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Wherever I Wind Up
Author: R.A. Dickey
Category Archives: Baseball
[caption id="attachment_1191" align="alignleft" width="1500"] Randy Johnson back at Safeco Field[/caption]
On Saturday, Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson were inducted into the Seattle Mariners‘ Hall of Fame. The pair were featured in a video montage recounting their contributions ranging from the 1995 play-in game, Randy’s relief appearance in game 5 against the Yankees after one days rest, Wilson’s in the park home run, to both players extensive community service.
Johnson is a sure bet for the baseball Hall of Fame. Regularly topping 300 strikeouts a year, the intimidating lefty found his game as a Mariner before anchoring the Arizona Diamondbacks staff to a world series. He won a Cy Young in Seattle with a .900 winning percentage, which is the second highest of all time. Johnson also threw a no hitter in 1990 against the Tigers and struck out 18 batters in 1992 while throwing an unthinkable 160 pitches.
Dan Wilson came to the Mariners from the Cincinnati Reds to play under Lou Piniella. A defensive stalwart, Wilson’s game included an AL record 1051 putouts in 1997 while submitting a 0.9987 fielding percentage. Wilson settled in as a valuable game caller who helped develop a talented pitching staff anchored by the likes of Johnson and Jamie Moyer. In 2001, Wilson led a staff that was the engine for a record 116 wins.
[caption id="attachment_1072" align="alignleft" width="640"] Jamie Moyer & Danny Hultzen at Cheney Stadium[/caption]
While a heat wave rolled through much of the country, a perfect storm was forming on the west coast Thursday night. The Seattle Mariners past, present and future was on full display, embodied in three starting pitchers – Felix Hernandez, Jamie Moyer and Danny Hultzen.
The present: King Felix delights his “supreme” court.
Felix Hernandez submitted yet another classic performance in shutting down the resurgent Boston Red Sox 1-0 at Safeco Field Thursday night. King Felix used 128 pitches over 9 innings to record a career-high 13 strikeouts. After starting the season slowly and seeing his pitch velocity topping out between 91 and 93 mph, Hernandez has been gaining velocity every outing and is again throwing upper 90’s heat.
But even as Felix was leading the way for the Mariners (that’s not news), an equally intriguing game was being played far away from the bright lights of Safeco Field. Just 50 kms south, a minor league matchup pitted the Tacoma Rainiers (Mariners affiliate) against the Las Vegas 51s (Jays affiliate) and showcased two pitchers at opposite ends of their professional careers.
The past: Jamie Moyer won’t stop believing.
Jamie Moyer, the former Mariners ace, signed a minor league contract with the Las Vegas 51s this week. The agreement suggests that the Jays will decide whether to promote Moyer (or not) after two triple-A starts.
At 49, Moyer is by far the oldest member of the 51s. He is being considered because the Jays starting rotation has been decimated by a combination of injury and mediocre performance. After being released by the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles earlier this season, Moyer still aims to compete at the sports the highest level. His quest to return to the majors brought Moyer back to a market he once owned.
During his time in Seattle, Moyer led the team both on and off the field. In the 2001 season, Moyer was a 20-win anchor for a pitching staff that won a record 116 games. As a leader in the community, the Moyer Foundation has remained active in the region long after the pitcher ended his Mariners tenure.
Thursday was, in a way, a return home for the soft-tossing lefty, who is clearly still loved in the Pacific Northwest. The last time Moyer made a start in Tacoma was during a 1997 rehab assignment with the Rainiers. On Thursday, Moyer received roaring applause from the sellout crowd as he walked in from the bullpen before the game. The pitcher appropriately tipped his cap to the crowd acknowledging the fans appreciation.
Once the game started, Moyer displayed his varied arsenal of slow, slower and slowest pitches. He topped out at 84 mph, but sat comfortably between 70 and 80 mph for much of the game. After running into trouble in the first two innings, Moyer settled down and blanked the Rainiers over the next three. He exited after throwing 82 pitches, 51 of them for strikes and handed off a 7-3 lead.
It was by no means a dominating performance and the end is clearly nearing for Moyer. The only question is whether the former Mariner can throw father time a change-up to earn one more major league ride.
The future: Danny Hultzen rises.
Moyer’s opponent on Thursday was young Danny Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft who was making his first home start for the Rainiers.
