Leaning up against the pole of his Seahawks-themed canopy, Edgar Batiste and the rest of the Seattle Sausage 3 crew joked while they set up shop on Occidental Avenue South. 

They swept gravel off the sidewalk, put the final touches on the grill and began to hawk hot dogs to the fans passing by. 

“It’s a beautiful day,” Batiste said. “I’ve been waiting on this day.”

While fans and vendors have been able to attend games since the beginning of the season, Friday night’s game between the Mariners and the Texas Rangers was the first since the state’s June 30 reopening date, as T-Mobile Park played host to an announced crowd of 28,638 fans. 

The Mariners celebrate Jake Fraley’s walkoff winner in the 10th.  he Texas Rangers played the Seattle Mariners in Major League Baseball Friday, July 2, 2021 – the first home game played since pandemic restrictions were lifted. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Re-opening of T-Mobile Park turns into emotional 5-4 walkoff win for Mariners in 10 innings

For vendors like Batiste, full-capacity crowds mean more stability for his business. While he doesn’t know if the fans will stream back to pre-pandemic levels immediately, he’s excited to see familiar and unfamiliar faces return to the ballpark. 

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“Without the fans, I’m not in business,” he said. “The more fans that get shots, the better it will be for us.” 

Batiste and his sausage crew make up one part of the Mariners’ game-day atmosphere, one which is beginning to seep back into the surroundings of T-Mobile Park. Lines of fans — less than 6 feet apart — waiting for the Home Plate Gate to open were serenaded by a band playing a jazz version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Bunting, usually reserved for opening day, hung from the banisters. 

For fans like Angela and Josh Baker, the return to business as usual is vastly appreciated, even if the progress isn’t as fast as some may like. 

“It’s starting to feel normal again,” Angela Baker said. “It’s inch by inch, but this is what we’re looking for. We’ve been locked away for over 14 months so we just need that freedom to get back to normal life like concerts and movies and sporting events and everything else.”

Besides the waves of crowds flocking to the stadium, there was another familiar, if less missed sight outside the stadium: rival fans. Matthew Kosec, decked out head to toe in Rangers gear, flew his family from Carrollton, Texas, up to Seattle for Friday night’s game. 

The trip took more than four hours, but for Kosec, who is originally from Port Townsend and grew up rooting for the Mariners as a kid, the opportunity to bring his children to watch their hometown team play proved too good to pass up — especially since his 9-year-old son is now a diehard Mariners fan. 

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“I’m visiting my folks, but as soon as we saw the Rangers were here we had to come,” he said.

Fans outside the park aren’t the only ones thrilled for big crowds. Inside the stadium, people are just as delighted. 

“I am excited to have the fans back in the ballpark tonight,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said in his pregame news conference. “That is, without a doubt, the biggest difference. Playing a season, or 60 games, with no fans in there, that was not even close to what Major League Baseball is about or the feel you have, the electricity you should have in the ballpark, so it’s great to have fans back.”

Added Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager: “It’s always different at home. Playing in front of fans is nice on the road, but it’s a completely different feeling when you’ve got a whole big crowd and at the home ground obviously cheering for you. That’s pretty special.”

The fans made their presence known early, too. On an 0-2 count in the top of the second, Texas left fielder Eli White fouled Logan Gilbert’s offering into the second deck. The ball bounced off a chair, and into the hands of a fan, who bobbled it for a second before fumbling the ball into the lower bowl, eliciting a moan from the crowd — back like they never left.