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On This Date in Sports June 27, 1999: Leaving the Kingdome

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The Seattle Mariners beat the Texas Rangers 5-2 in the final baseball game at the Kingdome. The Mariners, who would begin play in Safeco Field following the All-Star Break, used the cavernous concrete domed stadium since their first game in 1977. Ken Griffey Jr hits the final home run in the dome to lead Seattle’s offense, while Freddy Garcia earns the win as Rusty Greer flies out to left to end the game.

Major League Baseball in Seattle had a cloudy existence for three decades as the 1999 season began. The first big league team named the Seattle Pilots last just one season as one of four expansion teams that began play in 1969. With the Pilots playing at Sick’s Stadium a minor league stadium, it was clear the city was not ready for a big league club as plans for a domed stadium were stalled. When the Pilots were awarded in 1967, a bond was passed to begin work on a stadium that would be completed in 1971. However, after the Athletics moved from Kansas City to Oakland an influential Missouri senator named Stuart Symington pressured the American League to added the two new teams in 1969, giving birth to the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots.

As 1969 began, the Pilots were playing at Sick’s Stadium a substandard park that had plans for temporary expansion halted by the same lawsuits that add the Kingdome on hold. As a result, the Pilots were hemorrhaging money and faced bankruptcy as the 1969 season ended with just 677,000 fans total coming to see them play for the season. After finishing in last place with a record of 64-98, the Pilots were forced to look for a new home and became the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970.

Despite not having a team, Seattle went forward with plans to build their domed stadium. In 1972 ground was broken as the city pursued a lawsuit against baseball, saying they were treated unfairly with the rushed expansion process and the loss of the Pilots after one season. The Kingdome would open in 1976 as the city received an expansion team. Meanwhile, the lawsuit against baseball was dropped when the city was given a second chance at expansion with the birth of the Mariners in 1977.

When the Seattle Mariners played their first game it was Diego Segui making the start, Segui had played for the Pilots in 1969. To say it was not smooth sailing would be an understatement, as the Mariners playing in a dungeon-like stadium struggled to win over fans as they struggled to win games. Memorable early moments included Lenny Randle blowing a ball foul, Gaylord Perry’s 300th win, a fiesty kitty and a tugboat used as a bullpen cart. That was until 1989 when Ken Griffey Jr. arrived.

Despite having star power, baseball was still struggling in Seattle as the 1990s began. In 1994, after a ceiling tile fell, the Mariners were forced to play the rest of the season on the road. Returning in 1995, the Mariners had to deal with the fallout from the strike while demanding a new stadium. Without a new ballpark, the Mariners would seek a new home and with baseball fighting to overcome the stigma of an aborted season, the likelihood of getting a stadium built by taxpayers seemed to be a longshot. That was until a miracle run to their first division title and a dramatic Game 5 win over the New York Yankees in the Division Series.

The Mariners stadium plan passed, paving the way for a new stadium to be built next to the Kingdome. The new stadium would open in the middle of the 1999 season, leaving the Mariners to start the season in the old dome that on the exterior resembled a juicer.

Managed by Lou Piniella the Mariners were treading water at .500, with a record of 37-37. The Rangers led by Johnny Oates were atop the American League West with a record of 42-32. It was the final game of a six-game homestand for the Mariners and the last home game before a 12-game road trip before the All-Star Break. Aaron Sele got the ball for the Rangers, while Freddy Garcia made the start for the Mariners. Garcia struggled in the first as Tom Goodwin led off the game with a single and came home on a two-run shot by Rusty Greer. The Rangers later loaded the bases in the first inning but Garcia escaped further trouble when Greg Zaun grounded to third.

The Mariners got there chance to answer and did not waste any time as Brian Hunter singled and Alex Rodriguez walked ahead of Ken Griffey Jr, who hit his 27th home run of the season to give the Mariners a 3-2 lead. In the third inning, the Mariners made it 4-2 when Edgar Martinez doubled home A-Rod. The Rangers got two runners on base in the fourth when Juan Gonzalez came to the plate with two outs and drove the ball deep, but Junior climbed the centerfield fence and ended the inning with one last great defensively play at Kingdome.

The Mariners extended the lead to 5-2 with an unearned run in the fourth, while Freddy Garcia played Houdini and allowed just the two first-inning runs, despite allowing five hits and six walks in five innings. The Seattle bullpen was a different story, as Frankie Rodriguez allowed just one hit in three innings. In the ninth, it was Jose Mesa on to close the game, despite allowing two walks he also was solid as he got Tom Goodwin to hit into a double play, while Rusty Greer flew out to Brian Hunter in left to end the game.

The Mariners would play the first game at Safeco Field on July 15th, losing to the San Diego Padres 3-2 as Jose Mesa gave up two runs in the ninth. There would be an adjustment state with Safeco Field a retractable roof stadium with real grass and deeper dimensions. Consequently, the Mariners struggled in the second half, as it took until the third game to get a win, with Russ Davis hitting the new stadium’s first home run.