Talk to a proud Seattleite, and they’ll boast that T-Mobile Park is the best park in baseball. Considering they used to watch games at the depressing Kingdome, you can understand their enthusiasm. One could argue that no team saw a bigger upgrade from their old park to their new park: The Mets went from Shea to CitiField; the Twins from the Metrodome to Target Field; the Giants from Candlestick to PacBell; the Indians from Municipal Stadium to Jacob’s Field; but given how awful The Kingdome was, the Mariners may have them all beat.
But the best park in baseball?
Talk to an architect and they’ll go on about the utterly disjointed exterior architecture and nondescript interior look. And talk to a taxpayer, and they’ll ask why they spent $70 million on a roof that’s not needed in the nice summer months.
But this is MY blog, and I say, it’s a Top 10 park. And I only suffered one game in the Kingdome.
It’s easily the roofed stadium that feels most like a ballpark even on days when the roof is shut. It competes with another West Coast park for the best concessions in baseball (it received perfect scores in BOTH food and beer offerings). In terms of amenities like wide concessions, standing room social spaces, museums, and artwork it’s probably unmatched. And of course, it sits in one of America’s great cities, tucked away in the lovely Pacific Northwest.
Plus, it’s the only park in which I saw a perfect game (journeyman Philip Humber pitched one for the White Sox in 2012).
THE STADIUM 38/50
Exterior aesthetics 4/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 9/10; Sightlines & seating 7/10; Amenities & entertainment 10/10; Flow 4/5; Celebrating history 5/5; Scoreboards 5/5; Grand entrance 4/5; Sense of place 6/10; WOW Factor 22/30. Total 76 points divided by 2 for 38.
This is the lowest Stadium score of any park in the top half of the ratings. Some design issues really impact an otherwise well-put-together park.
- For all intents and purposes, T-Mobile Park is an open-air stadium. The roof acts more like a car port or an umbrella designed to keep the place dry in case of rain, not to keep it climate controlled. You’re never sealed in here. And that’s really cool (and worth a couple of WOW Factor points).
- The concourses are extremely wide (it’s between this and Philly as to who has the best concession areas)
- There are a lot of great standing room areas; more than any park. The standing space in “The Pen” overlooking the bullpens puts you feet away from the pitchers warming up and is one of, if not THE best such space in baseball.
- The park has a huge array of baseball-related art including a really cool snowflake-looking chandelier made of 1,000 translucent bats in the home plate rotunda. A statue of Ken Griffey, Jr. stands outside the southwest entrance, and another of beloved announcer Dave Niehaus sitting at a mic can be found in the park. Three baseball-inspired metal “quilts” hang by the right field gate. Portraits and paintings can be found throughout, including a series of porcelain panels representing all nine positions on the field that hang above the third base line of the upper concourse. There’s a collection of 43 paintings, prints, and photographs lining the hall of the terrace and suite level, many from Northwest artists. And a fun sculpture of a baseball mitt with a hole in it sits at the left field gate; some jokingly believe it’s a precursor to the subpar defense usually offered by the home team.
- Considering the team is just a little more than 40 years old, they do a nice job celebrating Seattle Mariners history. The modest Hall of Fame is really nice and has a bar right next to it allowing you to sip and peruse. With all the impressive talent that played here over the years, it’s hard to believe this is the only MLB team never to have played in a World Series.
- The ginormous videoboard is one of the largest in baseball
- The outside of the park doesn’t know what it wants to be. Half has a modern industrial look with all the black steel, and the other half features a retro brick facade. The black steel is functional and works well with the roof; the brick feels like an afterthought insisted by someone who wanted it to “look like a ballpark”. The good-looking homeplate rotunda loses luster because it feels out of place with everything on the other side of the stadium. They really should have chosen one look or the other; fwiw, I think that considering the modern nature of the jet-black retractable roof, they probably should have gone with the industrial look.
- The ballpark’s outfield seating feels like it was randomly placed. The centerfield bleachers look particularly haphazard. The whole outfield seating lacks flow.
- Considering it’s in one of America’s most beautiful cities, the panoramic view is poor. Based on the view from the lower bowl, you could just as easily be in Columbus. There’s no place to clearly focus your view. Like Coors Field, only a few upper deck seats in right field have nice views where one can see some of picturesque Seattle skyline and the Space Needle in the distance. Part of this is due to location: the park sits south of downtown, which makes it harder to integrate the park with the city center. And part is due to design: there are a lot of outfield seats that create a more enclosed feeling. Frankly, the best views are from the upper deck concourses where you can see Puget Sound and downtown Seattle; it would have been amazing to have those views in the seating bowl.
