Mariners fever: Some fans get carried away
Seattle Times staff reporter
The 14-game win streak has entered its third week, a 12-game homestand is nearing the end of its second, and the Mariners are first and foremost in Seattle's consciousness.
Their record is better than any team's in baseball, their attendance leads the American League, and the fans' enthusiasm is spreading everywhere. Even onto the field.
Last week, a streaker tried to swipe second base while wearing only his underwear, a fan threw a ball at an injured Tampa Bay infielder after he failed to make a diving catch, and Cal Ripken's home-run ball was thrown back onto the field, a lack of respect for what may have been the sure Hall of Famer's final game in Seattle.
Three moments from three days that don't represent most fans at Safeco Field but do show the side effects of Mariners fever.
Seattle is the city where Cleveland's Kenny Lofton was applauded last year after robbing the Mariners of a home run. But in a season when the Mariners reached the 1 millionth-fan mark quicker than any in club history, some fans need a quick lesson in manners. Most are well-versed in ballpark etiquette, but others could use a quick course before Seattle plays San Diego at 7:05 tonight, the first game in the final series of the homestand.
"That energy at the park is just unbelievable," said Brett Dow, 31.
The excitement is understandable. No major-league team has started a season better since 1912, and the Mariners - a team some worried wouldn't contend - are making baseball history with every win.
Dow was part of the fifth straight Safeco Field sellout and the Mariners' 14th consecutive victory. Hundreds brought brooms to celebrate a series sweep of the Texas Rangers, and thousands brought "boos" for former Mariner Alex Rodriguez as the longest win streak in franchise history rolled on.
The crowd stood in the eighth inning, almost everyone cheering Mariners pitcher Jeff Nelson's inning-ending strikeout. But about 50 beer-fueled fans were jeering reliever Mike Venafro in the Ranger bullpen. Insults rained down just like the purple, pink and yellow Monopoly money that a fan emptied into the bullpen, a colorful objection to Rodriguez's decision to take the money and run to Texas.
"Given the run that Seattle's on, it gives the average heckler a lot of good fuel," Venafro said. "Saying `You stink' is fine. Then we tell 'em back, `You stink, too. I can smell you from here.' That's just fun."
But about five fans were ejected for cursing Venafro, showing the difference between rooting and rudeness as Seattle's excitement over the Mariners' historic start peaks during the season's longest homestand.
Texas bullpen catcher Ken Guthrie finished three days in the besieged visitors' bullpen and left impressed by the enthusiasm but also concerned some fans were too vulgar.
"The sad thing is sometimes they use foul language, which isn't fair," he said. "I couldn't care less what they say to us, but it isn't fair for the youngsters, or the women for that matter."
Other objections are more minor: a fan blocking the aisle, oblivious to someone trying to navigate a crowd while holding three drinks.
Ballpark usher Harry Nigg, 65, is a former Marine with a tattoo on his forearm and sense of how to behave at the ballpark. Taking a seat in the middle of an at-bat buys cold stares from irritated fans. Cursing or grabbing a ball in play earns an ejection.
That's the beginner's class. The finer points are what distinguish the sophisticated fan, beginning with the debate over whether "The Wave" belongs in a baseball stadium.
"Absolutely not," said Dow, a Mariners fan who has attended games for 20 years. "I have season tickets for the Seahawks, and it belongs at football. I just turn my head when The Wave happens."
Mariners second baseman Bret Boone, a third-generation major-leaguer, has no problems about fans doing The Wave.
"It's their time, and they can do what they want," Boone said.
Expressing appreciation for an opponent's play is the hallmark of a fan who simply enjoys the game.
"A courtesy golf clap," was how Dow described it. "You don't have to go crazy or anything. Just show appreciation."
Dow, from Seattle, caught his first foul ball last week, a tip from the bat of Mike Bordick that sits on his dresser. He can't imagine what prompted the fan last week to throw back a home run off the bat of Ripken, a certain Hall of Famer.
"Not bad behavior, just dumb," he said. "That's a once-in-a-lifetime deal."
But not everyone has Dow's appreciation for opponents, and the bullpen at Safeco Field is ground zero for antagonism. Separated by only a chain-link fence, fans stand within 30 feet while opposing pitchers warm up. Because there are no seats, the walkway is a perfect venue for drive-by insults.
A few fans cross the line with comments that include cursing and sexual innuendo, something stadium policy prohibits. Violators are ejected immediately, and King County sheriff's Deputy Bob Conner said two to five fans are ejected per night. He has thrown out as many as 35.
"I've seen the etiquette go down," Conner said. "The bullpen is so close. It's great for the fans and the kids want to see the players. But you get the yahoos who want to pound the beer and think it's smart to sit here and yell at the players, make degrading comments."
Guthrie, the Rangers' the bullpen catcher, spent three days trading barbs with fans and throwing balls to polite little kids. Jeers are part of the game, as natural as a fastball thrown high and tight.
"Go ahead and root and call me the bum or whatever you want to do," Guthrie said.
"That doesn't affect me, but I try to get them to understand that using foul language just isn't the right way to go about it."
Danny O'Neil can be reached at 206-515-5536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.