While on vacation in San Francisco, my brother and I took in a Sunday afternoon baseball game at Pac Bell Park (now known as Oracle Park), where the Giants hosted the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks. From our hotel near Union Square, we decided to walk to Pac Bell Park, since the weather was crystal clear with temperatures in the 60s. Our walk took about 25 minutes (covering about one and one-quarter miles), mostly on 3rd Street. For those old enough to remember, we walked a path that was part of the famous car chase in the movie Bullitt (1968).
Though we chose to walk, there was plenty of parking available, almost all of which was across Mission Bay on 3rd Street (about one-quarter of a mile from the ballpark). Upon arriving at Pac Bell Park, we explored the area immediately surrounding it. Our first stop was McCovey Cove, located just beyond the right field wall. Famous for home run balls that plunk into the Cove, it was named for Giants great Willie McCovey, a power hitting left hand batter who would have deposited many baseballs into it, had he played in Pac Bell Park. Though there was nobody in the cove when we passed, it is common for people in kayaks to hang out there, awaiting baseballs to retrieve.
Walking past the centerfield wall, we arrived at the South Beach Yacht Club. Massive in size, there were more than 100 yachts moored at the club, though there did not appear to be many sailing before noon. Continuing our exploration, we wandered along Pier 40 before making our way back toward the stadium. While the Mission Bay area had some points of interest within walking distance of the park, we decided to invest our time wandering the inside of Pac Bell Park before game time.
Entering the ballpark through the gate behind home plate, we were greeted by a nearly deserted stadium. We arrived about 90 minutes before game time, and while there were a few fans milling around outside the ballpark, there were almost none inside. That left us plenty of time and room to explore. Moving toward centerfield, we encountered something I did not expect. Little Giants Park, a 50 foot by 50 foot replica of Pac Bell Park, was designed for young people to hit whiffle balls and run the bases. Designed for kids 42 inches or shorter, playing in the “ballpark within the ballpark” would have been a dream come true for a much younger me.
Just to the left of the Little Giants Park was the iconic Coke Bottle, located beyond the left field wall. With a length of 47 feet, the bottle rises up behind the stands in left field, and is home to two slides, which fans 14 and under use to “slide” into home plate at the base of the bottle. Located next to the Coke Bottle is the Glove. Created as a replica of 1927 four fingered glove used by the New York Giants, it is instantly recognizable as soon as you enter the ballpark. Thirty two feet wide and 26 feet tall, the glove lies about 501 feet from home plate, and a prodigious blast would be required to reach it.
Crossing over the walkway located on the right field fence, we were treated to a great view of Mission Bay, and the Navy vessels moored in the Port of San Francisco. As fans filtered into the ballpark, the walkway became quite popular, which caused us to move along. We headed toward the home plate area to get a picture of the stadium from the upper deck. Sunshine reflecting off Mission Bay gave the water a light blue hue behind the centerfield fence.
Working our way back along the right field line, we ducked into the concourse is search of a baseball lunch. While there was quite a variety of cuisine choices available, we opted for more standard fare. With snacks and drinks in hand, we went in search of our seats.
Today’s game between the visiting Diamondbacks and the hometown Giants had implications for the playoff race. Arizona was leading the NL West, with the Giants in third place, five and one-half games behind. Even without the added interest in the Sunday matinee, Pac Bell Park routinely sells out, which made obtaining good seats for the game very difficult. We settled for seats down the right field line in the lower level, adjacent to the Diamondbacks bullpen (unlike most new ballparks, the bullpens at Pac Bell were located down the left and field lines).
Though not ideal for a good look at the home plate action, our seats did give us a great view of the remainder of the stadium. Pac Bell Park, with three decks of seats from foul line to foul line, as well as bleachers in left and center field, had a capacity of about 41,000, and a full house was expected this afternoon. Open spaces in the outfield (except for the Coke Bottle, Glove and modestly sized video board) made the stadium feel uncluttered, with great sight lines throughout the park.
Starting for the visiting Diamondbacks was left hander Brian Anderson. Arizona’s fifth starter, Anderson was struggling through the 2002 campaign, which was sandwiched in between good 2001 and 2003 seasons. On the mound for the hometown Giants was right hander Russ Ortiz, the number two starter in a respectable but unspectacular San Francisco rotation. On the surface, this seemed to be a pitching mismatch after favoring the Giants, in what was an important game for both teams.
Arizona scored a run in the top of the first inning, employing “small ball” to take an early lead. The starters traded scoreless frames until the bottom of the fourth inning, when Barry Bonds led off the bottom of the inning with a solo home run. Fittingly, the home run left Pac Bell Park, splashing down in McCovey Cove. Though we didn’t see it firsthand, a replay of the home run on the video board showed fans in kayaks on the Cove frantically scurrying for the ball. Plating another run in the bottom of the inning, the Giants took a 2-1 lead.
Diamondbacks starter Brian Anderson’s afternoon ended after the Giants scored in the bottom of the fourth inning, and was followed a quartet of relievers that kept the vaunted Giants lineup in check. Meanwhile, Giants starter Russ Ortiz was cruising, allowing only the one run in the first inning. With the action on the field slowing in the middle innings, my attention wandered to the ballpark itself. Opening in 2000, Pac Bell Park was a precursor to the wave of “newer” MLB parks, which were designed to be smaller and more intimate to foster a better fan experience.
Though the ballpark is simpler than the “newer” parks, its simplicity is a large part of its charm. For example, the centerfield scoreboard/video board was unpretentious yet functional, an unobtrusive feature that some stadiums cannot claim. Pace Bell’s asymmetric design, complete with a “see through” section within the right field wall, makes this stadium unique among the MLB offerings. When coupled with the wall to wall sunshine that afternoon, Pac Bell Park grew on me during the game, becoming one of my favorite parks thus far.
Sitting along side the Arizona Diamondbacks, we witnessed six pitchers warm up before entering the game. When Diamondbacks left hander Greg Swindell was warming up in the bottom of the sixth inning, we witnessed something I did NOT expect from San Francisco fans. As Swindell tossed his warm up pitches, Giants fans started peppering him with rude comments concerning his weight. While Swindell was a big guy, he didn’t strike me as someone who was significantly overweight. Still, Giants fans assailed him with insults I would expect to hear in New York or Philadelphia, not San Francisco. This was shocking to me, hearing baseball fans in California as obnoxious as any I’d seen back East.
San Francisco tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, and the Giants closer, right hander Robb Nen, shut down the Diamondbacks in the top of the ninth inning to secure a 3-1 victory. Though the game time was a bit more than three hours, the beautiful ballpark and spectacular weather made the time fly by. We were very impressed with Pac Bell Park, to say the least. We would have seen more games during our stay in the area, but the Giants went on the road following the afternoon contest.