BY Art Thiel 06:37PM 12/19/2018

Thiel: The era of T-Ball is upon the Mariners

In pursuit of a stadium naming-rights sponsor, the Mariners’ decision to tank in 2019 seemed ill-timed. But up stepped T-Mobile to help with the need to distract.

The new magenta look for the 20-year-old ball yard. / T-Mobile

The Mariners made it official Wednesday: Safeco Field is dead. Long live (25 years) T-Mobile Park.

The club confirmed the naming rights switch to the Bellevue-based telecom powerhouse matches the length of its recent lease extension with the Public Facilities District, the public entity that technically owns the building so that the Mariners don’t have to pay King County property taxes.

The change comes at a low point in a franchise history replete with low points. General manager Jerry Dipoto made the decision to be purposely non-competitive in 2019, jettisoning familiar, more expensive older players in order to acquire younger players with controllable contracts.

The strategy to tank has worked for clubs such as the Astros and Cubs, and is being deployed more and more throughout MLB. But none of the clubs currently have the Mariners’ historic resistance to postseason play, which dates back to shortly after an exploratory visit from British Capt. George Vancouver, when he asked his chief lieutenant, Peter Puget, what he would like for his birthday that wouldn’t cost anything.

So the arrival of the kids along with the new house name inspires a need for a nickname that captures the enterprise:

T-Ball.

As with any parents, the hope is that the newbies will grow out of it.

The important thing is that the Mariners found a revenue stream. According to Forbes, the total value of the deal is $87.5 million, or an average of $3.5 million a year. The expiring 20-year deal with Safeco Insurance brought $40 million over 20 years.

The argument could be made that the new value merely keeps pace with inflation. But that isn’t a bad thing compared to no new revenue stream, or a much shorter length deal that would have the naming rights swinging from Oh Boy! Oberto Field, to Dick’s, to Stop Freakin’ Beacon Plumbing with unseemly frequency.

While a modest amount — $3.5 million is approximately the annual salary of a middle-innings reliever with a paunch and a limp — the money helps keep the Mariners ownership from curling up on the county doorstep begging for further morsels of public revenues.

You may recall that the Mariners last summer requested $185 million in public help to maintain the stadium’s condition over the next 25 years. The ask produced three long, contentious public meetings in King County Council chambers by those upset that tax money was going to a building that had no provision to house the homeless, and thus was no help in solving the longstanding social crisis.

The argument nearly worked. But by a 5-4 vote, the council approved smaller amount, $135 million. Had one vote flipped, T-Mobile have been asked for more money, and may well have said no.

The ballpark could have gone nameless into 2019. Which may have been OK in a year where there may more dust bunnies in the grandstand than men on base.

But in jumped John Legere (pronounced ledger), T-Mobile’s eccentric CEO, whose passion for magenta, hyperbole and Twitter (six million followers) might prove a helpful distraction from 60-102 (Business Insider profiled him here).

In a statement released by the club, Legere wrote, “The Un-carrier is always shaking things up for the better, and this time we’re going BIG with the Seattle Mariners for all their fans. T-Mobile Park isn’t just some corporate-branded sponsorship to us . . . this is about supporting the community and our hometown Mariners in building a World Series-caliber team!”

The company is sponsoring the T-Mobile ‘Pen, the popular standing-room spot beyond the left-centerfield fence, which will open 30 minutes ahead of all gates to let fans watch batting practice, receive surprise giveaways (no dropped calls?) and a DJ.

On T-Mobile Tuesdays, there will be surprise seat upgrades and T-Mobile customers will get fast-track entry, discounted tickets and free or discounted merchandise.

You may ask what this has to do with baseball. Two answers:

  • Almost no no one enjoyed over the past 20 years the experience of reading insurance-policy fine print during games
  • Few will enjoy Mariners baseball in 2019

The season will be about the ballpark, food, drink and distraction. Magenta is a splendid distraction.

