Mariners’ home-opener a bust as businesses thirst for fans

Friday’s Mariners home-opener looks and sounds a lot different than ever before.

Coronavirus means the nearly 50,000 people who likely would be packing the streets surrounding T-Mobile Park instead are nowhere near Seattle’s SODO neighborhood.

That means the pubs and restaurants and everything else nearby that count on Mariner’s fans for support are also adjusting to life without crowds.

“It’s a ghost town,” said Martin Wilson, manager at the OnTheField.com store. “It’s really spooky.”

The difference is hard to miss and even harder if there’s no reason to visit T-Mobile Park in the first place.

“It’s normally a real fun festive day,” said Mariners fan Scott Iwata.

What historically has been a boom for small businesses around CenturyLink Field and T-Mobile Park are now all but a bust.

“I’m excited, but I walk around and there’s not many people down here to share the excitement,” said Iwata.

“Fans are really the heartbeat of that team,” said Shawn O’Donnell’s American Grill and Irish Pub owner who shares the same name.

Fans are also the heartbeat of stadium adjacent businesses. At O’Donnell’s, 70% of their yearly revenue depends on concerts, conventions and sports. His business is limping along but he’s trying to take it in stride.

“Not too often the Mariners are a half-game out in their division at the end of July,” he said. “There’s still a little optimism and we’re having a little fun with it.”

Normally, you’d see packed sidewalks and food trucks and excited baseball fans pumped for the game. Instead, cardboard cutouts fill the stands and they are not big spenders.

“Cardboard cutouts certainly don’t spend a lot of money at our pub,” said O’Donnell.

“I think it’s the Mariner’s best chance to get into the playoffs in the last 20 years,” joked Wilson who added this time last year his store would be packed with fans looking for memorabilia.

Instead, he says the business has been surviving on grants and government loans and the success of years’ past, but the losses ahead are anything but minor league.

“We’ve been able to get by,” he said. “Thankfully we can allow people into the store to buy stuff. We get a couple sales a day but not anywhere close to what it used to be.”

The American pastime that once brought generations and neighbors together is now a televised event. Friday’s game is a small step towards normalcy and cause for celebration and a reminder that while baseball can’t bring us together like it once did – the only way to get back into the stands and limit the casualties of a pandemic, is for all of us to come together but this time from a distance.

“Pyramid’s already closed,” said Iwata. “We have to do a lot of little things to get back to a more normal routine.”