My tax bracket usually dictates that I sit in the sections of the stadium where a mask will drop down if there’s a loss in cabin pressure. But seeing as how this is the week of my 30th birthday, the pity is running so thick that the family treated my wife and I to some really great seats at Safeco Field.
16 rows up from the field is not Bill Gates territory, but it is occasion enough for me to talk about what it’s like to sit in primo seats, where the sights and sounds extend beyond the screaming children and passing aircraft.
Heading into the stadium from the street, the first notable difference in the land of good seats is that I didn’t have to hike the miles of concrete incline and stairs to find my section.
My natural orientation on entering a baseball park is to climb like an F-16 taking off from an aircraft carrier, so I had to recalibrate when we steered a downward trajectory to get to our seats. My palms sweated as we hurled earthward. I reached for the ejection lever.
But the landing was soft. One row after another fell behind us. The sounds from the field faded up as the players warming up and the base coaches chit-chatting appeared first life-sized and then enormous. They are all enormous. You forget watching from a distance that the unnatural selection of major league baseball has weeded the little guys from the bunch, and all professional athletes are huge, even the mediocre players among them. Ryan Langerhans is a beast. Doug Fister in 9 feet tall.
Sitting that close is a cinematic experience. Every feed is active: the audio, the visual, even the sensory. You can feel the sound of the bat hitting the ball as well as you can hear it. Cliche as it may be, the little things rise in prominence. Langerhans patting a teammates back, Ichiro on deck.
My Fellow Americans
There are more middle-aged couples down in the rich seats. They are successful, cheerful people. The men have a wind-swept look. They wear class rings and windbreakers. One guy looked like he came straight from the marina to the game. A beer vendor called him Dick Van Dyke, and he looked like he led a sun-filled, smiling life. He clinked beer bottles with the other guy in their party of four, as if to toast the silvery healthfulness of each of their beards and the lives that enable those beards.
But the demographic wasn’t limited to these over-privileged tables for two. There was a big family right behind us, and they were having a helluva a time. Dad had a constant commentary going, the whole game. “Look at Figgins, he’s gotta smile like a horse.” Then he made a horse sound and his kids laughed and laughed. “What are you doin’ out there, Moore!” he bellowed when the young catcher missed an easy Big Papi pop-up right behind home plate. “Gimme the mitt, Moore, let me do it!”
There’s something about being in the expensive seats that lent this jokester a likability that might not have been there in the $10 seats. He seemed, in that low-altitude context, like a rebel, a firestarter, sticking it to the man. He had on a jersey with a customized name on the back that said “Big D.” He was great and so was his family.
As I alluded to, the sounds are more immediate down front. A big league bat striking the ball creates a singular sound. It’s a feeling. I felt it in row 16. You don’t feel that from up high. Ichiro’s contact rings like an axe-fall.
Home runs sail away, the same way they do for the hitter and the pitcher. They disappear into the distance. It lends an air of the mythic, that something fades away rather than simply traveling like a common mathematical point from one position to another along the grid. Moving and leaving are distinct.
When the game is over, the players walk towards you to leave, and they walk under you. A few players linger and say hi to friends in the stands. Mariners pitching coach John Wetteland rattled off the names of his kids’ friends who were at the game. “Kyle, right?” he said, pointing at them. The kids were not much impressed that a pitching coach took the time to name them.
This is Safeco Field I realize. The Mariners are far, far out of contention. The Red Sox were in town, but Youk, Drew, Pedroia were all out. It’s a subdued vibe all around. The sweet seats at Yankee Stadium, at the Cell, at Chavez Ravine, those are gonna be different. They will be be manic and throbbing and monied and everything. In Seattle, this September, the good seats were a place to lounge and listen, and hope that some hitting broke out.