- The lead sponsor’s pink (sorry, magenta) logo fights with the greens and blues of the ballpark and makes for some jarring signage
- The signature feature in the park is likely the roof. With all the great art and nice touches, the team decided against a true signature for the park to give it some distinction.
Instinctively, I thought it would score higher. Maybe I like it more than this score because I’m eating and drinking well.
Despite charging ballpark prices, you may even wait to eat UNTIL you get to the park, it’s that good. The sheer variety of delicious stuff here is why many critics call T-Mobile the best food park in America (I put it third after CitiFIeld and Petco, but still elite). There’s a great selection of local eateries providing WAY above average fare. And the Mariners constantly keep things fresh, ensuring new great things to try every year.
The Pen out in left field houses several good eateries. In previous years they offered two of my truly favorite stadium dishes: savory crepes and a New Haven style white pizza. Those stands are gone now, but the ones in their stead are also great. In 2019, you could hit Edgar’s Cantina for good Latin fare (where you can also get the famous chapulines or toasted grasshoppers), Paseo for a great Caribbean sandwich, Lil Woody’s Burgers (a respected local joint), Fat’s Chicken for a little southern cuisine (including chicken & waffles and a spicy mac n cheese), and Shug’s Soda Fountain for ice cream from Lopez Island Creamery (or perhaps a prosecco float).
There’s a host of other local greats in the stands including:
- Top Notch Sweets: The Frozen Rope serves the best homemade ice cream sandwich you’ll ever try (go early as lines get bad in middle and late innings when everyone clamors for dessert). I don’t really have a sweet tooth but DO THIS!
- Good Asian: Din Tai Fung serves up a variety of delights and Hiroshi’s offers some good sushi rolls
- Good seafood: The Way Back Clam Shack serves up a crab sandwich and chowder, and local institution Ivar’s has been selling its Grilled Salmon Sandwich since the park opened (fresh wild-caught fish, seasoned and served with fries on crusty organic bread, with tartar sauce)
- Trendy foods: on the menu are things like avocado toast, tofu sandwiches, kombucha or gluten-free hot dogs. I can vouch for none of them, but they’re there.
- Non-trendy foods: there’s a great half-pound salami sandwich that pays tribute to broadcaster Dave Niehaus
- The usual ballpark vittles: even the nachos, sausages, and garlic fries are better than most
- Coffee: being Seattle, you can get a decent espresso for a late-inning pick-me-up
The first-come first-served sit-down restaurant in rightfield, the Hit It Here Café, overhauled its menu in 2019 to much success. It too now offers some great local fare including Ballard Pizza and the amazing Crowd Cow Hempler’s Bacon Burger. It also served my new personal fave: The Kuku fries. These are french fries topped with togarashie Japanese seasoning, red fish roe, chili sauce, horseradish crema and chives. Stupid good. American grease met Japanese umami, and my mouth was very happy.
T-Mobile battles it with Petco park in San Diego for best beer selection in baseball. Brews are available from Alaskan Brewing, Bale Breaker, Big Sky, Black Raven, Fremont, Georgetown, Mac & Jack, Ninkasi, No-Li, Pike Brewing, Pyramid, (the amazing) Rueben’s Brews, and Sumerian, plus Miller-owned Hop Valley and A-B owned 10 Barrel, St Archer and Elysian (which has their flagship taproom just down the road from the ballpark). There’s also a Cask Ale Station featuring rotating brews from local producers.
Seattle may have a slight upper hand to San Diego because they offer a few of these in 12 oz cans for only $6. One year it was the amazing (albeit hard to pronounce) Georgetown Bohdizafa. Last year it included IPA’s and Pale Ales from Reuben’s Brews, Alaskan and Mac & Jack. I hope they keep this fantastic tradition going.
You can often even get some craft options from the in-seat vendors! How great is that?
The area IMMEDIATELY around the ballpark is nothing special. There’s the Pyramid Ale House right across the street and a few eateries one or two blocks south (including a Paseo in case you missed their sandwich inside the park).
But if you go north past the football stadium, you’ll end up in a great (if still a tad scruffy) neighborhood, Pioneer Square. You could do a north-to-south pub crawl starting at Collins Pub on 2nd and James, then working down 1st street hitting Central Saloon, Altstadt Bierhalle, Cowgirls Inc, Elysian Fields and Seattle’s Historic Triangle Pub toward the ballpark. As you approach the baseball park, the dead zone around the football stadium is filled with food trucks and vendors, creating a fantastically festive atmosphere. It’s one of the more fun walks in baseball.