After blazing through the AA ranks earlier this season, Hultzen has been pegged as a future number two starter for the Mariners behind Hernandez. The pitcher may have found the game particularly unnerving facing such an accomplished opponent. By the time Hultzen was born in the fall of 1989, Moyer had already made 94 starts in the major leagues. For further context, it should be noted that Thursday was not the first time the two pitchers had crossed paths.
When Hultzen led his University of Virginia team to the 2011 college world series, none other than one Jamie Moyer was serving as an analyst for ESPN. Moyer’s analysis was not entirely flattering and focused on the prospects need to develop his complementary pitches and his inability to hold runners on base. Fair or not, the comments were surely not forgotten before the game last night.
Against the 51s, Hultzen was consistently hitting 92-93 mph, but struggled mightily with his control, walking in a run during the second inning. The command problems are particularly surprising for the lefty and in sharp contrast to the tight control he displayed in college, Arizona fall league and AA.
Hultzen left after four innings, 90 pitches and with a 3-1 lead. His stuff was impressive, but he may require more time to harness it at the next level. Still, Hultzen looks like a star in waiting and is certainly a key to the Mariners future.
Three pitchers thinking about tomorrow.
Like ships in the night, the three pitchers passed one another Thursday as they each pursue their major league dreams. Each has built an impressive list of past accomplishments, each has designs on future professional glory and each lives in the present just trying to get the next out.
Notes: Shortstop Nick Franklin played second base and third baseman Alex Liddi played first. A possibly interesting development considering the continued struggles of Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak with the big club.[caption id="attachment_1088" align="alignleft" width="700"] Nick Franklin[/caption]
In 2008, a group led by Clay Bennett ripped the Supersonics from Seattle to search for browner pastures in Oklahoma City. It is rumored that during the move they took Seattle’s baseball team with them. The Mariners have finished last in the AL West in three of the past four seasons, while finishing next to last in the other. After committing in earnest to a rebuilding effort with a cohort of promising young players, the 2012 Mariners again find themselves in the West’s basement. The team, its players and their fans are again left searching for answers.
Safety not guaranteed: no home field advantage.
With the season nearing the halfway mark, one alarming truth has emerged for the 2012 Mariners – they struggle to win at home. At 12-19 (.387), the Mariners currently hold the worst home winning percentage in baseball. The most obvious problem appears to be rooted in the team’s inability to score runs on their home turf. Over the past month, Safeco Field has been a house of horrors for the Mariners where they score a mere 2.8 runs per game while allowing 3.9 runs against. On the road, however, the Mariners have scored 5.2 runs per game while allowing a comparable 5.3 runs (throwing out the crazy 21 run outburst the Mariners had against Texas on May 30). Although opponents do tend to score less at Safeco Field, the large outfield and thick marine air appear to be getting into the heads of some of the Mariners young hitters. Justin Smoak, expected to be a heart of the order masher, has shown outward signs of frustration both on the field and during recent post-game interviews. Things have gotten so bad that talk around Seattle now centres around whether the Mariners should bring the fences in during the offseason. Until the team starts making it tough for opposing pitchers to come through Seattle, they will remain an easy out in the West.
Looking for a leadoff hitter… Buehler? Buehler?
For over a decade, Seattle managers have penciled Ichiroin at top of the lineup and went from there. But this offseason the Mariners superstar was asked to bat third, allowing Chone Figgins, Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders to audition for the leadoff spot. Things were so bad at one point that manager Eric Wedge had CATCHER John Jaso leading off for a game. By May, Ichiro was struggling mightily with runners in scoring position and Kyle Seager had emerged as a clutch hitter (24 RBI with 2 outs), so the team moved their veteran outfielder back to his customary leadoff position. Unfortunately, this is not the 2001 version of Ichiro, but rather a 38 year old outfielder sporting a 0.282 on base percentage. It appears the sun is finally setting on Suzuki’s all-star career and the Mariners now need to find a long-term solution to fill the top of their order.
We Are Young, but this is not Fun.
Seattle fans entered the season understanding that any rebuilding plan requires above all else, patience. The core of the team is clearly talented, but the growing pains have been overwhelming with no guarantee that any of them are future franchise players. Smoak started the season as the cleanup hitter, but he struggled early and was batting an ugly 0.183 on the “Smoakamotive” promotion night. He has raised his average to 0.218, but his inability to power balls out of Safeco Field has led to frustrated comments such as this,
“You go up there and you try to put yourself in the best position to succeed. And you hit a ball like that and it goes nowhere.”
