August 29, 2007: San Francisco, California
My introduction to San Francisco was in the late 1980’s. ABC’s Full House on Friday nights, the 49ers combination of Montana to Rice on Sundays, and (if I was lucky) Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, during the week. The San Francisco Giants won the first game I attended, a 5-0 win against the Mets, and were the home team during the World Series’ first earthquake, 1989’s Game 3. In 2000, the Giants moved from Candlestick Park, their home since the 1960 season, to Pacific Bell Park located in the China Basin section of San Francisco. Pacific Bell Park (renamed AT&T Park in 2006) served as a tipping point for the Giants organization. The Giants’ front office tailored the team to the spacious pitcher-friendly ballpark leading to 2010, 2012 and 2014 World Series titles. AT&T Park also served as my final active ballpark visit before the Nationals would open their new park in 2008. The game featured Giants starter Noah Lowry, making his 100th and final MLB start, and the newly crowned home run king Barry Bonds playing in what would be his final season. AT&T Park offers Giants fans the amenities and downtown location Candlestick Park did not. Candlestick Park was located in the Bayview Heights section of the city on the western shore of San Francisco Bay. Strong winds off the Bay would swirl throughout the ballpark, making it the coldest in baseball. Many credit Mark Twain as saying, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Regardless of game time or season, make sure to bring a jacket when you head out to a Giants game. Located seven miles north of Candlestick Park, AT&T Park has catapulted Giants baseball to the forefront of the Bay Area sports scene. The lowest attendance year for the Giants since moving to AT&T is 2.9 million; in fact, most seasons, the Giants have drawn 3.3 million fans. Twenty-four palm trees welcome fans to AT&T Park in honor of Giants Hall of Famer Willie Mays. The Giants also pay homage to Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda with statues, as well as their New York Giants history, throughout the plaza and adjacent McCovey’s Cove.
AT&T Park blends well with the China Basin neighborhood, best known for being built on a landfill. It’s one of the only ballparks I recommend purchasing tickets in the Upper Deck (or Vista Level as the Giants call it). Seats on the first base side offer views of the East Bay and Bay Bridge. Unique ballpark features include a 24-foot right field wall (another homage to Willie Mays), a chain-link fence in right field where fans without a ticket can stop by to watch a few pitches, and Rusty the Coke Bottle and the Four-Fingered Glove in left center field. As always, I made sure to arrive at the ballpark early, this time for a 12:35 first pitch between the Giants and Colorado Rockies, to take in the sights that make AT&T Park one of the best ballparks around.
The Giants, looking to sweep their three-game series against the Rockies, sent lefty Noah Lowry to the mound against fellow lefty Jeff Francis. Heading into the game, I assumed Giants left fielder Barry Bonds would sit out the early start after a night game, but he was in there batting cleanup. Earlier in August, Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s home run record, sending #756 over AT&T Park’s centerfield wall. The steroid era Bonds and his peers played in put a damper on the celebration. Fortunately, the record was set at home in front of loyal Giants fans. Bonds was most likely a cheater, but he was their cheater. I got the side eye from some Giants fans when I questioned the validity of Bonds’ accomplishments. Giants’ starter Noah Lowry recorded only 9 outs in what would be his final MLB start. During the postgame, Lowry expressed his frustration: “I hate to say it, but I was reaching back and there was nothing behind it.” The injury turned out to be a circulatory problem that was misdiagnosed by the Giants medical staff. Rockies starter Jeff Francis fared much better, throwing a complete game six-hit shutout. Third baseman Garrett Atkins (2-for-4, 2 HR, and 4 RBI) and shortstop Kazuo Matsui (4-for-4 with 2 doubles and a stolen base) paced the Rockies’ offense in support of Francis’ performance. The announced crowd of 38,397 was sent home without seeing a hometown Giant cross home plate: Rockies 8, Giants 0.
For as bad as the Giants performance was, the city of San Francisco more than made up for it. Whether it’s the Powell Street Cable Cars, the seals at Fisherman’s Wharf, or the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco offers a diverse set of non-baseball activities. Escape to Alcatraz before heading over to AT&T Park, or stop by Ghirardelli’s for a post-game dessert. Wherever your travel itinerary takes you, make sure to take the BART or Muni. San Francisco’s public transit system makes renting a car a non-starter unless you plan to drive up to Wine Country. Now keep in mind that San Francisco skews on the expensive side, so save up and enjoy the best MLB city west of the Mississippi.