Ownership and management have made a calculated gamble that a step back from competitive baseball is not the same as industry suicide. They are probably right, because as monopoly operators in a five-state area that also serves western Canada, they have cornered the major-league baseball market.

Even if it is T-Ball.


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YourThoughts

  • bugzapper

    Hey, kids! Since the Eighties have finally crawled back into nostalgia contention (seen the Ninja Turtles ad for Honda yet?), time to bring back and update the best M’s promo jingle of all time:

    Take me to the ball game
    I wanna see the M’s
    The Mariners are playing T-Ball
    Hit it again and again and again
    Hit it again!

    Be true to the Pink!

    No, wait. “It stinks to be pink!” Mo betta.

    A chicken for your thoughts.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zWgYKpis-Y

    • art thiel

      First time I’ve seen/heard that ditty since Del Crandall was astride the Seattle colossus. Somehow, I’ll figure away to pay you back. Maybe I’ll force you to attend a game next season.

      Nah. Too diabolical.

      • bugzapper

        I think I still have the M’s shirt you guys awarded me in 1979, after I excoriated Adamack for doubling the left field bleacher seats to $3.00 and forcing the former $1.50 left field ticket holders to the 300-Level right field foul pole area. The shirt no longer fits, but you can still read the tear sheet.

        • art thiel

          You’ve been heckling a long time.

          As Jimmy V said, never give up.

  • Alan Harrison

    So technically, T-Mobile’s color is called “magenta-pink” (the hex code is ea0a8e, for you color geeks out there), but when brightened, it becomes what everyone else calls “hot pink.” There’s nothing wrong with hot pink. The whole “we’ll call it magenta because pink isn’t manly” thing irks, because, folks, it’s a freaking color, not a gender identity (I just checked the calendar – it’s almost 2019). I will say this: whether it’s T-Ball, or TMP, T-Mo, or just The Cell (which, next to The Clink, makes sense), the ballpark deal seems under-priced from this vantage point, a bargain for Legere given how many times people will be saying his company’s name over the next 25 years.

    • art thiel

      I’m not color blind, but I am color stupid, so thanks for the tutorial.

      I’m good with the Cell, and yes, it’s a great deal for an off-kilter retailer like Legere.

    • Brig Boring

      You talk a good game, but seeing is believing. Verify the date you’ll be coming to a game in a magenta shirt and hot pink cargo shorts.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Loved the Vancouver and Peter Puget line!

    • art thiel

      Thanks. Some may not get it, but you and I had fun.

  • Husky73

    What will happen when the T-Mobile-Sprint merger takes place? Will it become Sprint Park?

    • art thiel

      Verizon Vista.

    • bugzapper

      MySpace-Netscape.

    • Alan Harrison

      Safeco was bought by Liberty Mutual (Massachusetts) long ago, but they didn’t change the name of the stadium for that. However, when Qwest became Century Link, they had to change the name of that stadium. My guess is that if T-Mobile were thinking that the company’s name were about to change, they wouldn’t have insisted on T-Mobile Park. Anyway, I still prefer “The Cell.”

  • jafabian

    Instead of a corporate entity the ballpark should have been renamed Slade Gorton Field. He’s earned it.

    • art thiel

      I might have chosen Griffey or Niehaus, but my favorite Mariners-related personal name would be Scrapiron Stinson Yard.

      • jafabian

        My dark horse suggestion would be Mister Jello Field.

    • bugzapper

      Riiight. And for short we’d all be calling it The Skeletor.

      • jafabian

        He sued MLB and won after the Pilots bolted. He assembled the current ownership group and stared down MLB when they balked at having a team owner who wasn’t American. There should be something at the T-Park that acknowledges him.

        • bugzapper

          All true. So the one good thing he did in office was help save local MLB. You really don’t want to get into the rest of his politics with me here. Knife to a gunfight, amigo.

          • Brig Boring

            Snowflake against a conservative…….I’m betting on the MAGA man.

        • Kirkland

          I disagreed vehelemently with Gorton’s politics, but I would have no trouble supporting this idea. A politician who stood up for local institutions and kept them from leaving town. Where were they ten years ago?