Thus far, results from the other youngsters have been a mixed bag. Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero have hit for a 0.270 average, Kyle Seager 0.256, Dustin Ackley 0.247 and Mike Carp 0.157. As the losses began to pile up, and with the veterans unable to right the offense, the younger players on the team started to play with an air of desperation. For example, Montero may be the slowest player in the MLB, and yet he has been caught three times in recent games as a result of overly aggressive running errors. These gaffes emerge because the young catcher is pushing himself beyond his natural game in hopes of helping the struggling offense. If the veterans on the team cannot provide some cover for these talented youngsters, this will be a painful season with periods of regression and long hitting droughts.
The slow progression of so many young prospects has been all the more painful when compared to other rookies that are successfully making adjustments on more stable rosters (e.g., Bryce Harper hitting 0.294 and Brett Lawrie 0.286). Most alarming, however, is that the resurgent Los Angeles Angels are being led by youngster Mark Trumbo (0.321) and phenom outfielder Mike Trout (0.324). For a Mariners team committed to rebuilding with youth, it looks very much like they are being passed by a divisional rival that is simply reloading.
The Seattle fans that rallied to bring back their beloved Sonics last week are evidence that in sports, there are always second acts. For the young Mariners, there is much baseball left to be played this season and their fans will continue to wait for a hero.[caption id="attachment_1098" align="alignleft" width="640"] It’s fast approaching the time to bring in Danny Hultzen.[/caption]
After inserting a slew of young players into their lineup in 2011, the Seattle Mariners needed to see production from their youth in 2012. Many youngsters were given a taste of the majors in 2011 and manager Eric Wedge is now pushing for results. The plan requires above all else, patience. Early in the season the Mariners offense was as impotent as it has been in the past. Justin Smoak, who started the season as the cleanup hitter, struggled early and was batting 0.183 on Smoakamotive promotion night. As May was winding down, Michael Saunders was hitting 0.226, Dustin Ackley 0.242, Mike Carp 0.155, Kyle Seager 0.255, Jesus Montero 0.247. Things were so bad that the debate around Seattle was whether the team should pull the fences in at Safeco field.
At the same time, other rookies (Bryce Harper 0.287, Brett Lawrie 0.283) were successfully making their adjustments to the major leagues. More alarming, however, was that the resurgent divisional rival Angels were being led by youngsters Mark Trumbo 0.338 and phenom Mike Trout 0.306. For a Mariners team that is committed to rebuilding with youth, it looked like they were at risk of being passed by a team that was simply reloading.
With few signs of progress from their young position players, the Mariners limped into Texas and prepared to be shelled by one of the leagues best offenses. But then something funny happened against the Rangers. The Mariners young hitters found their feet.The team scored 35 runs over three games including one 21 run outburst that sent the team to a series win over the Rangers. The Mariners offense continued to click with Justin Smoak slugging his way to an AL player of the week award.
Since the Texas series, Michael Saunders has continued his hot streak batting 0.500. After carrying a league-worst 0.149 batting average in 2011, the talented outfielder is now contributing power, defense and steals. Saunders revamped a loopy swing in the offseason and adopted a much more aggressive approach at the plate that allows him to better dictate the at bat.
But the biggest revelation has been the ascendance of Kyle Seager, who has turned into a clutch hitter (23 two out RBI’s). Seager is now batting third, allowing for Ichiro to move back to his traditional leadoff position. The next obstacle is for the young players to continue hitting at Safeco Field, where fly balls go to die.
Well, if Albert Pujols was in a slump, that’s news to the Seattle Mariners. The Angels first baseman came into the series with 4 homeruns on the season while batting a shockingly low 0.213. In his first three games in Seattle, however, Pujols is batting 0.500 and has hit three homeruns. Recent talk in Seattle has suggested that the team needs to bring in the fences at Safeco Field to help increase production for the anemic Mariners offense. The shots hit by Pujols show that a true power hitter can have no problems hitting at Safeco Field.
A highly anticipated showdown between Pujols and Mariners ace, Felix Hernandez. In their first meeting, King Felix struck Pujols out, sending the King’s Court into a frenzy on “Turn Back the Clock day”. However, Pujols would get a measure of revenge the next time up as he hit a solo shot in the fourth inning.. A Justin Smoak homerun helped keep the Mariners ahead, until the sixth when Hernandez loaded the bases for pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo who promptly hit a grand slam.
