Even a baseball novice can find something to like at Mariners home opener

Adorned in a Seattle Mariners baseball hat and spring training jersey, Pollyana Magalhaes looked the part of a diehard M's fan Monday afternoon as she filed into Safeco Field with more than 45,000 others for the new season's home opener.

But looks can be deceiving.

Prior to Monday, the 23-year-old Brazilian nurse had never watched anyone play baseball, let alone a Major League team. She didn’t know a ball from a strike, a hit from an error, how runs are scored or what an inning is.

Looking for the complete baseball neophyte? Magalhaes is the one.

So what was she doing there anyway, watching a strange game in a foreign land?

Magalhaes, a nurse from Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon in Portuguese), Brazil, has been living in Olympia since January, the recipient of a six-month fellowship at the Western Institution Review Board. It provides review services for more than 400 organizations in the medical field, including universities, hospitals, health care systems and biotech research firms.

In her short stay here, Magalhaes has befriended Oscar and Barbara Soule. When she learned of Soule’s long tradition of buying blocks of opening tickets, then selling them to family and friends to watch the opening day baseball game together from the “view level” of Safeco Field, she asked to be included.

In turn, I was among the 281 members of the Soule party and spent the day with the Soules and Magalhaes so I could write about her first experience with baseball.

The Soules loaned her the baseball garb to wear over her regular clothes, in part to ward off the chilly April winds that can whip through Safeco and in part to get her into the spirit of opening day. She tackled her assignment with enthusiasm and an ever-present smile, which shows up in many of the 45 digital photographs we took before and during the game.

“I love sports,” she said as we prepared to leave for Seattle. “I played soccer and basketball and volleyball growing up and in school, but never baseball.”

After spending an exorbitant $45 to park our car close to the stadium, we entered the stadium’s concourse near center field.

“This is amazing,” she said, taking in the electronic scoreboards, immaculately manicured field, three levels of seating and retractable roof.

She’s been in soccer stadiums back home that seat 80,000, but nothing as fancy as Safeco Field.

“And we have more beer for sale,” she said. “We drink the $1 beer.”

By comparison, Safeco fans drink the $7 and $8 beer.

Her pregame meal included a hamburger and her first taste of garlic fries.

“We eat hamburgers and pizza on weekends back home, but the rest of the time we eat healthy food,” she said.

The pregame ceremonies turned out to be the highlight of the day, including ex-Mariners pitcher and future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson throwing out the first pitch to his former battery mate, Dan Wilson.

Then the roof slowly opened to the theme song from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and filtered sun brightened a playing field Magalhaes found confusing.

Why is some of it grass and some of it dirt?” she asked of the infield and outfield.

Good question.

After two innings of no-hit ball and a steady diet of baseball 101, I asked Magalhaes for her first impression of America’s pastime.

“In soccer, the players are moving all the time,” she said. “In baseball, there is a lot of standing still.”

She also questioned why the Mariners players wore bright white uniforms when part of the field consists of dirt.

“That’s a girl question,” Soule observed.

I couldn’t argue with the observation that the game seemed uneventful, especially when the M’s could manage only two hits for the game, and nary a run.

Finally, in the fourth inning, Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez led off the inning with a double.

“One point?” Magalhaes asked somewhat hopefully.

“Not yet,” I answered somewhat glumly.

When the Oakland Athletics pushed across two runs in the seventh inning to stretch their lead to 4-0, Magalhaes made an astute comment.

“It’s going to be almost impossible now for the Mariners,” she said, and I agreed.

The lack of emotion among the fans caught her attention, especially when compared with soccer fans back home.

“The fans don’t seem to care if the Mariners win or lose, they’re just having fun,” she said.

“Fans in Seattle are subdued as a group,” Soule said, suggesting that would not necessarily be the case at a New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox game.

The Mariners bats stayed silent and fans began pouring out of the stadium after the eighth inning. We stayed until the bitter end and were among the last people to leave Safeco Field.

So, what did you think of your first baseball game?” I asked my new Brazilian friend.

“Americans are very calm,” she said. “There were no bad words and there were lots of families and kids. It seemed very safe.”

“Sort of boring?” I asked.

“It’s not boring; I liked it.”

John Dodge: 360-754-5444