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Forever 1st: Fervid fan holds Safeco distinction

West Seattle native Cox waited 26 hours to become first spectator inside new ballpark in 1999
MLB.com

SEATTLE -- Joe Cox is unique, he's an adventure seeker and, most of all, he's a baseball fan. And on a temperate, overcast summer day in 1999, all three of those facets of his personality amalgamated.

Cox, a West Seattle native, was the first paying customer to enter the gates at Safeco Field for the ballpark's inaugural game on July 15, 1999. He waited 26 hours outside the home-plate entrance to carry that distinction.

SEATTLE -- Joe Cox is unique, he's an adventure seeker and, most of all, he's a baseball fan. And on a temperate, overcast summer day in 1999, all three of those facets of his personality amalgamated.

Cox, a West Seattle native, was the first paying customer to enter the gates at Safeco Field for the ballpark's inaugural game on July 15, 1999. He waited 26 hours outside the home-plate entrance to carry that distinction.

"I love oddities," Cox said. "Doing things that no one else would do."

The wait itself was an enchanting experience for Cox. Sure, there were some weird looks. But Cox mostly remembers the people cheering him on as they walked around the corner of First and Atlantic Streets (now designated as Edgar Martinez Drive and Dave Niehaus Way), some of whom offered to pick him up a meal at Denny's, and the litany of media outlets clamoring to interview him.

At first, it was only Cox who was going to stick it out through the night to be the first through the gates, but his daughter, Christina, and her husband eventually accompanied him.

"Dad had talked about doing that for a while, and my husband and I first didn't think we were going to join him, but the temptation grew and grew," Christina said. "So we grabbed our stuff and headed down."

The best part about it all, according to Cox, was the fun they shared with some of the other people camped out around them as they waited to be some of the first to enter Safeco.

"It was like a party down there on the sidewalk," Christina said.

The memories Cox shared with Christina were also enriching for him. She was his companion for many Mariners games -- including the 1995 American League Division Series against the Yankees, at the Kingdome -- so being the first and second customers to enter the gates at Safeco was both invigorating and meaningful.

"There's a sense of accomplishment, meager though it might be, it's something we did accomplish," Cox said. "And it was something that no one else could lay claim to. It's not like someone could claim to be the second first fan into Safeco Field. It was something we sort of shared over the years. And it's something that's pulled us along."

When Cox finally jaunted through the gates, the elation overcame him as he looked at the brand new field. He recalled jumping up and down at the sight of it. But by the third inning, Cox, who was 50 at the time, was drained. He forced himself to leave so he didn't become one of those people who dozed off at a game. Twenty-six straight hours of being awake will do that you.

Cox has since caught many other games at Safeco to make up for leaving early that day. Fast forward 18 years and Cox is employed at the same place he made one of his fondest memories: He has worked in security at Safeco Field since 2009. Being around the ballpark for every home game is exhilarating for Cox, as one of his hobbies when he was younger was visiting different ballparks around the country.

Cox had been to 31 MLB ballparks, and at the time, his entry to Safeco made him one of the first people to attend a game at all 30 active MLB parks.

How was Cox able to visit every active ballpark in the MLB -- along with a countless number of Minor League and Independent ball parks -- so easily? He was an accomplished handball player and was invited to travel all around the country -- and sometimes the world -- to participate and help with tournaments and events. He made a point of traveling to different ballparks to bookend his trips.

Safeco Field is the last park he's been to.

"I've slowed down since then," said Cox, who will turn 69 in December.

Slowing down for Cox doesn't entail sitting around. He still exudes that same energy as he did when he was younger. That's just the kind of guy he is.

"I'm an individual, not so much a herd-type player," Cox said. "That's my mentality … I'm just a little different from everybody else."

Josh Horton is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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