A quick straw poll among Mariners players about the changes to the Safeco Field outfield revealed a curious result.
Almost unanimously, they talked about one thing: The new video screen.
“That thing is ridiculous,” replied Brendan Ryan.
“I’m most intrigued by the video board more than anything” said Blake Beavan.
But what about the moved in fences? You know what everyone couldn’t or wouldn’t stop talking about last season and this offseason.
“Last night we walked around the field after we got here, and really what I noticed is the video board,” said Michael Saunders. “It’s huge and beautiful.”
Ah yes, the monstrosity of the massive video screen in center field. It certainly is eye-catching. It is the largest hi-definition screen in major league baseball at 11,425 square feet.
“I’d like to watch the Stanley Cup on it … only if the Canucks were playing,” Saunders said.
It’s impossible not to notice.
“It like being at Cowboys Stadium watching my Cowboys,” said Beavan, a diehard Dallas Cowboys fan.
The one at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington is the biggest in all of professional sports at 11,520 square feet. It will make your face look pretty big on screen.
“My wife was like shave and make sure you look good on there,” Saunders said.
Um, guys, the fences? What about the fences.”
“I really didn’t notice that much of a difference,” Ryan said. “It was kind of dark when we looked at them. It’s not like they are going to help me that much.”
“It’s not like it’s a huge difference, but you can tell in the power alleys,” Bevan said. “You can tell they’ve been moved.”
Beavan went out and walked around the outfield warning track when the Astros were taking early batting practice on Monday afternoon.
“I wanted to see if some of the balls were getting over the wall a little more,” he said. “You could tell there’s a little bit of a difference.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge has clearly wearied of the subject.
“I’m not that curious about it quite frankly,” he said. “You still have to go out and play the game like I said so many times before. It’s just a fair ballpark now.”
And really that’s all anyone wants is a little fairness.
“Everyone knows that this was notoriously a pitcher’s park,” Saunders said. “With the fences coming in, it’s probably at the very best going to play fair. It’s really due to weather we have and being on the water. It’s cold, damp and the ball just doesn’t carry. It also depends on what kind of summer we have.”
As has been often mentioned, the moved in fences might help more from psychological standpoint.
“As hitters, it helps us take our foot off the pedal and not think you have to hit it 500 feet to get it out of here,” Saunders said. “I think it’s going to play more fair now and as an offensive guy, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about that.”
For Saunders, there will also be some adjusting defensively. The area he roams as an outfielder – particularly left-center field has changed by as much as 10 feet in some spots.
“The first couple games’ batting practice is going to be taken more seriously than others,” Saunders said. “We are going to have to get used to the dimensions. We’ll just have to get together as a group as outfielders and go over it.”
But nobody wants to hear about defense. Offense is the most important part. What about the offense?
“From an offensive standpoint, we were going to be better this year without the fences coming in,” Saunders said. “But having the fences come in will certainly help.”
What do the Mariners pitchers think about having their paradise ruined?
“I think we are excited too because it means our guys will be pushing across more runs that were maybe caught at the warning track last year,” Beavan said.
That sounds like kind of a prepared answer. Isn’t Beavan mad that a hit that would have been a fly-ball out last season might be a homer this year?
“At the end of the day, regardless of where you are playing – whether it’s a pitcher’s park or a hitter’s park, you are trying keep the ball on the ground and keep the ball down,” Beavan said. “The only benefit before was you can get away with a few mistakes. But if you make enough mistakes, they’re going to hurt you no matter where you play.”
Gutierrez on the mend
Franklin Gutierrez’s tight hamstrings are getting better with each passing day. But that doesn’t mean Wedge is ready to start him three or four days in a row.
Wedge said it’s getting closer to that point, but when isn’t a certainty.
“I’ll know,” he said. “I can’t give you a straight definition. It’s just watching him play, having conversation. I do feel like he’s moving around better and getting better. I think we are on a good path right now. I don’t want to get complacent with it.
Gutierrez has spent more time on the disabled list than on the field the last two seasons. The Mariners can’t afford to lose him this early in the season.
“It’s obvious we are better team with him in the in him line-up,” Wedge said. “But as you guys have seen, he hasn’t done much for 2 and half years.”
Gutierrez has appeared in all seven of the Mariners games this season and started five of them. He is hitting .304 (7-for-23) with two doubles, two homers and six RBI.