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Jeff Culpepper on Safeco Field, Seattle
Jeff Culpepper of the summer league boys team Arsenal warms up before getting the first hit at Safeco Field. Mike Urban

  

Jeff Culpepper Gets First Hit in Mariner's New Safeco Stadium

Friday, 9 Jul 1999
By Aliya Saperstein, Reporter
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

 

It was an afternoon of firsts. The first peanuts were crushed, the first sunflower seeds spit, the first fly ball was caught.

And, of course, somebody smacked the first-ever hit at Safeco Field.

Though the Mariners' new ballpark doesn't officially open for another week, Safeco was put through a test game yesterday, courtesy of local boys' summer league teams Chaffey and Seattle Arsenal. The score, 11-4 in Chaffey's favor, didn't matter. For the high school age players and their families, it was all about the memories.

Woodinville's Jeff Culpepper, the Arsenal third baseman, stepped up to the plate in the first inning without anything special on his mind. His father, though, sitting with Jeff's mother and grandparents behind home plate with camcorder in hand, pointed to the gap between short and third.

"I had two great guys hitting ahead of me, so I never expected to be the one to get the first hit," Culpepper said of his single. "It's pretty amazing."

The Culpeppers -- who cheered Jeff on with a sign that read "Culpepper Future Mariner" -- were given the ball and said they planned to put it in a plastic case for safe keeping, but only after Jeff signs it.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance for these guys," said Alea Culpepper, Jeff's mother."There were some butterflies, though. I think Jeff had trouble sleeping last night."

Members of the Mariners organization had their share of worries, too. Mariners vice president of baseball operations Woody Woodward and the groundskeepers were on hand to see how the field played. The audio and video crews tested out the new scoreboards, video screens and PA system. The roof was also rolled back.

Woodward said adjustments would probably be made to various aspects of the stadium for the first 30 games. Yesterday, though, he was mostly looking at little things, like how grounders bounced through the infield.

"We were worried the pitchers would be too nervous and walk everybody, or else be too good and strike everybody out," Woodward said of the test game. "This is perfect."

Woodward then looked up at the scoreboard, which showed Chaffey up 8-3 in the sixth, and laughed.

"Reminds me of a Mariners game", he said.

Though the video scoreboard won't be completely ready until opening day, and construction workers were still putting the final touches on everything from the elevators to the outfield bleachers, Lee Pelekoudas, Mariners vice president for baseball administration, also liked what he saw.

"A lot of things went well," Pelekoudas said. "We found out what it was like opening the roof with a game in progress, but on a (sunny) day like this, you wouldn't be doing that anyway. It would have been open from the get-go."

Pelekoudas said some of the players did notice a few soft spots on the base paths, and those would be corrected.

The biggest complaint of the players and volunteer umpires, that shadows cast by the roof as it opened during the fourth inning interfered with play, will not be allowed to affect a major league game.

"You can't see the ball off the bat," Joe Whitefield of the Northwest Baseball Umpires Association said. "(The roof) has either got to be open or closed, otherwise it's going to be dangerous."

Martin Springstead, executive director of umpiring for the American League, agreed. The opening and closing of the roof during games could affect wind patterns, glare and field conditions, he said.

"I think the wind plays a big factor and makes it a different game with the roof in or out," Springstead said. "When the roof was moved, it bothered the infielders where there was glare off the seats. . . . It made it difficult to follow the ball."

Once a game starts, the umpiring crew will have control over whether the roof will remain closed or open, but because of how it can affect play, Springstead said the roof position would probably change only at the start of an inning so conditions would be the same for both teams.

Otherwise, Springstead said he doesn't think Safeco would pose any peculiar umpiring problems or require any special ground rules.

"I think it's beautiful -- maybe the nicest ballpark I've ever seen," he said. "The new ballparks are more fan friendly, that's the major thing. It makes our job a little harder, but it's something to look forward to."

Up in the stands, in the sun along the first baseline, Kim Cope of Lake Bay was already planning her family's next trip to the ballpark. She came with her husband, Mike, and two sons, Corey and Brian, to cheer on Chaffey.