Felix seemed to be in control until the grand slam, even though his velocity remains lower (~92-93 mph) than in past years. On offense, the Mariners again had trouble putting together sustained rallies and Ichiro Suzuki looked especially out of sorts. One wonders if he shouldn’t be moved back to leadoff since his inability to drive in runs is clearly hurting the team. Dustin Ackley was leadoff for this game, but struck out 4 times. Miguel Olivo returned from injury and was hitless. However, he did throw out a speedy Mike Trout and kept the Angels running game under control in a way the Montero cannot.
Is this as bad as it gets for the Seattle Mariners? Friday night, the team absorbed a most demoralizing ninth inning loss to their rival LA Angels. Although the Mariners jumped out to a quick lead, it felt like they left too many runs on the field. Angels pitcher Earvin Santana issued three of his seven walks in the first inning, but the Mariners could only muster one run. Still, the Mariners built a 4-0 lead until Albert Pujols struck back with a home run that brought the Angels back within one. It remained that way until the ninth inning when closer Brandon League entered the game. The closer blew his fourth save of this young season in a chaotic final inning. At the stadium, there was a palpable feeling of inevitability and even the Seattle players looked overly wound up on defense. If the fan reaction inside the stadium was harsh, the twitter response afterwards was equally panicked:
“heard Brandon League had another meltdown. this guy should never work in sodo again unless he’s part of the new arena construction crew”
“Brandon League is worse than Judas. #Mariners”
“Brandon League for Brandon Morrow? The worst move of Jack Z’s career. #garbage”
It seems pretty clear that League needs to be removed from the closer position and allowed to work things out in some lower pressure situations. At this point his confidence can’t be where it needs to be. The problem is that Tom Wilhelmsen could be given an opportunity to close, but it leaves a gaping hole in the eighth inning. You would probably want to put League there, but that doesn’t exactly lower the pressure for him. No, moving League will likely shift multiple relievers into new roles, so such a move shouldn’t be taken lightly. That said, the young, developing Mariners can hardly afford to continue losing games like this. Change may come from within down the road as there is some bullpen help in the minor leagues starting with phenom Stephen Pryor.
Jesus Montero looks like he has regressed since I last saw him a few weeks ago. His throwing is still far too slow and he was inaccurate as he tried to push the ball to make up for his slow feet/setup. More alarmingly, however, is that his approach at the plate looks far worse. It may be that Montero needs to be pulled back a bit, because he looks overwhelmed on both offense and defense right now. Miguel Olivo is back and Jason Jaso is always dependable, so there is no reason that Montero can’t have his workload lightened a little bit as he works things out.
Kyle Seager continues to impress. He was playing at second base as Dustin Ackley had the night off (on Dustin Ackley bobblehead night?). His defense was superb and his approach at the plate was sound, even if the results were not there.
Justin Smoak continues to improve at the plate. He had a sharp line drive, a fielder’s choice that scored a run and a homerun for good measure. In this game, his swing from the left side looked to be quite a bit ahead of that from the right side.
Ichiro is playing about how you would expect. At this point, one wonders if he wouldn’t be more useful at the top of the batting lineup. Such a move is unlikely at this point, but the team desperately needs a leadoff hitter.
It was an uneven performance by the team and a disappointing loss for their fans. However, this is not rock bottom for the Mariners. The fact that it was a terrible loss is the first sign of life for this organization. The team has for too long had no offense and thus no hope of staying close with better teams. The offense remains inconsistent (see no hitter or 14 strikeout games), but shows potential in spurts. Friday, the offense sputtered, but hung in there until the ninth inning. That’s when the experience of the Angels kicked in and the young Mariners couldn’t respond. The pitching of Blake Beavan and Tom Wilhelmsen was good enough to win, and it was just a blown save opportunity that needed to be addressed. So, there are signs of life and the first hints of a young core forming. The offense will continue to improve, which makes this team more watchable than the one that bottomed out last year.
This is my guest blog about the Mariners’ early season and can also be found over at Sportsnet.ca. Felix Hernandez leads a new crop of youngsters including Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero.
