Seattle baseball is back, and so are the fans.
After last year’s canceled Opening Day and empty stadiums due to the pandemic, thousands of people were eager to return to T-Mobile Park Thursday for the Mariners home opener. It was also a long-awaited day for the many nearby street vendors that rely on M’s games and large crowds.
Five hours before first pitch on Thursday, Al Griffin had set up two bright yellow canopy tents on Occidental Avenue South, or “Hot Dog Alley,” that leads directly to the third base entrance of T-Mobile Park.
Owner of Al’s Gourmet Sausage, Griffin’s been doing this for 27 years. Except last year, of course, when Opening Day was canceled and just about everything was going into lockdown. This year though, he has the stereo turned up — Latin jazz, heavy on the sax — and the grill on hot. Hot steam billows from the grill, where sliced onions and rows of glistening dogs sizzle.
“Man, we love it. Everybody’s excited.” Griffin says as other vendors set up tents. “Being a year away from the sport, it’s been a drag. So you can feel the enthusiasm.”
Fans arrived early to walk through Hot Dog Alley and take selfies in front of the stadium. On every corner were groups of people re-selling tickets.
One person, cruising through the crowds on a Jump bike with a sign that read, “I buy tickets,” said they had been busy all day selling tickets for Opening Day and this weekend’s games. Pedicabs whizzed by as food vendors cooked, filling the air with the rich smells of grilled meat. With sunset approaching, it almost felt like a normal Opening Day. The only addition this year were the many different Mariners face masks.
Two people in matching team jackets were Susan and Kurt Flynn who drove to the game from southwest Washington. “It’s kind of our date night,” Kurt Flynn says.
They’ve been longtime Mariners fans and finally bought season tickets — just before last year’s season. They watched the shortened season at home.
“This year we’re excited to finally be able to be here,” Susan Flynn says. The two have received one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and said they felt safe at the game with masks and social distancing.
For the most part at Thursday’s game, fans appeared to make an effort at safe Covid practices.
Groups were small and stayed together while eating and drinking. Most people wore masks while walking around. T-Mobile Park now has dozens of signs around the stadium reminding people to stay distanced and to alert an employee if they feel unwell. Seating looks different this year as pods of people are dotted throughout the stadium, kept apart at least six feet. No-touch hand sanitizers are stationed every few feet and the water fountains are locked shut.
This was the first large sports event in Seattle since the pandemic began, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against large gatherings like this. Right now T-Mobile Park is allowing a maximum of 9,000 fans. One usher joked that with that many people it felt like a typical weekday night during a bad series, but this time the energy was up.
“It’s a good sight to see even at a small scale,” says Troy Carter, a pedicab driver. “It’s just good to see live actual fans of the game come be part of it as a home team.”
Carter’s pedicab, Old Grey, pumps out music as he weaves down Hot Dog Alley past Al’s Gourmet Sausage. A line of people wait for Al’s signature dog, the hickory bacon beer bratwurst.
Griffin says he likes to focus on the future of the season and not looking back at last year. “We had no fans. No baseball. And baseball is the heart of my business.”
The Mariners beat the San Francisco Giants Thursday in extra innings and a rare walk-off walk win.