July 19, 1999
The Mariners' Safeco Field opened last Thursday, July 15.
Woodinville High seniors Jeff Culpepper (left) and Brian Carter stand in awe on the Safeco Field grass. Their team, Seattle Arsenal, played against fellow Falcon Mike Wagner's Chaffee team in the first-ever Safeco Field game. Culpepper got the first-ever Safeco hit. Arsenal head coach Dana Papasadero got the first-ever hit in the Kingdome in 1976.
WOODINVILLE--Contrary to what Mariner broadcaster Dave Niehaus said during the Mariners' first-ever Safeco Field game last Thursday, five-year-old Mark Hutchinson, grandson of Seattle baseball great Fred Hutchinson, was not "the first human being to run the bases at Safeco Field."
That honor goes to Woodinville High School third baseman Jeff Culpepper, who got Safeco Field's first-ever official hit on July 8.
Culpepper's Seattle Arsenal team, of the Connie Mack League, was invited by the Mariners to help them test Safeco Field's facilities against a rival Connie Mack team, the Bellevue-based Chaffee Baseball Club. Woodinville High was also represented by Seattle Arsenal left-handed pitcher Brian Carter and Chaffee designated hitter Mike Wagner.
The local players were assigned Mariner and San Diego Padre identities, for purposes of testing the ballpark's scoreboard. Culpepper and Carter were Padres "Tony Gwynn" and "Sterling Hitchcock," while Wagner was "Ken Griffey, Jr." The boys' major leaguer identities were based on how their batting orders coincided with the Mariners' and Padres' respective batting orders.
"It was such a thrill for them to play on that field," said Carter's mother, Jean. "Brian said when he got to the plate and saw himself on the big screen in the outfield, he got so distracted he couldn't concentrate on the pitches." Each team member was allowed to invite six guests to the game.
In what Yogi Berra might call a case of "Déjà vu all over again," the Safeco Field game was full of ironic history. Seattle Arsenal's head coach Dana Papasadero and pitching coach Mark Bishop both played on the Seattle University team that played Western Washington in the first-ever game in the Kingdome in 1976. Arsenal team member Pete Cougan's dad, Walt, played catcher for SU in that game. Dana's dad, Frank Papasadero, was the SU coach. Dana Papasadero, playing second base for SU, got the first-ever hit in the Kingdome.
Papasadero and the Arsenal team were in Orlando, Florida last weekend to compete in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) 18-under World Series.
The three Woodinville High players will be seniors next year. Last week, Carter received an invitation to a tournament in California conducted by professional and college baseball scouts for high school players entering their senior year. The six-foot, five-inch Carter, in only his third year of pitching, throws a fastball clocked in the high 80's.
On Thursday, fans enjoyed open-air baseball for the first time in 30 years, despite Lou Piniella's leaving closer Jose Mesa in to walk three straight Padres, insuring the Mariners' sixth straight loss.