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Sunday, August 11, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Les Carpenter / NFL reporter

Engineer leaves mark on Seahawks Stadium

There will come a day this fall, with the raindrops pelting their brand-new stadium, that the Seahawks will turn their helmeted heads to a stormy sky and thank Michael Soligo. They probably won't even know his name.

Which is nothing new, it's been this way for years in city after city across North America. No one ever hears about the little people. Even if this structural engineer from a little town outside Toronto is at least partially responsible for a few of Barry Bonds' 600 home runs, the White Sox's first division title of the 1990s and the fact that George W. Bush is in the White House.

Soligo laughs.

"Please don't hang that one on me," he says. "I don't want to start a border war with the States."

What he does, however, is keep stadium builders from making enormous mistakes, like the one San Francisco made so many years ago when it built Candlestick Park right in the absolute windiest part of the city.

In the office he shares with meteorologists, graphic engineers and various scientists (called RWDI), he studies wind patterns, builds wind tunnels and models all to determine precisely where wind will blow and rain will fall.

Imagine what would have happened if the builders of the ballpark for Bush's Texas Rangers hadn't employed Soligo's services. The original design for the stadium called for the stands to end before center field, leaving a wide-open space behind the fence that would look deep into the Texas sky.

Soligo's models said a huge daily gale would come howling off the plains and roar right through the opening, making home runs nearly impossible. He suggested the Rangers close the opening, which they did with an obtrusive but wind-blocking office building. Then he recommended huge advertising panels for the stadium's roof that further reduced the gusts.

Had the Rangers not hired him or failed to heed his advice, then the stadium that made Bush's political and business career might never have been a success and we might never have heard of Katherine Harris, hanging chads or the morning Donald Rumsfeld briefing.

Then again, had the Giants not hired Soligo to find the best ways to cut down on swirling winds at Pacific Bell Park, Bonds wouldn't have had his clear shots at McCovey's Cove or his 73 home runs last year.

The White Sox hired him to advise them on what kind of a lineup they should use in new Comiskey Park.

Heck, he knew long before Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez that the winds and cool air would knock their home-run drives flat out of the sky. In fact, if someone had only thought to ask while Safeco was being built, he and the others at RWDI would have done a study on the effects of the late-day sun on the park's hitting background — eliminating the biggest of the Mariners' headaches.

That's how subtle but significant his research is. Each $20,000 study RWDI conducts could be worth millions to its clients.

In the case of the Seahawks, who opened their glittering new stadium last night, the effects of his work might not come clear for several months but could result in a very important advantage. Professional football outdoors is still a new concept in Seattle. But in the brief time the Seahawks were at Husky Stadium, they discovered the weather brought a definite advantage. Teams that came in to play them did not adjust well to the wind and the icy rain.

Soligo will not talk about the specifics of his research for the Seahawks, but according to those familiar with the project, the RWDI people — using years of information from the climatic data center in North Carolina — discovered that the winds at the new stadium will carry right over the roof on the west side. This should leave the west stands, the west sideline and even part of the field on the west side relatively dry, while putting the east sideline straight in the face of a sometimes bitter wind.

Using this knowledge, the stadium was built with the Seahawks' bench on the west sideline, exposing opponents to the elements on the east side. And if you don't think this is important, just ask the Dallas Cowboys, who couldn't handle the rain that whipped in their faces last December.

"We knew all week what it was going to be like, there's just no way to prepare for it," Cowboys kick returner Reggie Swinton said after their 29-3 loss here.

"In any stadium or arena we design, we create a home-field advantage," said Ellerbe Becket's Kelly Kerns, who oversaw the building of the stadium.

And given the way things have gone for the Seahawks the last several years, they could use an advantage or two. After all, the Kingdome, with archaic acoustics, once brought them a huge edge. This place has the potential to do the same.

And all because of an unknown structural engineer from outside Toronto who spent his Friday evening buying athletic shoes.

"We're just a bunch of engineers and scientists with an entrepreneurial flair," he said.

That and a very big influence on the games that are played.

Les Carpenter: 206-464-2280 or lcarpenter@seattletimes.com.

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