Summer is coming. As the Seattle Mariners open their 35th MLB season, hopes are rising in the Emerald City. For the first time in a decade, the mantle of team leader passes from Ichiro Suzuki to 26 year old Felix Hernandez and his King’s Court. Emerging from seasons of 101 and 95 losses, the Mariners have fielded a historically anemic offenses over the past two seasons. In a division with heavyweights like the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels, the Mariners might not contend, but their young prospects must show progress in their development. This season’s slogan, “Get after it” doesn’t tell us much about team expectations (or anything really), so what exactly will we see from the 2012 Mariners?
From the hand of the king
Felix Hernandez returns after two dominating seasons during which he received little to no offensive support (unless you count this). This year, Hernandez is the unquestioned leader of the pitching staff and should provide his normal 200+ innings and 220+ strikeouts. While the zip on King Felix’s fastball has been missing early this year, it is in part due to cool weather conditions. Opening night, for instance, was very cold in Seattle and although Felix started well, he lost both velocity and control as the game proceeded. Regardless, Hernandez has demonstrated that he knows how to pitch to contact when required and remains the leader of the team. It’s the supporting cast, however, that GM Jack Zduriencik has been forced to upgrade for the King.
The search for a true dragon.
Last year, the Mariners stopped gambling on declining veterans (see Chone Figgins, Jack Cust, Carlos Silva, Carl Everett, Ken Griffey Jr.), and instead bet heavily on youth and potential. Much of 2011 was spent seeing whether the rookies could survive at the major league level. This year, manager Eric Wedge is looking to see who can become an impact player for the team. Players to watch include:
- Dustin Ackley (2B) – Drafted second overall in the 2009 draft. Ackley was considered one of the best hitting prospects in his class. He quickly progressed to the big league club and has settled in as the second batter in the Mariners lineup. A first baseman/outfielder in college, Ackley moved to second base with the Mariners.
- Jesus Montero (C/DH) – The Mariners gave up pitching phenom Michael Pineda for the heavy hitting Montero. The power was evident early this season as Montero hit a line drive home run to the deepest part of Safeco Field against the A’s. The question is whether Montero’s slow feet will prevent him from being an everyday catcher. He will spend the season as DH learning to hit at the major league level while backing up catcher Miguel Olivo.
- Justin Smoak (1B) – In the first two months of 2011, Smoak was showing signs of being a legitimate power source in the middle of the Mariners lineup. Injuries to his hands combined with the death of his father derailed his season and it wasn’t until September that he regained his form. Expected to be the cleanup hitter this year, Smoak appears much more effective when he employs his batting eye to force better pitches and draw walks. He sometimes gets into trouble when he adopts an overaggressive mindset and tries to hit home runs.
- Kyle Seager (3B) – Seager roared his way through minor league ball and ended up on an undermanned Mariners team in 2011. This year, Seager has shown increased power while providing strong infield defense. Soon the Mariners will have to make a decision about what to do with 3B incumbent Chone Figgins to make space for the rising Seager.
- Micheal Saunders (OF) – The Victoria, BC native boasts a tantalizing combination of speed and power. This year, the Mariners need to see once and for all whether Saunders can make contact at a high enough rate to be a regular contributor.
The three kings
While the Mariners evaluate their hitting prospects at the major league level, the real future of the team rests on the development of three minor league pitchers: 2011 second overall pick Danny Hultzen (22), flamethrower Taijuan Walker (19) and former Jays first round pick James Paxton (23). The three prospects are now pitching at AA Jackson TN, with intentions of developing them as a unit. Paxton appears to be the most advanced at this point, Hultzen, a lefty, combines good command with a low 90’s fastball and the raw Walker features a fastball that touches 98. When these three arrive in Seattle, they will join King Felix and gives the Mariners a chance to compete with the likes of the Rangers and Angels. The plan echos the Jays efforts a decade ago when they tried to develop a young core of pitchers in Chris Carpenter, Roy Halladay and Kelvim Escobar. A lot can go wrong as these prospects develop, but it represents a gamble that the Mariners and their fans are willing to take. The alternative of continuing to recycle the Jeff Weaver’s, Carlos Silva’s and Erik Bedard’s of the world brought the Mariners nothing but 100-loss seasons.
The Mariners young prospects will battle throughout the summer to prove their worth. Wedge has been clear that the clock has started and that tangible progress is expected from the youngsters this season. The gap between the Mariners and the Rangers/Angels must be closed and the charge must be led by the newcomers. If these young Mariners prove that they are up to the task, their divisional rivals will soon know that winter is coming.
