Home Run Weekend 

Seattle shows its finest, even if its baseball team doesn't.

Ah, summer in the Pacific Northwest: a few clouds, temps in the low 80s, the Mariners at the bottom of the American League West. Put it all together, and it means there are good seats available at a beautiful ballpark in one of America's more amazing cities.

My friend Dan and I met in Portland, Oregon, 160 miles south of Seattle, and decided to drive up. We could have taken Amtrak's Cascades train, which shows a movie and hugs various bodies of water that host oyster beds and orcas and salmon runs. Instead, we would face the legendary traffic of I-5; that 160 miles has been known to take five hours and destroy minds.

Rolling north, past views of Mount Saint Helens and Mount Rainier and the Columbia River, we hit a slowdown in Tacoma and thought, Here we go -- parking-lot time. Instead, a few minutes later, it cleared out, and less than three hours from Portland we were taking Dan's Secret Shortcut to Safeco Field, the Mariners' spiffy ballpark. We drove through an industrial area along Elliott Bay and decided to get a cup of coffee before parking.

Understand, looking for coffee in Seattle is like looking for barbecue in Memphis. We laughed when we drove two blocks without seeing any. Then we saw the headquarters of Tully's Coffee Roasters and arrogantly joked, "Think they got coffee there?" But they were closed, and we made snide remarks. We got quiet two coffee-less blocks later. We began to whimper at about seven blocks. After 10 blocks and not a cup in sight, I looked at Dan and said, "What's happening?" He couldn't respond. We tried another street, doubled back ... it was like we had entered some post-apocalyptic world where life as we knew it ceased to exist. We can't find coffee in Seattle!

Then we rounded a corner and felt a warm glow: It was the Starbucks world headquarters. We rolled into the shop in the lobby feeling like Earth was back on its axis. There was, by the way, another Starbucks two blocks down the street.

After that, it was a smooth, sweet groove. We found parking for $5, just down from a $15 lot. We hit a Krispy Kreme on the way into the park. At the park, there was a promo thing happening where you could ride a bike to grind the ice for your own foo-foo beverage by -- guess who? -- Starbucks. I rode the bike while Dan sipped a freebie, and when I made a remark about how I had to work for my drink, the woman told me, "Yes, but yours is larger." I would repeat this to Dan throughout the day.

Then we got to our seats. Dan had bought them online and not been entirely clear about where in the ballpark they were. Maybe he didn't know, or maybe he was building the moment -- the moment being when we showed our tickets to an usher, she pointed at home plate, and said, "You're sitting down there." On row 14, mind you. And the phrase "directly behind home plate" is, in this case, accurate. From Dan's seat, the view was a straight line from the plate to the pitching rubber to second base to the 405 sign on the centerfield fence. We raised our garlic fries in a toast just as the hometown team trotted onto the field.

It was the first time in my life I could tell what pitch was being thrown; we could see the sliders sliding and the sinkers sinking. We were among about five scouts from other teams, taking notes and running a stopwatch between pitches. One of them had on a 1978 Pittsburgh Pirates World Series ring and showed it to Dan. When a Mariner hit a homer, I noticed the scouts intently waiting for the jumbotron replay to see exactly where the pitch was located. An Oakland batter, waiting his turn, was blowing kisses to somebody in the crowd, and I turned around to see that it was the same brunette in the light-green tanktop Dan and I had noticed in our Guys' Scan of the crowd. Yep, they were good seats.

The A's beat the Mariners for something like the 12th time in a row, but throughout the game Dan and I would look at each other and say things like, "Dude, look where we're sitting!" Or, "Dude, that's Ichiro Suzuki!" Outside Safeco Field, Seattle's SeaFair -- kind of a Memphis In May but with Navy and Coast Guard ships and an air show and parades and whatnot -- was in full swing, and this year the Blue Angels were in town. So we had their show to enjoy during the game too.

Afterward, we wandered the waterfront and ate dinner in a place called the Crab Pot, where you can get snow crab, Dungeness crab, manila clams, salmon, halibut, oysters, potatoes, and corn -- all dumped onto your table and served with a hammer, fork, and bib. We ate like pigs and giggled like little kids, then Dan had a cigar as we strolled along the docks, with the sun setting over the Olympic Mountains and Rainier lit up in sunset pink.

portlandpaul@mac.com

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