I don’t feel like there are many other ballparks in MLB that have the scenic backdrop that T-Mobile Park boasts behind the left field porch. If you’re sitting high enough, you can see across Seattle into Puget Sound. However, the downside of the view is the breeze that comes off the water. Even the most perfect of days can feel 10 degrees cooler with what feels like an Arctic wind blowing into the park. Because of that breeze, my mom always made sure I had a jacket with me when we went to games, even if it was an 80-degree day.
One such day was June 3, 2000 with the San Diego Padres in town. I was ecstatic to get to see Tony Gwynn play live. As usual, I carried my jacket to the ballpark because it was 80 degrees, but it was “probably going to cool down” so I was “going to want it.” (I never wore it.)
We entered T-Mobile (Safeco Field at the time) from the left field gate and headed to our seats in right field. As we walked up the stairs above the bullpens in left field, I noticed Gwynn was in the cage for batting practice. I stopped on the landing as he readied for the next pitch and he laced it to opposite field. My way! The ball tailed from left center to straightaway left, right at me. As I held my jacket in my right arm, I reached my glove as far over the handrail as I could to make the catch, but I could feel that my jacket was in the way. The ball hit the fingertips of my glove then bounced off the cement landing and back down to the field. A collective “Oooh!” could be heard throughout the ballpark. I couldn’t believe it. I missed out on a ball hit by a Hall of Famer because I carried a jacket to the ballpark.
After I had gathered myself, I decided to head down near the right field line to get a closer look at the field and the rest of BP. As I was standing down the line, Ryan Klesko stepped into the cage to hit. I was a fan of Klesko from his days with the Atlanta Braves, so I was paying close attention. On his final swing in the cage, Klesko looked as though he was trying to hit the Hit It Here Café and turned on the final pitch to pull it foul down the line.
As the ball sailed over my head, I turned to watch where it landed. I thought maybe I could chase down the carom off the seats. A man about five rows up from me was turned away from the field talking to another man to his right. Everyone below yelled “Heads up!” in unison, and he turned his head back just in time to get slammed in the nose by the hard-hit ball. His beer flew about 15 feet in the air and blood sprayed out of his nose. After he received attention from the nearest usher, he never moved and stayed in his seat for the game. A shot to the nose like that surely would have sidelined me for at least a week.
In the end, a mini rally in the bottom of the ninth that saw solo homers from Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner wasn’t enough to bring Seattle back in a 7-4 loss. I can still remember Edgar’s dinger headed straight for my seat off the bat. Of course, because he was a right-handed batter, the ball tailed away from me and ended up about two sections to my left.
Despite the loss, I learned an important lesson at the ballpark that day. No matter where you’re sitting or standing, it’s important to always be prepared for the ball to come your way. You never know if you’re going to catch a ball from a Hall of Famer in the face.