Fans both attending and tuning into this week’s season-opening series against the Los Angeles Angels will notice an immediate difference.
No, it’s not your eyes, and don’t adjust those television settings.
Opening Day 2015Mariners vs. Angels, Monday 1:10 p.m., Safeco Field; TV: ROOT, Radio: 710 ESPN
This season, the Mariners will become the first major-league team to illuminate its playing field with LED lights, giving Safeco Field its first lighting upgrade since it opened in 1999.
And fans both attending and tuning into this week’s season-opening series against the Los Angeles Angels will notice an immediate difference. The colors, first of all, the yellows and reds, will pop.
“It simulates daylight sun,” Mariners vice president of baseball operations Joe Myhra said, “very similar to natural daylight.”
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Myhra said the team began considering upgrading to a new technology more than two years ago, when the original lighting fixtures started to show their age. The Mariners partnered with KMW, Inc., and Planled on the transition.
The technology isn’t new to the sports world. Seattle fans who made the trip to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., for the Super Bowl are familiar with it, and Planled has worked with the Portland Trail Blazers to update the façade lighting at the Moda Center.
For baseball, though, this is a first — perhaps surprisingly, given the sport’s daylight roots.
“Baseball was my dream when I was a child,” Planled CEO John Hwang said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to get involved with my whole life.”
Part of a reason for the delay is in a baseball field’s unique shape, in the nooks and crannies tucked in the corners of its stadiums.
“Having the diamond shape rather than a rectangular shape makes it much more of a challenge,” Hwang said. “We had to look at them from the perspective of the fielders and the cameras and the fans.”
That meant calibrating each of the 578 LED fixtures one by one.
The Seattle University baseball team played a scrimmage at Safeco this spring, testing how angles played and pitches tracked. Planled set up a darkroom in its warehouse in Federal Way, working with broadcasters to see how the new lighting played on screen all the way down to the super slow-motion replays.
“How do we change it from the human experience side?” Hwang said. “What you see on the TV screen and what you see visually should now be almost matching.”
The lighting is more efficient — reducing energy consumption by at least 60 percent, the team says — and it’s more uniform. There won’t be as many shadows, making long fly balls easier to track.
“To provide a better playing environment to play baseball under, that’s the biggest thing for us,” Myhra said.
“It will enhance their ability to play baseball, under natural sunlight like it should be.”