He shoots, he scores

A few ways even the cheapest fans can cheer.

NAPSTER'S GOT IT all wrong. Sharing MP3s is sooo early 2000. The maligned dot-com could right the ship by developing a way to "share" with Ticketmaster's hard drive. Hell, I could revive that fleeting community spirit with one trade: Nicholson's courtside Lakers throne for a "View Reserved" upper-bowl seat at Safeco next time the D-Rays are in town.

Until the Second Coming of Shawn Fanning, the frugal will naively approach the Mariners' ticket window an hour before first pitch and blurt, "One bleacher, please." A summer caveat, jock-rockers: Get smart. We—the conniving, cheapskate, lower rung of Seattle sports junkies—are many. The bleachers sold out eons before your impromptu SoDo excursion.

And, please, don't ask the same question of a scalper. I tried: once. If the 5,000 people clogging Occidental Avenue weren't swapping Ichiro paraphernalia like vials of coke, my Oakley-sporting, unsmiling liaison would've delivered a Nolan-Ryan-on-Robin-Ventura-style whuppin' for my ignorance.

Unless you work for a frequently comped corporation, a cheap date at Safeco is like solving Rubik's Cube, except you can't throw the ballpark across the room. Suck it up, call a week in advance, and score $6 center field bleacher seats. You'll get what you pay for: limited views of the scoreboard and skyline, frat goons inexplicably starting the Wave during a rally, and little chance of a souvenir dinger from our lovable small ball squad. But the aluminum purity and unchecked squabble of America's Pastime circa 1950 is without compare.

If your yen for summer sports can't tolerate those suffocating 70-degree July afternoons, try Key Arena, home of the WNBA's hapless but indisputably infectious Seattle Storm. Every columnist-generated platitude you've read about the league's class, vigor, and ceaseless fan devotion is the Real Deal. And compared to the NBA, prices are infinitesimal. This winter you could've sat half-court in the Key's lower bowl to watch the Sonics scrape toward a lottery pick for a whopping $110 per game. This summer you can watch the Storm (hopefully) improve on 2000's 6-26 bow from the same seat for $27 per game.

Like the now-defunct XFL in an alternate universe, the WNBA is an upstart start-up marketed for middle-class folks weary of the established competition's many peccadilloes. Accordingly, players appear accessible and unpretentious. At a woefully underattended preseason game at U-Dub in May, Storm guard Charmin Smith and Portland Fire forward Kristin Folkl grappled viciously for a loose ball. When the whistle blew for a jump ball, the women made eye contact, laughed, and patted one another on the back. The relieved audience followed suit. No coaches were strangled, no fans were spit on, and no infantile zillionaire owners screeched expletives. Some damn good teams will take the Storm to school this summer, but the sessions will be dirt-cheap and consistently fun.

BUSHELS OF AMATEUR area leagues offer quality play, great attitudes, and no gate charge. Two, in particular, have the spunk to justify gas-station bloodletting. The first, the Emerald City Softball Association, sports two divisions: Open (20 teams) and Women's (16 teams)—the latter the only all-lesbian softball league in the Puget Sound area. Both divisions play every weekend at Lower Woodland Playfields near Greenlake. It's a gust of fresh air to combat the stench of corporate weekend cell-phone leagues. The Open Division is co-ed and co-orientation, courting gays, lesbians, and allies. Open is further split into four divisions, A through D, in descending order of skill. Winners of each bracket, plus the Women's Division champion, will head to San Jose for the Gay World Series in August.

"It's very professional. All the fields have stands and concessions," says Open Division Commissioner Mike Farris. "It's also very competitive. Some people play softball because they want to be good and win; some people just want to get a beer afterwards. We don't care if you can't throw or hit. We'll teach you how."

The second free amateur league is Disc NW Summer League, where Ultimate Disc play occurs weekdays in Magnuson Park. Co-ed teams of seven pass a disc downfield until a player catches it in the opposition's end zone. Whoever has possession can't run and has 10 seconds to pass to a teammate. If the disc is dropped, possession changes. The games are offense-oriented, with scores typically in the 15-10 range. Kind of like human foosball.

"So far, the only spectators are other Ultimate players," says Disc NW Commissioner Chris Blake. "ESPN 2 has had Ultimate on at, like, 3 in the morning. There's been talk about it as a demo sport for the Olympics, but nothing's come of it so far."

Regardless of what sport you fancy this summer, or whether you prefer pro or amateur, there is one immutable credo of unparalleled importance: Wear baggy pants and bring your own goddamn snacks.

 
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