Tuesday, September 10, 2013

FIELDS OF DREAMS: AT&T Park, San Francisco, California

We've reached number 2 on the list of Major League baseball stadium that we've visited. So close to the top, it's the home of the current (and 2010) world champions, it's AT&T Park in San Francisco...

AT&T Park (formerly PacBell Park, formerly SBC Park) is the home of the San Francisco Giants who moved here from cold, windy Candlestick Park when the 2000 season began. In 2002, three games of the World Series were played here when the Giants faced the Angels for the crown. They lost to the Halos in the 7th game of the series in Anaheim.

Finally, nine years later and an eternity away from the Barry Bonds drama, they picked up their first west coast world championship when they beat the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

Over the curse of the Barry, they came back on the back of the beard...Brian Wilson...the closer that helped lead them to another championship last fall.

This year, 2013, they've fallen into the cellar, lost their closer, and are almost 20 games back from the resurgent Dodgers, who now have Brian Wilson and a good shot at the pennant . Over the years, many legendary players have been on this, one of Major League Baseball’s oldest teams. In fact, since becoming a team in 1883, the Giants have won more games than any other team. Willie Mays, Bobby Thompson, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, and Barry Bonds have all called this team home. In 1989, they played their cross-bay rivals – the Oakland A’s – in a World Series that was interrupted by the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake. After a ten day delay, they were swept by the A’s.

Here are the stats…

Year opened: 2000
Surface: Grass
Construction cost: $357 million
Capacity: 41,915
Field dimensions: Left field – 339 ft.; left center – 404 ft.; Center field – 399 ft.; right center – 421 ft.; Right field – 309 ft.
Home teams: San Francisco Giants (National League, MLB) 2000 –present; San Francisco Demons (XFL 2001; California Redwoods (UFL) 2009; California Golden Bears (NCAA) 2011
Events attended: one game

One of the most beautiful parks in baseball with gorgeous views of San Francisco bay. In the park, large sculptures of a baseball glove and a Coke bottle invite kids to come out and play. The bottle has slides that the kids can use – a ramp even lets wheelchair users go to the top of the slide but I don’t know what you’d do once you got there. In right field, big windows open up onto the cove where fans on the sidewalk can get a glimpse of the game being played inside. It’s also the only major league stadium that I know of that uses a woman as a public address announcer.

The playing field has one feature I personally do not like, onfield bullpens. I think it’s dangerous and unnecessary. Other than that, the field is immaculately maintained.

Yes, we were there to rub it in the next year!

The seats in the stadium are canted toward home plate, unless you’re in the wheelchair section where they just point straight ahead. Accessible seating is plentiful here and available on all levels. We sat in the upper deck where wheelchair users and their companions sit in the third row.

Ticketing can be difficult as most games are sold out. Over the phone, we did not have any problem except trying to actually speak to someone. It’s a voice-mail hell when you call the front office and the prompts lead you nowhere. Press “0” (not an option on the voice menu) and you’ll get an operator who can quickly transfer you to someone. Once we did that, we had a friendly ticket seller who promptly sold us the tickets we needed. Ticket prices are demand based and set like a stock market, they can rise and fall with the demand…the team’s website list the current prices on a chart. As of this writing, prices range from a low of $13 to a high of over $250. I don’t know if I like that system.

At the stadium, wheelchairs are ushered to the VIP entrance where disabled fans can use the park’s only public elevator to reach their level. Once we got to the top deck and the usher showed us our seats, no wheelchair locations were to be seen, however, the usher promptly took a wrench out of his pocket and removed a seat, revealing the wheelchair location.

The staff here is very friendly and efficient. One thing I like here is that the ushers do not let anyone take their seat during game play action. You must wait until the ball is dead before you can return to your seat so you don’t block someone else’s view. They are also very good at keeping standing fans out of the wheelchair areas, which is a big problem at a lot of other parks we’ve visited.

The food…simply the best in baseball as you’d expect in such a gourmet’s delight as San Francisco. Orlando’s Caribbean Barbecue in Center Field has delicious island inspired food such as the ChaCha Bowl, filled with jerk chicken, veggies, beans, and rice sprinkled with habanero sauce if you want it.. The basic hot dogs are among the best in the league. A plethora of different beers are on tap, along with a great selection of wines and cocktails. The park is famous for starting the garlic fries revolution among baseball, although I’ve had better in France and at the Date Festival in Indio, California. That East Coast guilty pleasure, fried dough, can be found here…a very good version covered in melted butter, powdered sugar, and cinnamon.

As can be ascertained by the description above, AT&T Park is among the minority of ballparks that serve Coke instead of that overly sweet Pepsi. Prices are on the high side.

The stadium is well served by transit. Muni’s trolleys run right to the stadium after they pick up passengers from the BART subway on Market Street. It’s all accessible but be warned that the meanest, rudest, and “could not care less” transit employees we’ve ever encountered work for these two transit agencies.

So it boils down to great views, good team, fantastic food and drink, good staff, good wheelchair seating, decent transit, challenging ticket policies and pricing. Still enough “pros” to outweight the “cons” and make AT&T our pick for the second best Major League stadium and the best ballpark west of the Mississippi.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
Updated for 2013

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