04/07/11 12:05 PM ET
Home opener to include tribute to Niehaus
Felix, Ichiro, Gutierrez to receive hardware before game
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
Marilyn Niehaus, Dave's wife, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Mariners take the field against manager Eric Wedge's former team in the 7:10 p.m. PT opener.
Seattle recording artist Macklemore will also perform his "My Oh My" song, which was written in memory of Niehaus shortly after his death last November. Fans are encouraged to wear white shoes as a lighthearted tribute to Niehaus and his unique sense of fashion.
Gates will open at 4:40 p.m., and pregame ceremonies will commence at 6:30. Felix Hernandez will be presented with his American League Cy Young Award trophy, and Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez will receive their AL Gold Glove Awards.
Ichiro will also be recognized for becoming the Mariners' all-time hits leader last week as he surpassed Edgar Martinez's franchise record.
Kamrin Cramer, an 11-year-old boy from Gig Harbor, Wash., will run the bases just before the first pitch as the annual Make-A-Wish Foundation selection, ending his jaunt at home plate, where he'll be greeted by his favorite Mariners players. Cramer has a kidney issue that will require a transplant as soon as a donor can be found.
There will also be a moment of silence for victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. The Mariners have dedicated the six-game opening homestand to Japan relief efforts, with the club promising to match all contributions by fans and front-office employees to the Japan Red Cross.
Volunteers and players wives will be stationed at Safeco Field gates to collect donations.
As for the game, left-hander Jason Vargas will make his first start in a home opener for Seattle after having a strong spring and an excellent season debut in Oakland, where he gave up just one run and five hits in 6 2/3 innings in Seattle's 5-2 victory Saturday.
The Mariners have lost four straight since, but Vargas feels there is reason for optimism as the club heads to the friendly environment of its home park.
"We're playing good baseball," he said. "For the most part, we're putting the ball in play more and putting ourselves in position to score runs and take advantage of mistakes. I like where we're at. It would have been nice to have won a couple of those games, but we've put ourselves in position to be right there and I think that's all you can do."
Vargas has good reason to be happy to be home. He's 13-9 with a 3.21 ERA in his career at Safeco Field, as opposed to 5-17 with a 5.88 ERA on the road.
As a left-hander, the field plays to his advantage.
"I think it's a good park for anybody to pitch in," Vargas said. "It's big, the air is heavy and I tend to get a lot of fly balls, so it works out good. I just pitch my game there. We've got some pretty good outfielders, so let them do their job."
After seven weeks in Arizona and then an opening week on the road, the Mariners are glad to be home for a six-game set with the Indians and Blue Jays. Thirteen of their next 17 are in the familiar surroundings of Safeco.
"It's always nice to get home," said second baseman Jack Wilson. "But we've lost four in a row, so we have some work to do."
Wedge, returning to the game after a year off from baseball, is eager to get the ball rolling at his new home park. From the time he was hired, the 43-year-old has talked about his longtime appreciation for Safeco Field and Seattle's fans.
Now he's looking forward to being on the same side after seven seasons in the opposing dugout for the Indians.
"To play at home for the first time, yeah, I'm very excited," Wedge said. "I think everybody has to understand, we're going to continue to get better. And with the way our kids compete and will continue to compete, it will eventually show itself. I think our fans are going to appreciate that."
Several changes will greet this year's fans. New LED scoreboards running along the first- and third-base lines and above the lower outfield reserve seats provide more information and graphics.
Also, the Bullpen Market in the left and center-field areas adjacent to the bullpens has been overhauled and is now a more open dining area with a fire pit, cocktail lounge and new food options. Fans also will now have an unobstructed view of the playing field from that area as the chain link fence behind the bullpens has been removed.