JD’s Ballpark Tour, Seventeenth Inning (San Francisco, CA)

Part XVI: AT&T Park

(AKA: The End of a Long Journey)

(AKA: Saving the Best View For Last)

(AKA: Seeing a Clinching Celebration)
(AKA: Prelude to a Championship Run)

I will come out and say it, because of my slight bias as a Dodgers fan, I will say that if it wasn’t for the Giants playing there, I would rank this as the second best ballpark in the majors. As it is, this ballpark easily ranks in my top 5. San Francisco’s AT&T Park is that amazing and everybody that’s a true baseball fan should go there at least once.

The night before I was to attend the Giants game against the Padres, I made it a point to watch the Giants/Dodgers game on TV to see my hometown Dodgers clinch the NL West division! Watching that game was amazing… but that also meant that the Giants could clinch a playoff spot at home on the game I was attending. San Francisco had yielded a strong team all season, and I predicted they would be a tough out. In fact, at the time of this game, I assumed that the Giants would not only win their Wild Card game, but with their NLDS series and play the Dodgers in the NLCS. Part of that was wishful thinking to see an epic Giants/Dodgers duel for the pennant. Little did I know I would see the start of an amazing run into October.

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Ballpark 15: AT&T Park, elevation 10 feet

The game: Padres @ Giants on September 25, 2014

After leaving Oakland and spending the day at the Golden Gate Bridge, I made my way early on to AT&T Park with Kelsey to catch some BP and really look around the entire cove of the park. The place was buzzing with excitement as they playoffs were drawing near. Many believed there would be some games for the Giants in the NLDS, and some were hopeful for the NLCS. There were a few fans that were thinking World Series. However, nobody I talked to thought the Giants would win the whole thing. Not at that time, anyway.

The fans: As I just said, nobody envisioned a championship run this year… but there was still hope for a very deep run into the NLCS. Fans were brimming with confidence in their team, and I loved it. The Giants are known to have a dedicated fan base and sell out their games very frequently, and this was no exception. Even when I would tell people where I was visiting from, they just laugh it off and greet me, anyway. Then again, a couple fans will also come back with the fact that the Giants have won multiple titles recently. The Dodgers last won the World Series in 1988. I did like that many of the fans I talked to were also hoping for a Dodgers/Giants NLCS. For the record, I hate hearing some of the stories about fights going on between Giants and Dodgers fans. Guys, there is no reason to resort to that. We are all baseball fans there to see some great baseball. It makes fans from both sides look terrible. With that said, the fans I encountered were stellar. High marks all the way.

Furthermore, all the ushers at the stadium were beyond friendly. AT&T Park still issues a certificate for first-time guests, and they looked fantastic. From the entrance, it seemed like every usher directed me to the next place to go, especially across the Arcade area in right field.

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But first, I finally bit on the stance that I would never own a Giants cap. I was finally bought a cap because throughout this entire trip, I had purchased (or already owned) a cap from every place I have ever set foot in. It didn’t seem fair to single out one team because of a rivalry. This is the side of me that has become much more impartial over the years. Working in sports will do that to a guy.

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Back to the ushers, they all showed me the best spots to take pictures. Obviously, there is the spot just above the right field brick wall. Then there is the area in right field overlooking McCovey Cove that looks magnificent. Oh, you can also take pictures by the trolley in right-center field next to the foghorns. As we wrapped our way around the outfield, we went to the Giant glove and Coke bottle that is used as a slide. However, adults can no longer go down the slide! Aw man! At least the ushers were nice about it and gave us some free Ghirardelli chocolate.

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The food: For being such a high-priced stadium that sells out pretty much every game, the food prices were not too shabby. There are so many delicious choices for food that you may want to go back for seconds. I had heard about the epic Mexican food at AT&T Park, but I simply wasn’t in the mood for Mexican. However, Kelsey got the chicharrones at a decent price (under $10) and she loved them so much she got another later. I opted for the King Street Carvery near our seats because they actually serve food with the locally-famous Boudin sourdough bread. I love their sourdough, I think it’s underrated personally. I got the carved beef brisket sandwich (came with chips) and some of that mouth-watering potato salad. There was another food item that I’ve had both in San Francisco, and inside Disneyland: Boudin’s clam chowder or chili in a bread bowl. I highly recommend this food item if you want something that will definitely fill you up at a decent price. The chili has a great kick to it, and the bread bowl is more filling than you think. C’mon, for nine bucks, how can you miss?

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Ticket prices: This is where I think I did my best searching all season long. I had previously attended games at Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T… this park that I now call “the Phone Booth!” Since this jewel of Major League Baseball has opened, I have attended eight (now nine) games there in various sections. If I was going to conclude this season’s ballparks, I may as well end with a visual flourish. I wanted to be able to see McCovey Cove throughout the game for that visual eye-candy. I looked to StubHub to find a couple tickets, and I found some GREAT tickets. I found a pair of view reserve infield seats in section 321 (just on the third-base side). These tickets were only $48 total, which was well worth the price. I’ve gotten tickets there much more expensive than that, so I thought this was a steal with one of the best views in all of baseball!

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There is something else about this ballpark that I feel belongs in this section. Did you know you could actually watch Giants games for free? Well, free for three innings. Just below the right field arcade, there are standing-room only sections where fans can peer through one of the openings and watch the game from there for three innings. I have heard that often times, that will become two innings instead of three for higher profile games. Either way, free baseball with an amazing view? I’m sure most fans love to be able to watch their home town Giants for free!