  • bevdog

    T-Ball…. a marvelous description of the Mariner’s latest plight…one hyphenated word sums it all up. Beautiful!

    • art thiel

      They had to have foreseen it, right?

      • bevdog

        Right. Now they are serving “pink” lemonade with the lemons they have.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    Ya gotta love these guys . Wait ..

    • art thiel

      That’s the right word . . . wait.

  • coug73

    King County has a hole where all the money goes and baseball will die I suppose.

    • art thiel

      If MLB is in danger of expiry, here or elsewhere, I have missed the symptoms. Mariners drew 2.5M last year for a false positive season.

    • bugzapper

      Excellent call-back of a classic John Prine song. King County is like the junkie Prine sang about.

  • Steve Buckholdt

    Wow,T-ball. Great idea. So maybe if Seager is allowed to hit off a tee, he can finally beat the shift.

    The only games I will consider attending are the Bark At The Park nights. I’m training my dog to take a dump at home plate at the post-game run around the bases. A big pile would sum up my feelings towards the Mariners right now.

    • art thiel

      Subtle, but effective.

  • Husky73

    Last year I was the Mariner Optimist. Art called me Mr. Sunshine. I’ve been looking at the Mariner roster (it changes hourly), and I am not yet ready to be Mr. Pessimist. Perhaps, here in December, I am Mr. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. The lineup actually doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would. The new catcher, Omar Narvaez, hit .275 last year (roughly 75 points higher than last years’ catchers). Healy is at first base (oh, how I wish it was Hu), Gordon at second base, a young shortstop (J.P Crawford…admittedly the wrong Crawford– I’d prefer the one who plays for the Giants) and Seager at third (I’d prefer his brother). Gamel and Hanniger are in the outfield corners with Mallex Smith the new centerfielder (an upgrade from last year). DH (for now) is Encarnacion and/or Bruce. Both can hit; but, one or both probably will be flipped for more prospects. The rotation is Marco Gonzales, Leake, LeBlanc, Sheffield and….Art Thiel. There is a veritable plethora of potential arsonists in the bullpen, but perhaps Chasen Bradford (who was 5-0 last year) can close? I have not found homes for Vogelbach and King Felix. So, two months from spring training, the M’s are not the 1927 Yankees, but, also not the 1969 Pilots (who won 64 games). Here’s something interesting– their total payroll (including payments to other teams) is not radically different from last year. Hopefully, all of the off field trauma (self inflicted) is behind them.

    • art thiel

      I don’t like the fifth guy in the rotation. But if you made me the ace . . .

    • Husky73

      Ooops! There goes Gamel.

      • Husky73

        And there goes Cruz.

  • Kirkland

    I have T-Mobile, and it’s fun seeing the name on two arenas now (also Las Vegas’ hockey rink). The T-Mobile Tuesdays look like a good deal; however, since I’ve stopped following the team, I won’t experience it first-hand.

    I wouldn’t say the Mariners’ market includes Western Canada. It’s all Blue Jays up there, and the M’s would be a far distant second. Third, even, if the Montreal Expos return.

    • art thiel

      C’mon, support your carrier and your team. One drops calls, the other drops pop-ups.

  • DonMac

    Art, I cannot understand why no one in the Seattle media is making the case that the Mariners should be going after Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, both of whom are close to the same age as Mitch Haniger who Dipoto holds up as a key “young” asset upon which to build the new look M’s as they take a “step-back” the next couple of years. You’ve said you don’t think John Stanton is like past Mariners owners when it comes to spending money, so why not press the issue by arguing that if the M’s want to quell the anger of the fans after the flurry of trades that certainly appear to be at least as much about dumping salaries as they were in brining in young talent for the future, why shouldn’ the M’s then also look to spend money on young and proven star players? We all know the M’s ownership isn’t interested in spending money to get better, not when they can make more money by saving money by fielding a team of unproven and more importantly, inexpensive players.

