Me and a buddy went on Saturday. Doors opened at 11am, we got there probably around 10:50am or so. $10 to get in, I believe it went until 4pm, but I was out of there a little after 1pm. This is what I learned at my little over two hours at FanFest this year.
1. It was WAY busier than I anticipated. I’ve been to one other Mariners FanFest, but I can’t remember for the life of me when it was. I want to say it was at some point between 2003 and 2006, as I remember I was still taking photos with a disposable camera, but that’s all I got. Back then, it used to take place outside of Safeco Field (I think they might have offered guided tours of the stadium, but for the most part, all of the events and food and whatnot were out on that street next to what’s now CenturyLink). All the autograph signings were inside the WaMu Theater. Other than signings and concessions, I don’t really remember what else the old FanFest had to offer. But, I know it wasn’t NEARLY as packed as this one ended up being.
2. The line to get vouchers for autographs was insane. Maybe we were foolish to get there 10 minutes before opening and expect to get one of the higher profile autographs, but it ended up being a non-starter once we saw the line. It led into the Home Plate entrance on the southwest corner of the stadium, and the line went all the way down to Blazin’ Bagels, all the way back to the other end, and all the way BACK again. I couldn’t tell you how many people that encapsulated, but it looked to be well over the 300 autographs per athlete threshold they’d set up. If you’re looking to go there next year, and you’re dead set on getting an autograph from your favorite player, my recommendation is to get there at least an hour before it opens.
3. Autograph hounds are fucking annoying as shit. Are you kidding me??? Who has the patience to stand around for a fucking hour in the fucking January cold, just to get a fucking autograph you can probably BUY for $50 online or at any team store? DON’T YOU PEOPLE HAVE LIVES???
4. Probably a good idea to bring your own baseballs or other merch for the players to sign. I don’t know if the FanFest people provided things for the players to sign if you forgot – as, again, I didn’t get an autograph, so I’m not 100% sure on the process and the execution – but my guess is if you didn’t bring something for them to sign, then they’re probably signing your entrance ticket or your FanFest program or whatever’s in your pocket/purse.
5. There were two entrances opened – the autograph entrance, and the main, left field entrance. We saw the autograph line and opted for the other one, which ended up being probably just as long. That line went all the way down towards the freeway, then curled around back towards the entrance again. I didn’t time it or anything, but I think we had a 10-15 minute wait just to get inside.
6. While the wait is annoying, getting there before it opens is still probably your best bet. I think it was busiest around noon or 1pm, so getting there when it opens affords you shorter lines on the activities inside.
7. The main on-field attractions were: pitching in the bullpen, to real, live catchers (and radar guns); hitting a “home run”; the zipline; rounding the bases; and having a catch in the outfield. I was there for two hours and somehow only managed to do two of those things.
8. The first thing we did was pitch in the bullpen. Both the visitor’s and home bullpens were open, with two catchers apiece. You get three pitches, so make ’em count. My first pitch was actually a strike, low and away (I threw nothing but sinkers in this bullpen sesh); but I couldn’t tell you how fast it went. 30? 35 mph? The old gray mare ain’t what she used to be. My last two pitches were both low and in the dirt. I didn’t give the imaginary batter anything to hit! But … I left with the count 2-1; can’t be falling behind the hitter, that’s no way to run a railroad.
9. Probably the smarter thing to do would be to FIRST do the Have A Catch In The Outfield thing. Apparently, they provide you with a glove and a ball if you didn’t bring any, so that’s cool. They had a little section of left field roped off like you’re in a petting zoo or something – so you couldn’t just run all around the outfield willy nilly – and you were allowed three minutes of tossing the ball back and forth with your friend or parent or whoever (I doubt the Mariners provided people who went to this thing by themselves with a complimentary companion to throw to, so best to go with someone). We ended up walking all around the stadium before we got back around to doing this. Instead of a line, they sat people down in the lower level seats in front of the outfield section. And, every 3 minutes, they’d call another row to go down onto the field. From the looks of all the people in our section, it appeared we were at least 15 rows deep, but I could be exaggerating and it could’ve been more like 10 rows. Either way, we were probably looking at a 30-45 minute wait, just for three minutes of throwing the baseball around. So, like I said, probably better to do that one FIRST, get it out of the way, get your arm warmed up, and THEN do the bullpen session.
10. The next thing we did was the Hit A Home Run thing. They set up these quasi-batting cages, with batting tees at each one. You stood, I dunno, maybe 20-30 feet away from the home run fence in left-center field, and with a long plastic bat, you were to hit a wiffle ball over the fence. I’m not totally sure how many tries you were supposed to get – maybe three or so – and then you walk your ass back. My buddy hit a homer on his second or third try.
