My Oh My, Just Like Old Times -- First M's Sellout Witnesses A 15- 7 Drubbing In Opener

Signs strung across the Kingdome ticket booths were probably redundant.

``But I took a picture of them,'' said Don Fuqua of Seattle. ``They say it all.''

What they said, in bold Seattle Mariner blue letters, was SOLD OUT. The first non-Seahawk, non-dirt bike, non-Billy Graham Crusade sellout in Kingdome history.

This was a BASEBALL sellout, even if the Mariners did lose ugly to the world champion Oakland A's 15-7.

A sellout crowd of 58,150 (54,874 paid) had been a given for days before their home opener, the club's first ever. Still, it just wasn't conceivable.

After all, the Mariners have been uncool for their previous 13 seasons. From the painful expansion days under original ownership to the 1980s under spendthrift George Argyros.

``We can sense the excitement this year,'' said Graham Burns, who operates a sports specialty store on Occidental near the Kingdome. ``I like the attitude of the new owner.''

That owner is Jeff Smulyan, who bought the club from Argyros last fall. He was seen riding in a rickshaw yesterday through the gathering pregame crowds.

``Yeah, Smulyan. Isn't he the one who's dating that (KIRO-TV's) Monica Hart,'' said Lori Murphy, people-watching outside an Occidental restaurant. ``If he owned the team last year, Mark Langston would be pitching for us this year.

``This is the most exciting I've ever seen it,'' she added. ``I've been here 23 years and I've never seen it like this.''

An unofficial record was set for scalper sightings. ``I've had 30 or 40 requests for tickets today,'' said a local bar manager, who expects that for Seahawk National Football League games but never for a Mariners game.

Three radio stations set up live remotes around the dome. One disc jockey started a rumor that TV host David Letterman, a Smulyan friend, would attend one of the three games in this Oakland series.

Fuqua, barbecuing a couple of steaks in the parking lot - football tailgate style - said, ``The little things the Mariners are doing make the difference, like lowering tickets prices and concession prices.

``I like Smulyan, although I wish he hadn't spent so much money on the first baseman (Pete O'Brien). We already have the best first baseman (Alvin Davis) in the league.''

Fifty feet away, Michael Cox, a music student and baseball devotee, was passing out 8 1/2-by-14 inch copy paper.

``It's just the optimum size for making paper airplanes,'' Cox said. It was his way of promoting a fan protest of the owners' 32-day lockout. He told fans to toss them just before the opening pitch to delay the start.

``The lockout did neither side any good,'' he said.

``The fans will decide when the game starts, not the players and the owner. It's just a modest protest.''

Accordionist Dick Strum, a fixture at all the dome's big events, was squeezing out ``Misty'' and ``Take Me Out to the Ballgame'' under a rain-protected awning.

``I only have one thing to say,'' he said. ``Who wants a moose for a mascot?''

We'll get to that later.

Entering the Kingdome, there were two striking changes. One, the black 121-foot-long scoreboard along the right-field wall that makes it look like a real ballpark. And, two, all those fans sitting above it, filling the seats in the soaring third deck.

``I think it's gorgeous,'' said Sandy Ross of the scoreboard. ``This sold-out crowd for the first time in history speaks for itself. It shows Seattle can back a team.''

Eric Fiedler, a University of Washington student, said the scoreboard ``is classy as hell.'' He debunked the time-trusted theory that Seattle is strictly a football town.

``Just look at the T-Birds,'' he said of the Western Hockey League team. ``You put a pretty good team on the field, you'll draw fans.''

What the club also hopes to do to draw fans is provide peripheral entertainment (it would need everything on this evening.) Pregame festivities began at 7 p.m. as the lights were turned down. It had a concert feel to it, with rock music pouring from the enhanced sound system.

A clip from the movie ``Field of Dreams'' played on the big screen. It included James Earl Jones' soliloquy on America's historical fascination with baseball.

A laser light show used the Kingdome's concrete arc as a giant projection screen. It looked like a giant EKG recording or Einstein's brain scan.

That was followed by the entrance of the much-heralded Mariner Moose. He crashed through a fake left-field wall in an all-terrain vehicle to the music of the ``Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.''

Special indoor fireworks brought cheers for the full house.

The players were introduced under spotlights and the game began 14 minutes late at 7:49. One paper airplane was tossed from the third deck. It landed in the lower level.

Through the fireworks fog, the Oakland Athletics' first batter, Rickey Henderson, stepped to the plate. On the third pitch of the game, he blasted a home run so hard it would have knocked over a moose.

An hour and four innings later, it was 12-1 Oakland. Few people left, however. They must have figured the Mariners could come back in the second half.