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Tuesday, February 9, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Piniella Foresees Second-Half Boost From New Ballpark

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Lou Piniella stood on the concrete slab that one day will be his office at Safeco Field.

Rags and construction debris littered the room, causing one observer to point out that the place looked like it already had been victimized by one of Piniella's famous temper tantrums.

The Mariner manager chortled loudest of all, then said: "This place is looking better and better. I'm looking forward to the day I can take off my goggles and hard hat and put on my uniform here."

That day - July 15 against the Padres - is approaching rapidly. In fact, as he toured the new ballpark for the first time since September, Piniella talked of his hopes of receiving a huge second-half boost when the Mariners change digs after the All-Star break.

"It should have a very positive effect," he said. "It's something for everyone to look forward to."

The Mariners will play their final 41 home dates at Safeco Field, including a 13-game homestand against Baltimore, Tampa Bay, New York and Chicago from July 30-Aug. 11.

"You would think it would give us a huge advantage," Piniella said. "A crowded ballpark every day - that's what home-field advantage is all about. Plus, we'll be playing in a park the rest of the league hasn't seen. As the summer goes on and the season progresses, that will become more important.

"Our job, basically, is to get off to a good start and look forward to getting in here."

Observing the restaurant in the right-field stands and the prospect of a home-run ball going that far, Piniella said, "I'll tell you what, that can be reached, believe me."

And told that a 470-foot poke would put a ball onto Royal Brougham Way outside the ballpark, he said, "I think that will be reached, too."

Piniella made it a point to meet for 30 minutes with groundskeeper Steve Peeler.

"When you play on a field like this, naturally, you can do some things, if you chose to, to help your situation out," he said.

Asked if he discussed time-honored baseball tricks such as tilting the base lines, growing tall or short grass, making the area around home plate hard or soft, he replied with a laugh, "There's plenty of time for that."

In discussing hard-core baseball issues, Piniella mulled his pitching rotation, waxed hopeful over closer Jose Mesa, and kicked around the idea of having Alex Rodriguez hit leadoff if rookie Carlos Guillen doesn't pan out.

"Today, I have baseball on the mind," he said, standing in the drizzle and cold of a Seattle afternoon. "But more in Peoria (Ariz., site of Mariner spring training) than Seattle."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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