11. I learned that I SUCK at hitting a ball off of a tee. We were cracking jokes about the people ahead of us who were attempting this amazing feat, and as soon as I laughed at some old guy for repeatedly hitting the tee instead of the ball, I knew. Sure as shit, I took four swings at the wiffle ball, and EVERY FUCKING TIME I hit the tee, causing the ball to fly backwards, and denting the tee in the process. It was the most demoralizing, depressing experience of my life, and I’ve been to a Hooters before!
12. The team store in the stadium was a madhouse. I wanted to buy a new hat for a new Mariners season, and I had my eye on the one with the red/plaid bill and matching S, but I didn’t like the way it fit on my gigantic head, so I ended up purchasing nothing, because I didn’t want to wait for-fucking-ever to get it bought and paid for. Also, do they not have a hat size bigger than 8? Because, if I’m being honest, I could probably go 8 and a quarter.
13. I don’t think they make fitted Sonics hats; they’re all snap-back. As a guy with a gigantic head, snap-backs don’t really work for me. I hit up both of the Seattle team stores outside of the stadium on my way home, but no dice. Gonna have to go online, I think; fingers crossed!
14. Bagel dogs from Blazin’ Bagels are just as good when you’re sober in January as they are when you’re drunk in April! I never let an opportunity go by when I’m at Safeco Field without getting at least one bagel dog to chow on.
15. Oh, speaking of which, they were serving beer, for those of you adults who like drinking beer at the stadium. I didn’t feel like getting drunk on massively-expensive beverages – especially when I was planning on going out later that night – but it’s nice to know they’re there. Of course, by the same token, you probably gotta watch your P’s & Q’s, what with the massive influx of children all around you. I’m not normally one to fall all over myself with the “Won’t Someone Please Think Of The Children?” routine, as I feel like kids are generally coddled too much anyway. But, I’d rather avoid their annoying parents, who are sure to give you dirty looks and/or passive aggressively ask you to “tone it down”. People are the worst.
16. Speaking of people being the worst, I can’t stand Q&A sessions. I technically didn’t just learn this for the first time over the weekend; I’ve always hated Q&A sessions, for any reason. The general public, by and large, ask THE DUMBEST questions; I find myself cringing WAY more than I find myself wanting to know the answer. But, if that’s something you’re interested in, and you fancy yourself a wannabe beat writer or something, that was happening over the home team dugout throughout the day.
17. There were lots of other smaller things going on around the concourse. You could vote on this year’s King’s Court shirt, you could meet the Moose (probably better if you have a child with you), you could spin various wheels to win fabulous prizes. I think I even saw the KOMO 4 News Team signing autographs, if that’s your thing. I’m more of a Dan Lewis guy, and I don’t think I saw Steve Pool there, so I decided to hard pass. There was a bunch of other stuff to do too, I just can’t remember it all.
18. So, was it worth it? For ten bucks, I’d say so. It’s definitely something that’s primarily geared towards kids, so if you’ve got kids and they like baseball (or if you WANT them to like baseball), this is probably a great way to get them invested in the Mariners. I’d certainly go back next year, knowing what I know now, and maybe be one of those idiots who gets there an hour early for autographs (if there’s a player I’m interested in meeting, of course).
19. Now that I think about it, getting back to the autographs thing, there were up to four guys autographing at a time, for 90-minutes at a time. And, remember that line I told you about, before the FanFest started? That’s the line to get VOUCHERS for autographs. My thinking all along was that those people standing in that long line before the gates opened were JUST looking to get something signed from one of the players from the first session of the day. But, those people waiting could have just as easily asked to get a voucher for one of the afternoon sessions as well. So, if someone really wanted an autograph from a player who didn’t start signing until 2pm, they would most likely still have to wait in that early-ass line before FanFest even opened. Huh.
20. If Taijuan Walker blows up this year, like many national writers are predicting, I might be kicking myself for not trying harder to get his autograph at this thing. Who knows if he’ll ever be back???
21. FYI, you’ll really want to gather info directly from the Mariners themselves if you plan on going next year. I’ve probably glossed over a tenth of all the possible things you can do at the Mariners FanFest. They give you a program as you walk in, which I want to say listed upwards of 40 things or more that you could do, including media room tours, clubhouse tours, and so on and so forth. I half-assed it this year, but with careful planning, you can probably get WAY more bang for your buck. Nevertheless, I’m perfectly secure with the amount of bang I got for mine.