Outward bound

Peoria postcard

I didn't go to opening night. I couldn't shake the memory from last year of sitting in the second deck at Safeco, shivering in a down jacket.

It isn't supposed to be that cold at a baseball game. Maybe in the fall, if the Mariners are in the playoffs, but not on Opening Day.

In March, I compromised with my baseball cravings, quit thinking about Opening Day (I would've had to buy scalped tickets, anyway), and followed the snowbirds south to Peoria, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. Half the professional baseball teams hold spring training in the Phoenix area, creating a huge magnet for sun-starved Northwest baseball fans (like me).

Peoria is pretty much one giant strip mall, separated by eight-lane arterials and controlled by five-minute stoplights, but I was there to watch baseball, not sightsee. In March, it was a balmy 75 degrees with a slight breeze—the locals said it was cold; I say it was perfect.

Before each game, the play-by-play guy would announce the Seattle weather forecast. The day he said 37 and wet snow, three beers toppled over on my aisle alone as the crowd cheered wildly. Well, make that half the crowd—the locals just stared in bewilderment at us pasty-skinned Northwesterners, as though we had just climbed out of a Viking canoe and stomped into the ballpark to celebrate the sun.

It was hard to see much from the left-field grass berm with the sun in our eyes, so we yelled ourselves hoarse cheering Ichiro as he ran wind sprints along the warning track. The box seats just behind the third-base dugout were much closer to the action: Watch the sweat ring enlarge on Freddy Garcia's hat inning by inning, plead with Jay Buhner to flip a baseball your way as he saunters around in his new role as coach, or join the drunks as they chant "left, right, left, right" to the opposing teams' strikeout victims.

By far the most vulgar snack was something called a colossal dog. I watched as a little boy carted one off to his seat—as thick as a silver dollar and longer than his school ruler, the dog was certain to cause stomach distress within the inning.

After one game, I played catch on one of the perfectly cropped practice fields out back of the main stadium, just like a major-leaguer for a few minutes.

I think that when I smell fresh-cut grass in Seattle, just like in Peoria, it will be time to head down to Safeco to catch a game.

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