas, along with seasonal margaritas and authentic Oaxacan chapulines (chili-lime seasoned fried grasshoppers).

Okay we tried the grasshoppers. Honestly? Both my son and I had a hard time getting them down. Chewy, with an earthy, wooden flavor (spiced by chili-lime seasoning) they were certainly interesting and different — but we ended up opting for fresh local fish. Hey — we tried!

As good as the food is in the Pen, throughout the rest of the park is an eclectic, mouth-watering array — the best I have ever seen in any ballpark from the freshest sushi, killer BBQ, local seafood (many of the choices are local) wine bars and the hottest dumpling house on the planet, Din Tai Fung.

Making soup dumpling at Din Tai Fung.

Safeco’s charms are endless. Wonderful play areas for the kids:

And a new Mariners Hall of Fame that honors not just franchise legends, but the baseball history of the entire region:

Our seats, (section 127 behind home plate, row 13) were incredible but again, we could hardly stay seated for more than two innings knowing what awaited us throughout the park.

The view from our seats

All in all, it’s hard to imagine a better environment for baseball (or socializing) than this sublime, emerald city sanctuary. Fan- friendly, creative, energetic, enthusiastic — the Mariners simply spoil their guests with a supremely satisfying experience that is overwhelmingly positive and user-friendly (they even offer free Wi-Fi and many free charging stations throughout the park for your smart phone). My opinion? It gets no better in the MLB.

Our hotel was just as magnificent as the ballpark.

How convenient is the beautiful Sheraton Seattle Hotel? We walked to the ballpark.We walked to other iconic destinations including Pike Place Market, historic Pioneer Square, and Seattle’s sprawling Waterfront. I never touched my car once we checked in.

The hotel’s perfect location makes for a great launching point to spend a weekend visiting popular attractions like the Space Needle or the Seattle Aquarium, or experiencing the charm of Seattle’s oldest neighborhood. A day trip to nearby Woodinville Wine Country or stunning Mount Rainer National Park? No problem. Exquisite service, many elevated amenities (including five unique dining options, a modern Sheraton Fitness Center and a heated indoor lap pool) made the Sheraton Seattle Hotel an unforgettable stop for my son and I. Lots of understated elegance here. Terrific staff. We look forward to returning soon.

Next stop: San Francisco

EXTRA INNINGS: While in Seattle, we visited the former site of Sicks Stadium, which stood from 1938–1979.

Named for Emil Sick (owner of the Rainer Brewing Company, whose team the Seattle Rainers of the Pacific Coast League played there along with the short-lived MLB Seattle Pilots), the once-beloved stadium is now the site of a Lowe’s store. A marker and plaque located outside near one of the entrances (in the lumber area) identifies the exact site of home plate. There are also a pair of signs outside the store identifying it as a former stadium location. Address: 2700 Rainier Avenue South, Seattle WA

We also checked out the Ebbets Field Flannels shop, located just a few blocks away from Safeco. Talk about bringing baseball history back to life. Quoting owner/founder Jerry Cohen, “In 1988, my search for an original, wool uniform led me to a warehouse containing baseball flannel dating from the 40’s. I bought in one bolt at a time and we literally built our company on it.” Some 30 years later, Ebbets Field Flannels continues to be run by its original founders, and remains committed to bringing the quality, beauty and craftsmanship of mid-Century American athletic garments to a 21st Century public.

As a kid, Jerry was fascinated with sports emblems and uniforms. He would purchase baseball cards to see the uniform changes and colors rather than for the players. Today, his company focuses on producing Negro leagues and the pre-1958 Pacific Coast League caps, jerseys and more. The designs are lovingly hand crafted and have become a hit with fans of all ages. A must visit if you are in the neighborhood, or you may also shop online. The store even boasts an authentic bench from the aforementioned Sicks Stadium!

Bench from Sicks Stadium

For more information about my books and to follow along on this baseball road trip, visit www.chrisepting.com and follow me on Twitter @chrisepting. You may also purchase the current edition of Roadside Baseball here.

More soon from San Francisco!