The Seattle bid had been in MLB’s hands for a few years. The target date varied from 2024 to 2027. But when the commissioner’s office called in early spring inquiring whether the city could be ready to host All-Star Week 2023, the Mariners front office hit hyper-drive.
“We had to put all the pieces of the puzzle to drop together,” said executive vice president Randy Adamack, the 44-year club employee and point man on the bid. “We were able to make it work. It really came together in the last couple months.”
The reason for the quick lift was left unsaid: MLB had to find a legislatively safe venue after pulling the 2021 event out of Atlanta for Denver.
The reason: The Georgia state legislature passed a controversial law that critics said was designed to suppress votes of people of color in under-served areas. MLB opposed the law, and stirred a national controversy when it backed its words with a deed. Denver, which like Seattle had a bid in the hopper, had three months to pull it off. They succeeded on July 13.
The 2022 game already is booked for Dodger Stadium in California (COVID-19 canceled the 2020 game there), where any similar voting-rights bill was highly unlikely. So too for deep-blue Seattle and the state of Washington for 2023.
In saluting managing partner John Stanton and the Mariners front office, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred obliquely acknowledged the desire for legislative cover.
“John and his people did a fantastic job getting ready sooner,” said Manfred, on hand Thursday at a Space Needle presser attended by many in the political, business and sports gentry, including Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez. “You know our deepest hope is for baseball to return to its traditional kind of apolitical stance. We’re about entertaining our fans, having an inclusive environment that everybody can come and enjoy our games.”
In a world where being apolitical is an increasingly rare feat, MLB’s decision-making is unlikely to bring people together, particularly by selecting Seattle, a popular target for right-wing media needing a punching bag for America’s urban ills. But at least there is minimal danger of adopting a piece of legislation that offends an industry whose entertainers are mostly people of color.
However politics influenced the decision, the shorter-notice logistical problems included two big worries, according to Adamack — hotel rooms and outdoor/indoor spaces for events beyond the game. MLB is trying to turn All-Star Week into a mini-Super Bowl, a sort of annual industry convention that includes the home run derby, the futures game, celebrity softball, a fan fest, the amateur draft, and legacy projects that linger in the community after the party.
Once the Mariners figured the room count in the July apex of tourist season was doable, they went to work with local businesses, particularly the other sports teams. Stanton said that there no sense of rivalry among the franchises, only cooperation, even with the expansion NHL team crowding the market.
“I’ve been in a lot of competitive businesses, and I don’t see sports in Seattle teams as competitive with each other,” he said. “We cooperate. We work closely together. There are plenty of fans, plenty of sponsorship dollars to support all of the teams. I think it’s it’s synergistic and symbiotic.
“When I called (Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke) to tell him about the event, he said, let me know what we can do; let me know if you need our venue. (Seahawks president Chuck Arnold) said the same thing: We’re ready to help. This is such a wealthy, huge community — 2.2 million people live in King County, and we draw from all over the region.”
Adamack said a pivot point in securing the bid came when the First & Goal enterprise that runs Lumen Field for the Seahawks and Sounders made available the stadium and events center next door to the ballpark.
“(MLB officials) came out, they looked at it — it’s right across the street,” he said. “They said, ‘Yeah.’ It’s 120,000 square feet of football field, plus the North Plaza, plus the parking lot.
“That was a swing event.”
The awarding of the annual MLB revenue generator also incentivized the Mariners to speed up improvements inside and outside the ballpark. Stanton said the club has budgeted $50 million, including purchases of and/or development of nearby properties. That may include Pyramid Ale House and Henry’s, two popular bars that were shut down during the pandemic. He cited an absence of real estate development in the Sodo district as something that needs changing.
“The way I look at it is, it’s the best opportunity to develop in the Seattle area,” he said. “Right now, we can look out the windows in almost any direction see all kinds of (construction) cranes. I really don’t see them in that neighborhood that we call home.”
Perhaps Stanton can also be moved to invest in the player roster this off-season. Nothing would please Seattle sports fans more than to see three or four Mariners from a first-place team populating the American League All-Star team in 2023.
On a rare day of civic optimism, it was a fine time to engage the biggest of local baseball fantasies.