Sports

Marketing types boot one, too

It takes more than an absence of hitting to turn three winnable games into three demoralizing defeats. If the Mariners had made the plays they were supposed to make, there’s a very good chance they would have concluded their brief but interminable series in Washington, D.C., against the Nationals on Thursday with a sweep.

Maybe it’s an organizational malaise. As tens of thousands of empty Safeco Field seats are about to prove, the team’s usually adept marketing department is not above committing an error itself.

Maybe the Marlins deserves some of the credit/blame, too.

Due to a conflict with a U2 concert this weekend, the Mariners are the beneficiaries of three Florida games originally scheduled in Miami. They’ll wear road uniforms, and bat first, and abide by the National League rule forbidding a designated hitter. When Felix Hernandez steps up to the plate tonight, he’ll become only the second Mariners pitcher to bat in Seattle. (The first? Reliever Mike Schooler, who grounded out during a 1990 extra-innings game against the Red Sox in the Kingdome.)

It should be fun, and potentially transformative: Maybe the three NL-style games in an American League park will serve as a template for reversing the interleague format. I’ve always thought fans in AL cities deserved a firsthand glimpse at a kind of baseball that emphasizes in-game lineup switches, much as fans in NL cities might appreciate a rare look at a designated hitter.

Unfortunately, there won’t be many fans on hand to watch the Mariners and Marlins play old-school baseball this weekend. The series wasn’t included in Mariners season-ticket packages, and advance sales have been tepid.

Which brings us to how the marketing departments in Seattle and Miami dropped the ball.

Given the gift of three extra games, the Mariners could’ve sold tickets at substantially reduced prices. They could’ve awarded free tickets to students with high grades or perfect attendance.

Better yet, they could’ve designated, say, 25,000 free tickets for each game, and parlayed the freebies into a fundraiser: No cost for admission, but $10 to a predetermined local charity.

Here was a perfect opportunity to foster some goodwill with the community while exposing the team to those fans who simply can’t afford pro-sports ticket prices. But instead of reducing the price of tickets for a series relocated from Florida, the Mariners have added a $2 “Summer Weekend” surcharge.

I’ve always admired the organization’s exemplary marketing instincts. When Ken Griffey Jr. finally returned to Safeco Field as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, for instance, the presentation was a case study in how to turn a potentially awkward situation into an unforgettable one.

The memorial tributes to beloved broadcaster Dave Niehaus – including a poignant pregame ceremony on opening night – further reflected on the front office’s ability to blend dignity into an otherwise festive occasion.

Whether it’s the season opener in April, fan-appreciation weekend in October or all the ceremonial first pitches in between, no team in baseball has a better grasp of pageantry than the Mariners.

But when the Marlins learned they would be forced to relocate to Safeco Field for a three-game series, somebody in the teams’ front offices fell asleep at the wheel.

It’s not as if the scheduling conflict in Florida is recent news, by the way. The Mariners knew they’d inherit these extra games in January – the two organizations’ brain trusts had five months to brainstorm – and the only idea they had was to conduct business as usual.

Oh, well. Perhaps those fans willing to buy tickets at normal prices (actually, $2 more than normal, thanks to the “Summer Weekend” hike) will find manager Eric Wedge more familiar with NL rules than he was Wednesday night in Washington. In the fourth inning of a game tied at 1, the Nationals had the lead run on third base and Jerry Hairston at the plate to face starter Erik Bedard. Behind Hairston in the lineup was the No. 8 hitter, pitcher John Lannan, who is 0-for-29 this season and 16-for-189 (.085) in his career.

The logical move – the only move, really – is for Bedard to walk Hairston, then go to on retiring Lannan for the third out. True, a walk to Hairston precludes the pitcher from leading off the fifth inning with an almost certain out, but first things first: The runner-on-third jam should have taken precedence.

Bedard got too close on a two-strike pitch, Hairston hit a ball that shortstop Brendan Ryan couldn’t make a play on, and the Mariners gave up the decisive run in a 2-1 defeat.

Memo to Wedge: As long as the starting pitchers are in the game, NL rules give you what amounts to one free out for every nine batters.

Take advantage of it.

Now comes the historic opportunity for NL rules to be applied in Safeco Field, and the sheer novelty of three games without a DH figures to make for an interesting weekend.

But it could have been so much more.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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