The boys of summer are back where they belong — selling footlongs on Occidental Avenue South.
It has been a trying 13 months since Edgar Batiste and his business partners, Andre Goncalves and Aaron Byrd, last set up their hot dog stand, the Seattle Sausage 3, outside a local sporting event. With stadiums closed to fans during the COVID-19 pandemic — and no one to feed before games — reality set in for Batiste last year. He had to get a job doing odds and ends at a local shipyard.
“Had to pay the bills somehow,” he said.
Thursday night, before the Mariners’ season opener against the San Francisco Giants, Seattle’s sausage kings were cookin’ again. Under the state’s reopening plan, the Mariners were allowed to open the season with 9,000 fans at T-Mobile Park, and many of those fans stopped on Occidental for a quick bite to eat before entering the ballpark.
Yes, baseball is back, and with it our collective appetite for so much more.
“I love this,” said Batiste, wearing an old Seattle Pilots hat as he placed a footlong sausage on the grill. “I wouldn’t trade this for nothin’.”
Mariners officials said worked closely with local health officials to meet requirements for reopening T-Mobile Park. Seats were sold in pods — ranging from one seat to six seats together — with each sold seat at least 6 feet apart from another sold seat. Fans are required to wear a mask and to eat and drink only at their seats. Fans who do not follow protocols could lose their season tickets.
Game day employees received additional training in the buildup to the start of the season “to make sure they’re up to speed on our health and safety protocols,” said Rebecca Hale, the team’s senior director of public information.
More than one-third — 56 of 131 — of the concessions inside T-Mobile Park reopened Thursday night. The Mariners have sold out five of their first 11 games — with limited seating available for the other six — and the team is hopeful that state and local officials will permit more seats to open as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
Mariners fan Dianne Hill, of Aberdeen, arrived with her family more than three hours before the start of the game. They stopped in front of the Ken Griffey Jr. statue and posed for pictures.
“I feel like the luckiest person in the world,” Hill said. “I’m just glad baseball is back.”
For Sharon Hunt of Puyallup, Thursday’s game was a reunion with some of her closest friends. Most of them hadn’t seen each other since the last game at T-Mobile Park with fans — Sept. 29, 2019 — and they arrived, as they always do, plenty early for the ballgame.
For Thursday’s 7:10 p.m. start, they said they showed up at 9:30 a.m. and set up their lawn chairs, the first in line for the first game of the season.
“This is what we do — we come here and talk baseball,” said Hunt, a season-ticket holder since 1999.
Normally, the women get inside the ballpark early and stake out the best spots to snag an autograph from their favorite Mariners players.
“We know that’s going to be a little different this year, and that’s OK,” said Loretta Wirtz, wearing a Mariners mask while sitting in the circle outside the main gate on the corner of Edgar Martinez Drive and First Avenue South. “This is as good as it gets. There ain’t nothin’ better.”
The women said they all have received the COVID-19 vaccinations and were not apprehensive about coming back to the ballpark with thousands of other fans.
“I would have come in a HAZMAT suit if they told me to,” Wirtz said.
Asked how she was feeling as first pitch drew closer, Wirtz said, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to cry during the national anthem.”
The gates finally swung open at 5:10 p.m., and Hunt was the first person to walk through security screening at her gate. She quickly weaved to her left, up an escalator that led toward home plate. She was home again, at last.