OK, SO I'M not a baseball writer.

In fact, it was at least an hour into last week's Safeco Field preview party before I noticed

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A fan's-eye view of the Safe's contents.

OK, SO I'M not a baseball writer.

In fact, it was at least an hour into last week's Safeco Field preview party before I noticed that the Mariners weren't playing a game that day. The new ballpark looks shiny and new (even though it's designed to look old and classic) and possesses an amazing number of nooks, crannies, stairways, landings, decks, passageways, and ramps. Lovely.

But I'm not too stubborn to learn from the pros. Since the two Seattle daily papers have backed the new Mariners stadium to the hilt (practically from the moment the first tax dollar was stolen), I decided to use their Safeco Field coverage to identify the five most important issues in covering the stadium opening. Here they are, in no particular order:

The bathrooms: With all the boasting about the astounding number of toilets for female fans, it was surprising to find that the number of bathrooms for each gender seemed fairly equal (perhaps the women's bathrooms themselves are bigger, or just include more fixtures). However, the aluminum pee troughs in the men's room are a thing of the past, replaced by much-touted porcelain urinals. But as annoying as the troughs were (they are, after all, the major reason men don't wear light brown shoes to sporting events), the urinals take up more space and don't provide much more privacy, as they aren't separated by panels. Oh, well . . . at least we lost the Kingdome's goofy round hand sinks.

The seats: Reportedly, the Safeco seats are designed to accommodate bigger butts than those that sat in older ballparks. And folks in the new stadium's more expensive club seats get an extra inch of butt-room and a padded seat bottom. The $33 club seats are indeed comfortable, although they're hardly massive enough to handle a 300-pounder. The solution? A fat people's section with big ol' seats and tray tables (borrowing a euphemism from the clothing industry, we would call it our Big & Tall People's section). Hey, at a ballpark with "family restrooms," anything is possible.

The scoreboard: The best part of the $7.7 million scoreboard, which looms high above the cheap seats in left-center field, is the 26-by-46-foot TV screen at one side. On preOpening Day, one panel kept going black during the canned highlight reel, but there's little doubt that it will be fixed in time for the games, and that we'll soon spend more time looking at it than at the action on the field.

The weather: The daily newspapers noticed just recently that the summer weather in Seattle isn't so summery (the rest of us noticed when we were still wearing down jackets in late June). So just how did the Mariners arrange two sunny afternoons in a row for their Safeco Field previews? The rumor is that chairman John Ellis sold his soul to the devil. He would have asked for long-term contracts for Griffey and A-Rod instead, but he had a very small soul to work with.

The occasional appearance of the hot sun shouldn't be that big an issue. More than two-thirds of this season's games at the new stadium will be night contests (all the better for television). But be forewarned: Safeco won't have the Kingdome heater to help deal with those windy fall evenings. More than half of the seats should have cover during rain delays, though—unless, of course, the wind is blowing.

The hot dogs: There are few subjects more important than the details of the Mariners' sausage-in-bun plans. The Seattle Times devoted the top of its Sunday front page last October to a lengthy, in-depth news piece about the new "Mariner Dog." (Shortly afterward, the story's author quit his job and left journalism forever.) The Seattle Post-Intelligencer contributed a three-person taste test pitting the new Mariner Dog against the mighty Kingdog. (The Kingdog won in a sweep.)

Fortunately, our 39-minute wait in line (they're still working out the kinks in the system) provided plenty of time to observe the cooking protocols. The dogs are actually cooked in a standard broiler at the side of the stand, and are then placed briefly on a second broiler to engrave those all-important little grill lines on said wiener. Our own mini taste test, matching the $2.75 Mariner Dog against the $3.75 Super Dog, ended in a tie. I found the Mariner Dog puny and undistinguished, but the other taste-tester preferred it to the thicker and saltier Super Dog. (Celebrity sighting: King County Council member Greg Nickels was in the next line buying a Polish sausage but didn't offer us a bite.)

The high-tech condiment dispensers were cool, except for the fact they didn't work worth a darn. The relish dispenser kept the pickle stuff, but poured out plenty of sticky, sugary water. The ketchup dispenser didn't shut off properly, and the drips produced a fine puddle of Heinz on the counter (suitable for dipping). Yum.

Last but not least, remember to support my continuing effort to assign the affectionate nickname "the Safe" to Safeco Field. Picture the headlines: "Banking on the Safe"; "Mariners lock up Western Title in the Safe." It's almost enough to make baseball interesting.

 
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