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Dulling the glare in late afternoon is helping batters

SEATTLE -- So far, the dark, shiny monolith that stretches
behind the center-field wall at Safeco Field is passing the test
for major league hitters.

The installation of new, light-absorbing material on the
background wall has reduced the ballpark's notorious evening glare.
Seattle and Oakland were the first teams to test it, playing two
games this week.

The new surface is made of a honeycomblike material that traps
much of the light, rather than reflecting it.

"It just takes that bright sun and dims it a little,"
Seattle's Bret Boone said. "It's not the color. If you paint a
wall black, you're still going to have a reflection. There was
still light out there, but it was a dull black."

The problem bothered hitters during the early innings of 7 p.m.
starts, when the sun was descending and reflecting sharply off what
formerly was a big green wall. The so-called "hitter's eye" is
intended to help batters see pitches.

"This doesn't reflect as much," Oakland's Scott Hatteberg
said. "When a pitcher is throwing out of a reflecting object, it's
harder to pick up the ball. Any spectator can see the difference."

The Safeco phenomenon was at its worst June 15 when the Atlanta
Braves visited. That contest, matching teams with the best records
in each league, started at 5 p.m. for a Sunday night national
television broadcast.

"It wasn't the easiest to see," said Seattle's Randy Winn, who
homered Wednesday night. "There were other parks where it was
easier to pick up the ball. The toughest time was the 5 o'clock
start."

It seems to be the best solution after years of failed
experiments. Since the park opened in mid-1999, team officials have
tried everything from adding a matte texture on the wall to
planting trees - which subsequently were removed.

It remains to be seen whether the change will boost hitters
averages. Safeco Field has always been considered a ballpark that
favors pitchers.

"All the guys were happy with it," Mariners manager Bob Melvin
said. "I can't say enough about that. The front office really went
the extra yard to try and make the hitters feel better."