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Tuesday, June 29, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Safeco Big And Cold, Players Say

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

After the Mariners' first official, if optional, workout at Safeco Field, Ken Griffey Jr. had an idea how to improve it for the fans once games begin there on July 15.

He called it, with a cackle, "Bone and Junior's Blankets."

"We can set up the concession right outside the park, catch the folks as they're going in, help 'em keep warm in there."

Jay "Bone" Buhner nodded with a frown. "It's a mite chilly inside."

It was on the cool side, but basically comfortable on a day with the temperatures in the mid-50s, with a slight breeze from the south filtering through open spaces on that side of the park.

About 10 players practiced hitting. Griffey joined all three groups, trying to get adjusted to the new park.

They hit about a dozen balls out. Edgar Martinez hit one out to the deepest spot, 420 feet to the left of center. Griffey hit several, one halfway up the seats in right. And Buhner hit a few, one into the second deck in left.

But the session seemed only to heighten the anxiety the hitters have going into The Safe, where the roof was closed in case the cloudy day turned rainy. The infield tarp arrived with a hole in it, and its replacement had not yet been delivered.

"The fences need to come in about 5 feet - at least," Buhner said.

Griffey smiled at his pal's words, but noted, "I'm not supposed to make any comments."

"I did hit one out to the deep part," Edgar said, "but I had to use every bit of strength I have. I just about came out of my shoes."

The players dressed in the Kingdome clubhouse and, after a short bus ride, entered Safeco via the tunnel just to the right of center. They were greatly impressed walking across the broad expanse of lush outfield grass toward the infield, which spoke well of the work of new groundskeeper Steve Peeler.

After crossing into foul ground behind first base, Buhner went into a slide and happily pointed to a huge grass stain on the right knee of his pants.

"This," he said, "is beautiful, truly beautiful."

Griffey looked up to the girders of the roof and said, "It feels like an airplane hangar."

Coach Sam Mejias hit fungo flies to his outfielders.

"I like it," he said. "The lights need to be realigned and need to burn in some because they're too bright. But overall, it should be fine to see the ball."

Alex Rodriguez arrived during the workout and watched from the stands in street clothes as several infielders took grounders.

"Real good. Not a bad bounce," third baseman Russ Davis said.

Second baseman David Bell, who had seen Peeler do his good work on the Busch Stadium field in St. Louis last year, called it "the best infield I've ever been on."

None of the pitchers threw off the mound, but Jamie Moyer jabbed the worried hitters by saying, "Just another hitters' park."

"Yeah," Buhner retorted, "look at the smile on Jamie's face when he said that."

The right fielder, who might try to come back from his left hamstring injury next weekend before the All-Star break, said the hitting background could be bad against right-handed pitchers because of an open space to the left of the scoreboard in center.

"It could be tough to see pitches . . . especially for a left-handed hitter," he said.

Manager Lou Piniella called the field and the facility gorgeous. "But some of our hitters are worried. I have to say the air was a bit heavy in there. They won't be complaining when a breeze blows a foul ball into the stands or, even better, helps a long fly ball go over the fence. And that's how baseball is really supposed to be."

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

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