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The game: This was a fine way to end the season. The Giants were playing with an urgency and a type of hustle that you would only find in the stretch run. San Francisco quickly jumped on the Padres and Andrew Cashner with a run in the 1st off a Pablo Sandoval sacrifice fly. Then, a nice magic moment happened, and because of where we were sitting, we saw the whole thing pretty clearly. On an 0-and-1 count, Brandon Belt blasted one deep into right field… and it was carrying pretty well. It then went over the Arcade and into McCovey Cove! Brandon belted a solid home run into the water, and it was a “Splash Hit!” For those of you that remember the season where Barry Bonds hit over 70 home runs, many of those were also hit into the water, which elevated the popularity of getting a canoe or some kind of water vessel and wait for home runs in the cove. On the official counter in right field, that was Splash Hit #68 at the Phone Booth. There was one canoe out there… he got that home run ball easily. I will admit, that was pretty cool to see a splash hit happen in person.

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Two innings later, Brandon Crawford hit a home run into right field. For a split second, I thought we would have our second splash hit of the game. But, it didn’t quite have the distance and ended up in the back of the Arcade area. Either way, the Giants jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead and it was looking like we were going to have a party in the stadium that night.

Then, the most magical moment of the evening occurred. That week had marked the 60th anniversary of one of the most iconic plays in baseball history. On September, 1954 during the World Series, the New York baseball Giants were playing the Cleveland Indians for the right to be named champions. The Indians were looking to win their first Series in years, but Willie Mays had other plans as he changed the entire complexion of that series. In the top of the 8th inning with the score tied at two and with runners on first and second, Vic Wertz blasted what looked to be a sure double in deep center field. In most parks, that would have been a home run. But at the spacious Polo Grounds, it simply meant extra bases… or so Wertz thought. Willie Mays ran down the ball at full speed towards the wall. When he got to the warning track, he made an unbelievable over-the-shoulder catch while on the run that brought the crowd to its feet, but he wasn’t done yet. He quickly threw with all his might back to the infield to prevent a run from scoring. Larry Doby tagged and advanced to third, and that was it. That play changed everything and sparked a World Series sweep of the Indians at the hands of the Giants. Before their recent run of titles, the Giants hadn’t won a championship since 1954, so they had a long drought going between titles!

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Now that your brief history lesson is over your shoulder, it just gives context to what happened next. The Giants helped celebrate that amazing play from 60 years prior by bringing back the living legend himself! Yes, Willie Mays came into the field on an old-school convertible from the 1950s (with white-wall tires) to one of the loudest and most appreciative standing ovations I had ever witnessed. He had signed and threw some baseballs into the crowd in the lower bowl, and he soaked every second of this lap around the park. Willie waved to the crowd, tossed baseballs, smiled at everyone, and even shook the hands of some of the players who came out to greet him. Even the Padres players were applauding and letting him have this moment. Then the Giants players were all smiles as he approached the home dugout. That was one of the coolest moments I had ever seen. We saw a living legend right in front of us, and we all savored the moment. I will admit, I had a bit of a lump in my throat during parts of his ride around the warning track.

Back to the game and a quick recap! The Giants scored another run in the 5th to make it 6-0 Giants, and that’s when it got really interesting. San Diego put up three runs in the top of the 6th inning concluding with a Yasmani Grandal home run that pinged very loudly off the right field pole. The only reason I knew it was that loud was because we could hear it from our seats! Then in the top of the 7th inning, he did it again! This time, Grandal hit a monstrous grand slam to give the Padres the lead. That home run wasn’t quite a splash hit, although it did go over the field arcade and bounced into the water from the walkway. For the record, that does not count as a splash hit… it has to be done on the fly. The Padres added one more run on a Rene Rivera home run to make it 8-6, Padres. All of a sudden, the champagne was looking like it had to be put on ice!

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Then in the bottom of the 7th, RBI singles by Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt tied the game up at eight. After another pitching change in that frame, pinch-hitter Matt Duffy executed a perfectly-placed squeeze bunt to bring in the hustling Hunter Pence from third base! To say that Pence was excited would be a gross understatement. He brought the crowd to its feet on a crazy play and that gave the home team a 9-8 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. With three outs to go, the Giants were ready to celebrate another playoff berth. They easily closed the door, and that’s when the fireworks went off!

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The Giants were headed to the postseason, everybody in the crowd was excited, and there was a different kind of buzz around the park. It was awesome to be a part of that and take everything in. Fireworks kept going off, players were jumping and hugging. Some of them high-fived fans along the warning track. While the ushers did encourage fans to stick around on only the lower level, they also told fans that the dreaded seagulls were coming in. With that said, we stuck around to watch the players celebrate in the locker room via the jumbotron for a few minutes. After that, it was time to head home and make the long drive back.

I left that game with a huge smile on my face. I got to see an awesome playoff celebration, witnessed a great (albeit weird) game, and got to see Willie Mays. That was a fantastic way to close out that part of the trip, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to conclude this part of the tour. Not only that, but I actually completed the first half of the ballparks that quickly. Fifteen ballparks is no easy feat, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to visit all the places I did. I feel so thankful to have been able to do this. Right as I got home, my thought was, “Okay, I just finished the first half of the current ballparks. When can I start planning for next season and getting the other half?”

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I was already thinking it. Why stop now? To those of you who have been reading and following along, thank you so much for sharing in my journey!

-JD

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PS: While this post was uploaded the following year, I time-stamped it in 2014 that way it could be found in the “2014” posts. Again, thank you all for reading!

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