Read another sciencewitness.com article – The Toronto Jays, Miami Marlins, Jeff Loria and the ghost of the Montreal Expos
In 2011, the Seattle Mariners offense was historically bad. The team ranked last in Major League Baseball for runs scored and their team batting average sat at 0.233! Their offensive struggles were so pronounced that GM Jack Zduriencik was compelled to trade phenom pitcher Michael Pineda for Yankees slugging prospect Jesus Montero. Now, manager Eric Wedge enters the 2012 season with plans to move outfielder Ichiro Suzuki from his traditional leadoff spot. Much has been made about Ichiro’s batting practice power displays over the years and with his declining on-base percentage, the thinking is that Ichiro can drive in runs while allowing Chone Figgins to return to the leadoff position. This spring, Ichiro is preparing to hit third, a spot that he hit from during his time in Japan (and won several batting titles). Interestingly, spring training observers in Arizona have noticed a change in his famous batting stance, specifically a widening of his base.
See Ichiro’s old stance from last spring:
and Ichiro’s new stance this spring:
This change in batting stance is a monumental challenge for the Mariners veteran. If Ichiro can reinvent himself as a number three hitter at his age, it would rank as one of the biggest baseball stories of the year. Paul Molitor comes to mind as one player who made the transition from leadoff to batting third late in his career. Molitor provided high average (0.332) and decent power (22 homeruns) while driving in 111 runs for the Toronto Blue Jays at the age of 36. If Ichiro can approach those numbers, the Mariners offense stands to be much improved.
Last year Ichiro’s game started to show the first, but inevitable signs of age. Consequently, Mariners fans are now waiting to see what adjustments the veteran has implemented during the offseason to adapt his game to a changing skill set. Over at FanGraphs, it seems that there is some evidence that Ichiro’s speed remained elite in 2011. Certainly his base stealing ability was still present (40SB vs. 7CS), but in the field Ichiro made many uncharacteristic errors. The outfielder was clearly not getting to as many balls as he used to and seemed to be getting terrible jumps on balls, almost as if his eyesight was the problem. On the offensive side, it was also unclear what caused such a sharp drop in his famed consistency. Ichiro’s success has been closely linked to his bat control and his unique ability to hold back his wrists giving him a fraction of a second more to see the ball. Combined with his corkscrew stance, I always thought that when Ichiro finally gave in to old age, it would manifest itself in his bat control and a hole in his swing on the outer part of the plate. I haven’t seen any data to support this conjecture, but I would really like to see a professional scouts take on Ichiro.
For Ichiro, the other statistical trend in 2011 was a drop in Batting Average on Balls in Play (BAIP), which is usually thought to be largely out of the control of the player. However, it was clear that Ichiro just wasn’t hitting the ball as sharply in 2011, so the drop in BAIP seemed an obvious result. In the second half of the season, Ichiro began hitting the ball harder and his average bounced back. This year, Ichiro will be geared up to swing away on more balls, so it will be interesting to see how his BAIP, average and power respond. Much of Ichiro’s game, like the man himself, remains an enigma and makes him ever more watchable in 2012.
Last week, the City of Seattle and King County announced that Seattle native Christopher Hansen has submitted a proposal to build a new arena to host future NBA and NHL teams. Hansen will raise $290 million privately to pair with $200 million in public funds. Any additional cost overruns will be the responsibility of private investors. Public funding will be accounted for through revenue generated by the new arena, thus avoiding any new tax burden on the public. Importantly, the proposal bypasses the need for any funding at the state level and is essentially paid for by user fees in Seattle only.
The new arena is planned to be built in a region of Seattle near both CenturyLink Field (Seahawks & Sounders) and Safeco Field (Mariners). One of the main concerns about this location revolves around traffic. The arena would be near arteries that supply the Port of Seattle, so some thought must be made about methods to prevent any slowing of commerce. Parking is also an issue with garages at Safeco and CenturyLink fields providing 2000 stalls each. By comparison, the Rogers Arena in Vancouver provides 7000 stalls within a 15 minute walk. Planning will need to minimize the overlap in events among the five teams that play in the area (see schedule below). Avoiding NFL and MLS games should not be difficult due to the low number of home dates for these teams. The Mariners, however, will require a number of home dates that may overlap with the NBA and/or NHL. Since all three typically have night games during the week, there will surely be times when events are happening at both venues. As it stands, Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development requires teams at CenturyLink and Safeco to plan a minimum of 4 hours between the end of one event and the start of another. With the addition of two more teams, it would seem difficult to maintain compliance.