    • Effzee

      The M’s had a lot of gnarly contracts to get out of, which they did and are still doing. Hopefully this is the M’s learning from the past and they aren’t going to load up with a bunch of new contracts again, to piecemeal together another nearly adequate wild card also-ran featuring a couple of high priced stars and nobody else. They want to see what they have among existing Mariners and the newcomers. Then, when they become completely free of bad contracts, they can go on a spending spree in 2021 and add free agents to augment what they hope to discover over the next couple of years. Meanwhile, the fans are supposed to enjoy the process and build new relationships with future Mariners mainstays. That’s what I think the plan is anyways. Oh, also, they just got rid of a bunch of outgoing $$$ right now, just in case the world goes all cattywampus in 2020 and there ain’t such thing as baseball in 2021.

  • I love baseball and had season tickets for the M’s for years, back when they were good. Shortly after Capt Vancouver and Peter Puget sailed through. But this whole franchise stinks like bad fish now and pink lighting all over the ballpark just adds to the joke the Mariners have become.
    Any chance we could trade them to a city that really wants baseball in exchange for an NBA team? Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento….anyone?

  • Effzee

    The Mariners have such a moribund history, I propose we bury the name forever. What good has it ever done us? Basically we’ve got 1995 and 2001, a few lovably freakish superstars (Junior, Edgar, The Unit, Ichiro) and a who’s who of perennially outmatched, marginally lovable losers with largely adorable nicknames that sounded amazing when Dave Niehaus said them. Its been cursed forever, a perpetual farm team for the rest of the league, a neverending stream of getting the forehead-slappingly bad end of the deal. Also, boat races and garlic fries. Given the preponderance of the tech community in the Seattle area, I bet the first ever online use of the term “facepalm” was related to the Mariners somehow.

    Point being, Bud Selig stole the Pilots like Clay Bennett stole the Sonics. MLB replaced them with an expansion franchise called the Mariners. Was there a bring back our Pilots campaign? Well why the hell not? That would be like the NBA replacing the Supersonics with an expansion franchise called the Monorail. I say kill the M! Bring back the P! Bring back our Pilots! *lights torch, takes to streets*

    • DonMac

      I get bad contracts for aging players but a big contract for a young and proven player is another matter completely. Why do you think the Yankees and Red Sox are good year-in-and-year-out? It’s because they develop homegrown talent while also spending big on free agents. I would much rather pay for a proven commodity but that’s the thing, you have to pay rather than hope that maybe, just maybe this time it will be different and this latest crop of cost saving players will actually pan out. I’m so damn tired of this approach! I can remember vividly listening to the first pitch of the Mariner’s first game and if you would have told me then that 40+ years later the Mariners would have yet to even be in a World Series, I would have turned my back on the Mariners then and there.

    • Kirkland

      That said, I’ve thought that if the NHL team couldn’t be called the Totems, “Pilots” would be a good choice. Someone had a cool logo and uniform concept a few years ago: http://boards.sportslogos.net/topic/91330-seattle-pilots-hockey-concept/

  • woofer

    “The ask produced three long, contentious public meetings in King County Council chambers by those upset that tax money was going to a building that had no provision to house the homeless, and thus was no help in solving the longstanding social crisis.”

    Somebody really should clue in these bleeding hearts. Dipoto’s excellent development plan is nothing if not a merciful “provision to house the homeless”. Under its generous terms innumerable otherwise hopeless and unfortunate baseball players will be given work and shelter by the Mariners, keeping them off the streets and welfare rolls and offering at least a meager crumb of self respect. Even the least able among them will fare no worse than receiving a warm blue and green fleece blanket and a dry corner in Tacoma, with maybe a spring break in balmy Peoria. No other team can be expected take them in. Without this humane rescue plan, many would go hungry. After all, only a select few can ever hope to become color commentators or own a liquor store. For the others there will only be irrelevance, loneliness and despair, without even so much as a tattered bobblehead doll to snuggle for warmth.