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Friday, July 29, 2005 - Page updated at 07:47 AM

Here's a good yarn: Knitting fans keep eye on the ball

Seattle Times staff reporter

No one hawked skeins of cashmere in the 300 Level at Safeco Field last night. But oh, think if they had. More than 1,600 baseball fans blissfully knitting. The crack of the bat. The feel of soft, supple yarn in hand.

"Come on, Gil!" howled Kathie Chapman as she knitted a blue baby blanket. Her plea to pitcher Gil Meche appeared to work.

"That's all right!" shouted Don Cooper, an afghan-in-progress held with one hand; the other slapped his knee as Raul Ibanez singled.

Stitch 'N Pitch Night made its debut at the Seattle Mariners game last night.

It wasn't synchronized knitting. But knitters watching baseball followed certain rules: Inspect rows of knitting in between pitches. Study pattern books instead of scorecards. Drop projects quickly into knitting bags to stand up and clap, as was done for Yuniesky Betancourt when he tripled early on in his first Major League at-bat.

M's officials believe theirs is the first such knitting event ever held at a Major League ballpark. And for the occasion, they had pink-and-blue Stitch 'N Pitch T-shirts printed. They also took an important precaution with the knitters.

"We put them in the upper deck, completely out of the possibility of getting hit by foul balls," team spokeswoman Rebecca Hale said. More than 1,600 tickets were sold for the event.

To call last night's knitting event "a grand slam" wouldn't be an exaggeration. The team's dismal record isn't wooing new fans. And besides, gimmicks and baseball go hand in hand. Remember Buhner Buzz Night, when fans got their heads shaved in honor of then-Mariner Jay Buhner? Initially scoffed at by some, it eventually turned into a 5,000-person event.

Some skepticism preceded Stitch 'N Pitch, too. Kevin Martinez, the team's vice president of marketing, used to rib women colleagues in the M's office who'd knit during their lunch breaks. But then, in a moment of promotional enlightenment, he thought, Hey!

He figured on selling maybe 200 tickets for a knitting event. But more than a week before the game, ticket sales had topped 1,200, prompted, in part, by avid knitters who heard about the event at local yarn shops — and who blog.

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One blog entry on Mossy Cottage Knits read: "Take Me (and My Yarn and My Needles and My Pattern and My Friends) Out to the Ballgame." Immediately, feedback poured in to the blog: What a freaking kickass idea.

Indeed, knitting is wildly popular. According to the Craft Yarn Council of America, one in three women knows how to knit or crochet. The fastest-growing demographic of knitters? Thirtysomethings.

In Seattle, at least five new yarn shops have opened in the past five years. At area Pacific Fabrics & Crafts stores, skeins of yarn have elbowed out quilting materials for shelf space.

The appeal of knitting, according to its practitioners, is that it's portable, creative, social and grounding.

You could even call it neo-feminist.

"Now that we've gained so much ground, knitting, something so traditional, isn't seen as anti-feminist," says Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, known on the Internet as The Yarn Harlot.

And it's fiendishly addictive. Knitters, aka "fiber artists" or "purly girls" or "chicks with sticks," knit in bed, on the beach, on airplanes and at the occasional restaurant table.

Before last night, knitters in far fewer numbers had already found their way into Safeco's stands.

"Baseball doesn't require 100 percent attention. There are between innings, between pitchers, between batters," said Beryl Hiatt, a devotee of both knitting and baseball.

"You can be with your guy and they're content to watch the game. And then he doesn't resent all the time and money you spend on knitting."

The festivities began before the first pitch was ever thrown. (The ceremonial first pitch was thrown by two knitters who threw out balls of yarn. Of course!)

On Lookout Landing, local yarn shops set up booths, handing out event pennants and selling patterns for such things as a "Home Team Felted Hat" and a "7th Inning Scarf."

Mothers who have honed their knitting at their children's sporting events came with their kids last night. Husbands accompanied wives. Women tagged along with girlfriends.

"I brought some socks, so I might get a lot done. But then again, we may just laugh and chat and have a good time," said Patricia Curtis of Issaquah, enjoying her first Major League game.

Knitters figured Ichiro or maybe Jamie Moyer might be the Mariner most likely to knit.

But the ballplayer who's actually picked up a pair of needles? Ryan Franklin, years ago when his Grandma Edna coached him.

"I didn't have the patience," he said last night before the game. "But now, if I tried it, I think I might like it."

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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