Traffic and parking aside, an important question is where exactly would a new NBA/NHL team play until a new arena is built? The most obvious choice is Key Arena (see photo). Built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, Key Arena underwent major renovations in 1994. As a basketball facility, a new NBA team should be able to play there temporarily, but NHL hockey might be a different issue. When configured for hockey, Key Arena provides only 9,000 unobstructed seats (and 58 luxury suites). I have played hockey at Key Arena and can confirm that the dressing rooms will require some renovating before they are close to suitable by NHL standards. Although two junior teams, the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips play in buildings designed for hockey, both are on the smaller side for NHL crowds (6,500 and 8,300 respectively). The Tacoma dome can accommodate large crowds for hockey, but it is unlikely that the city of Seattle will allow a team to locate outside city limits (Everett is 30 minutes north of Seattle, Tacoma 45 minutes south). No, the Key Arena is almost certainly the venue to be chosen as the city has no major tenant for it now or in the foreseeable future (unless you count the Seattle Storm). Some voices, including Mariners transportation director Susan Ranf even suggest that the Key Arena should be redeveloped as a permanent site for any incoming NBA/NHL teams.
So, can a venue like Key Arena host a NHL team for 1 or 2 years while a modern arena is being constructed? In Quebec City, there are estimates of annual losses in the range of $20 million for a team that stays in the 15,000 seat Colisee with its lack of luxury boxes. However, many teams have made small venues work on a temporary basis. Before the Shark Tank was built, the San Jose Sharks played in the Cow Palace (1991-1993), an arena that seated just over 11,000. Likewise, the Tampa Bay Lightning played their first year (1992) in the 11,000-seat Expo Hall before moving to the much larger Thunderdome. The Carolina Hurricanes played two years (1997-1999) at Greensboro Coliseum (23,000 seats), where they averaged just 8,637 fans. So, there does seem to be a precedent for arenas of this size, but the question depends largely on the magnitude of financial loss that the new owners are willing to absorb while a new venue is built.
And finally, there is the question of whether Seattle has enough fans to support an NHL team. There exists surprisingly little hockey culture in Seattle, especially when one considers how close to the Canadian border we are. The two main recreational leagues (Greater Seattle Hockey League and Cascade Hockey League) together include about 120 teams, though the vast majority are beginners. The Seattle Jr. Totems (“Totems” is my early pick for NHL team name) are the travel team for minor hockey players and the University of Washington has a club team. There are few arenas in Seattle and even those are found almost exclusively on the outskirts of town. Within Seattle itself, there are no hockey arenas to be found (see map).
The two junior teams draw small, but respectable crowds (see table below). Canadian WHL teams draw slightly larger crowds in cities with established NHL teams. The $200 million dollar question is whether Seattle can be a hockey town. The Seattle Sounders Football Club exceeded all expectations when they began play, though it can be argued that there was more soccer tradition in the city given the mild weather year round. The Vancouver Canucks would be a natural rival to be sure, and I have noticed that many Vancouver fans come down for Giants games in Everett and Seattle, so presumably this spillover would help an NHL team as well.
Team 2011-2012 Average Attendance
- Seattle Thunderbirds 4862
- Everett Silvertips 4922
- Calgary Hitmen 6266
- Vancouver Giants 6000
- Edmonton Oil Kings 5007
So, a new movement is afoot to build an arena and entice NBA/NHL teams to come to Seattle. Much work on the arena, NBA and NHL fronts awaits, but the sad Seattle sports scene finally has some positive news. Can a NHL team make Key Arena work? Can they fill Key Arena when they get here? Will Seattle support a professional hockey team long term? These are all important issues to consider for a new NHL team in Seattle, but just because there’s a goalie doesn’t mean we can’t score.
Update: Developer Chris Hansen spoke in front of Seattle City Council Wednesday morning and stated,”Renovating KeyArena again is not an option, as the venue is not big enough for NHL hockey games.”
Read more: SeattlePI article.
Future arena location south of Safeco Field.
Read the related article: “The Wayne Gretzky analysis”