DESPERATE PEOPLE STAND EVERYWHERE, holding up their hands with one or two fingers displayed:

Need One Ticket!

Need Two Tickets!

Some carry signs -- black lettering scrawled on cardboard. They fight their way through the crowd, muscling past protesters carrying signs of their own:

No More Public $$!

Need Three Tickets!

My School Has Asbestos!

Need One Ticket!

This is the scene three hours before the inaugural game at Safeco Field -- fans and protesters jockeying for position. The protesters bravely stand their ground, obviously overwhelmed, hopelessly outnumbered. Drunken fans stumble out of the Pyramid Brewery across the street and leer at them. "Fuckin' faggots," one of them mutters.

Because, you know, people who don't want to pay $517 million for a new ballpark have gotta be fuckin' faggots.

This is what I see as I approach Safeco Field. The ballpark itself looms ahead, a giant sign reminding me where I am. Reporters are everywhere, waiting to go live, picking their teeth, checking their makeup. This is the big story.

Inside the ballpark, the stands are already half-filled. I fight my way to my seat -- Section 143, Row 26, Seat 13. Twenty-six rows back from the left field line. Directly in front of me is center field. Home plate is a tiny blemish off to my right. The roof is open, a gentle breeze caressing the stands. The grass is brilliant. The dirt in the infield is perfect. Off in the distance, a train can be heard approaching.

Sitting there in Section 143, Row 26, Seat 13, the ballpark is beautiful. Having lived here all my life, I've never watched a professional ball game outside, the smells of summer around me. Pro sports have always meant filtered air and artificial turf.

I think of a father and son having a catch, tossing the ball back and forth, back and forth; little league and pick-up games, kids playing in a sandlot, in the street; Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Satchel Paige, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio.

The spirit of the game overtakes me. For a moment I love Safeco Field. Then something catches my eye -- a giant advertising banner for Safeco Insurance hanging directly across the field from me. To my left is a massive SAFECO FIELD sign, and to my right yet another Safeco banner. I am surrounded.

Welcome to Safeco Field, brought to you by....

I look around the ballpark, my nostalgic bliss rapidly evaporating. Advertising banners hang everywhere -- Microsoft, KIRO-7, Real Networks, AT&T, Konica, Oberto, Bank of America, Tully's Coffee, Compaq, Pepsi, Boeing, Fox Sports, Eddie Bauer, BP, Budweiser,, U.S. Bank, the Seattle P-I, and of course, Safeco. Planes dragging more banners circle overhead.

This is more like a father and son tossing corporate sponsors back and forth, back and forth.

Staring at all those advertisements, I wonder how the ballpark can still be $100 million over budget. But the question goes unanswered as the hoopla begins....

hoopla n. 1. great excitement; bustle. 2. showy publicity; ballyhoo.

Fireworks explode in the sky! The Seattle Symphony plays "Sprach Zarathustra" (otherwise known as the theme to 2001)! A giant smoke machine engulfs the spectators on the 300 level above left field! A five-year-old kid races around the bases as if a pack of wolves were chasing him (don't ask)! The crowd roars! The crowd applauds! The crowd stands and roars and applauds!

Meanwhile, I have yet to see a beer vendor. Impending doom arrives....

doom n. 1. orig., a statute; decree. 2. a judgment; esp., a sentence of condemnation. 3. destiny; fate. 4. tragic fate; ruin or death, etc.

As the National Anthem warbles to an end, I make my way out of Aisle 26 in search of beer. Suddenly there are streamers everywhere -- shiny blue strands falling from the sky. The crowd erupts into still more cheering. I look up just as an unfurled streamer, which is obviously ticked off at me, clobbers me in the head. Rubbing my bruised nugget, I look down at the kamikaze at my feet. Printed on it are the words "Safeco Insurance."

Of course.

In the concession areas, people look pissed off. They frown and scowl and roll their eyes, crane their necks to see what in the hell is taking so long? Grossly unprepared, the poor stiffs working behind the counters look equally perturbed. Every stand and beer cart has a line, some 50 to 60 people long.

$517 million greenbacks and I can't get a beer without missing three innings.

I pick a line and wait. After 10 minutes, I still haven't moved (thankfully, the pre-game shenanigans are still going on). When I finally get to the front of the line, I am shocked at what I see: The vendor is in his late 70s, his hands trembling as he struggles to open a can of Bud, his gnarly fingers bandaged and taped.

$517 million and the goddamn Mariners can't give Grandpa a tool to open their $5 cans of Bud?

I order two, just as the Mariners storm the field, wincing as I watch the vendor come close to breaking another fingernail. As I sit back down in Seat 13, Jamie Moyer is throwing the first pitch. Camera flashes fill the ballpark. The crowd gasps.

Strike one.

The crowd cheers.

The game goes on....

By the sixth inning, the Mariners are down by a run. Griffey has failed to hit a home run. The crowd is growing restless. I get up in search of food.

Back by the concession stands, the lines are still 50 people deep. I look around, desperate. Then it appears -- an oasis; heaven. A beer stand completely unoccupied. I rush over and pull out $5.

"Can I get a beer?"

"Sorry, I'm all out. Everybody's out."

I am aghast. $517 million and they've run out of beer in the sixth inning. Another desperate soul appears next to me, equally aghast.

The poor woman at the cart can only shrug. At least she doesn't have to break her fingers opening more cans.

Thoroughly annoyed, I set off in search of more beer. Given that it's impossible to buy food, I'll be damned if I'm going to spend the rest of the ball game without ridiculously overpriced refreshments.

Wandering the ballpark, the roar of the crowd ringing throughout, I stumble across what looks to be a bar hidden on the upper decks. Relieved, I make for the door, but an usher appears before me.

"Do you have a ticket?"

"Yeah," I say, and show it to her.

"Sorry, you need a different ticket to come in."

I look past her shoulder at all the happy people inside the bar. They're all dressed for success. I imagine them laughing mockingly at me, lighting cigars with $100 dollar bills.

But you can't drink beer banners! I want to scream at the usher.

More people arrive, creating a small mob behind me. They all want to get in. They all want beer.

None of them has the magic ticket.

All of a sudden it's like Titanic. All us peasant folk trying desperately to break through the barrier to First Class: Let us in so we can have a fighting chance! Let us in so we can get a beer!

$517 million for a ticket on The Titanic.

Of course.

This is baseball in Seattle, and across the nation.

Oh yeah, and the Mariners lost 3-2.

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