If Pioneer Square isn’t your bag, you can also check out the nearby International District for some good Asian food, and a few funky museums including the Seattle Pinball Museum where your admission allows you to play the vintage machines.
The Mariners come out above average on the fan cost index. My guess is that parking and beer are the main culprits as most other things seem fairly priced.
The Light Rail has a Stadium stop making it the easiest way to get to the park if coming from afar. A few bus routes come close as well. It’s a healthy 1.5-mile walk from Pike’s Market, but it’s relatively flat unlike much of downtown. While the stadium is close to major highways, traffic can be gnarly, and parking is fairly expensive unless you’re willing to walk a bit.
The Mariners keep the roof off for everything except precipitation. Unlike the winters, Seattle summers can be glorious with fewer truly uncomfortable hot days. The early season games aren’t as cold as in the northeast or Midwest. And you’ll always be dry. This as close to a 5/5 as I can give a roofed stadium.
Mariner fans have endured a lot bad baseball. But crowds are still decent. And there always seems to be a good buzz at The Pen. In the seats, it’s more a laid-back West Coast feel. Unlike the rabid Seahawk fans, Mariner fans tend to be more chill. They may all just be in a food coma.
The beer selection is so good (and if not beer, the wine and spirits are better than most too) it’s impossible not to leave with a happy glow unless you unfortunately had to drive. In fact, I think many fans are here for the drinks and the game is just providing casual entertainment, especially those in the standing room areas.
Their 7th inning post “Take Me Out to the Ballpark” song is Louie Louie by Portland band The Kingsmen which is OK. Their victory song is “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix which is amazing.
Their mascot, Mariner Moose? Great. The majorly annoying loud-ass train behind the rightfield stands? Not great.
The ushers are pretty chill. Unless you try to move down to an empty padded Premier seat. Then they’re unchill.
And while nobody does it as well as the late Rick Kaminsky did, a few of the peanut vendors have mastered the accurate long-distance throw when a fan needs some nuts.
It’s a low-key fun vibe. While I love coming here, I just wish there was a little more intensity.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun Seattle eateries:
- Salumi (Pioneer Square. The sandwiches and charcuterie at this legendary salumeria put it on Anthony Bourdain’s “13 places to eat before you die”. It has very brief hours and is busy, so plan ahead.)
- Altstadt (Pioneer Square. Hearty German fare and beer in boots. What can go wrong?)
- Tsukushimbo (Chinatown. Tiny sushi place that does the basics extremely well, with a few twists thrown in.)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- Collins Pub (Pioneer Square. Upscale beer bar with amazing taps.)
- Central Saloon (Pioneer Square. Seattle’s oldest saloon retains a fun Old West feel. It’s a dive bar with good taps and live music at night.)
- Elysian Fields (Ballpark. This large hopping brewpub still brews great stuff even after being bought by AB.)
One bar in the area worth hitting:
Pine Box (Capitol Hill. Fantastic tap and bottle list in a former funeral home).
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Rueben’s Tap Room (Ballard. Family-owned craft brewery churning out unbelievably delicious product. One of my favorite small brewers in the country.)
- Stoup Brewing (Ballard. Quality brewery run by beer nerds two blocks from Reuben’s. Make an afternoon of it and go to both.)
- Fremont Brewing Company (Fremont. Eco-conscious brewery with an Urban Taproom designed for day drinking.)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- Bill Spiedel’s Underground Tour (Pioneer Square. Learn a lot of Seattle history in this irreverent subterranean tour of the city that was entombed after the Great Fire.)
- Pike Place Market (Downtown. Watch guys throw fish, see the gum wall, hit the original Starbucks, and enjoy some good eats in one of the country’s most famous urban markets.)
- MoPOP (Downtown. Crazy architecture houses this museum celebrating music, sci fi, video gaming and other forms of pop culture.)
It’s not exactly an intense baseball experience like Fenway Park, but a game at T-Mobile Park is fun. Depending on your seat, you may not necessarily know exactly where you are visually, but you’ll get a good sense of place through your taste buds. While the concessions alone are almost worth the long trip to the Northwest, the city is worth a visit anyway (especially outside of rainy season). Seattle is not really on route to anything, so just find a cheap flight, and book a baseball weekend in the Emerald City.