Everyone present went home with smiles on their faces and rolls of finished film in their pockets, and all dubbed Safeco the nicest field in the major leagues.

Even Arsenal outfielder Brian Long, who had trouble with a couple balls that got caught in a crosswind once the roof was open, still gave Safeco his endorsement.

"The wind died (the ball) down a little bit, but I like the roof open, it seems more like a major league baseball park that way," Long said. "We're like kids in a candy store out here."

Chaffey outfielder Tyler Davidson agreed.

"It's beautiful. The grass is perfect for an outfielder. It's so soft, and it's cut so clean. I've never played on a field like this."

Jason Castro, Chaffey's starting pitcher, had only compliments for the ballpark as well. He liked where the new bullpens are, the mound, the clubhouse -- everything.

"Just being here is fine for me," the 18-year-old lefty said. "I wish we could play here all the time.

 

Culpepper Ancestry. Jeffrey Jacob "Jeff" Culpepper born in December 1981, is the son of Gary and Alea Culpepper, and the grandson of James Marvin  and Beverly Culpepper. (Sources: Beverly Hartwig Culpepper, grandmother, and Barbara Culpepper Connor, aunt.)

July 9, 1999, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Sports : Friday, July 09, 1999


Safeco Field dress rehearsal a hit with players and fans
 

by Danny O'Neil
Seattle Times staff reporter

Robin Twelker was belly-up in the outfield at Safeco Field.

Eyes closed, arms and legs spread out to soak up sun. Like a starfish stuck in the left-field grass, basking in July afternoon.

While Seattle Arsenal Coach Dana Papasadero checked on catcher David Mandley, Twelker was lost to the glory of a cloudless day in a $517 million tabernacle of big-league baseball.

"You don't appreciate it until you get down on it," Twelker said. "It's just like a picnic, a day at the beach. It's a pretty surreal experience."

Natural grass and sunny skies were a potent mixture. An elixir strong enough to erase any disappointment over Seattle Arsenal's 11-4 loss to Chaffey in yesterday's exhibition opener of Safeco.

Chaffey and Seattle Arsenal are two summer-league teams composed of high-school age players. The Mariners invited the teams to play the exhibition to test the field and facilities under game-day conditions.

The set-up for the game was authentic right down to the game balls and player introductions. Seattle Arsenal played the part of the San Diego Padres, Seattle's opponents in the July 15 opener.

Chaffey was the home team and center fielder Mike Hass raised his cap high in the air when Ken Griffey Jr. was called out as the starting center fielder in the top of the first.

Chaffey starter Jason Castro struck out the first two batters, then Seattle Arsenal's Jeff Culpepper stepped to the plate as the scoreboard flashed Tony Gwynn's name, number and stats. Culpepper drove an outside pitch between short and third base for the first base hit in Safeco history, an opposite-field single that would have made Gwynn proud.

The ball was quickly given to Culpepper's parents, who were among more than 200 fans at the game. His dad, Gary, proudly pointed to the smudge of blue ink where his son made contact.

"I even called where he was going to hit it," Gary said.

Gary and Alea Culpepper also had the first taste of sunlight during a game at Safeco as the roof opened one hour into the game.

"We wanted to see what kind of effect opening it would have during a game," said Steve Peeler, Safeco groundskeeper.

The first sliver of sun sparked applause, fans cheering the dawn of outdoor baseball at Safeco. It took 20 minutes for the roof to fully open, the shadow creeping across the field. Seattle Arsenal's Dale Sherrow told Peeler it was hard to pick up the ball.

"The roof opening was a little adjustment for the eyes," Peeler said.

And once the roof was open, the wind swirled through the stadium. The flag beyond the left-field stands was fluttering to the south, but players in the infield felt the breeze coming in from the east.

Marty Springstead, American League executive director of umpiring, attended yesterday's exhibition and said it plays like a different stadium with the roof open.

"That wind is going to play heck on flies," he said. "It might make the game a lot more interesting."

And more enjoyable on summer afternoons when the grass field is bathed in sunlight, making the game seem like a day at the beach for Twelker.