SAN FRANCISCO — This is a baseball town once again, and not a moment too soon. After two decades of football worship and baseball tolerance, they're talking baseball here. After two decades of Joe Montana and Steve Young and Jerry Rice, the 49ers are dreadful, just in time for the famously front-running citizens to exclaim, "Hey, how 'bout them Giants?"
They're talking baseball here, even investment bankers and dot-com wizards who wouldn't know Barry Bonds from junk bonds. They're talking about Pacific Bell Park, the enchanting new home of the Giants, where home runs will splash into San Francisco Bay. After 40 years in the wind tunnel formerly known as Candlestick Park, the Giants finally are blessed with a ballpark worthy of the legacy of Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.
Tickets? Nearly sold out. For the season.
They're talking baseball here, Giant baseball. Even the Oakland Athletics, who won more games than the Giants last season, are talking Giant baseball. In one ad, the A's are the equivalent of the little kid in the back of the classroom, frantically jumping up and down and waving his hand in the hope someone--anyone--will notice him.
The ad: "While they built a ballpark, we built a team."
And a pretty good team it is. Too bad, really, for the more successful the Giants become at Pacific Bell Park, the less likely the A's can survive in Oakland.
Nod to Knothole Gang
The applause is still rolling in for Camden Yards, the Baltimore park that shook baseball out of its architectural doldrums. For teams planning new stadiums, field trips to Camden Yards--and its most worthy successors, Coors Field in Denver and Jacobs Field in Cleveland--inspire executives to point frantically and cry, "We want that!"
The red brick exteriors, the dark green seats? We want that! The luxury suites, the lavish restaurants? We want that too! The asymmetrical outfields, the giant scoreboards? That too!
The Giants secured the services of Joe Spear, the HOK architect whose blueprints launched the ballparks in Baltimore, Cleveland and Denver. The Giants then challenged Spear to distinguish this retro-style, cash-cow ballpark from the others.
On a 13-acre stadium site filled with dusty old warehouses, Spear envisioned an architectural heaven, a ballpark wedged against the San Francisco Bay, in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, with postcard views of the San Francisco skyline and the passing parade of boats.
"If Walt Disney was reincarnated and could design a view for us, this would be it," Spear said.
Water would not be ornamental here. This is not Edison Field, where a fake waterfall flows over fake boulders beyond center field. This is Mother Nature providing the signature for the ballpark, the element that instantly identifies this park as San Francisco's.
"Hitting a home run into the Bay, there's some power in that," Spear said. No pun intended, we think. The right-field foul pole is a cozy 307 feet from home plate.
When the city reminded the Giants they could not restrict public access to the waterfront, the Giants did not whine about lost revenue. With a tip of the cap toward the old knothole gang, the Giants built a right-field fence that allows a free peek at the game to fans strolling along a bayside walkway.
While the Giants encourage fans to catch home run balls, the team kindly asks that they refrain from jumping into the water to retrieve them. For that, the Giants present Portuguese water dogs.
Yet the dazzling, death-defying feat here is not a dog diving into the water and fetching a baseball. Rather, the Giants insist that the howling, biting gales of Candlestick Park will not invade Pacific Bell Park, where an all-star team of engineers, architects and aeronautical scientists designed a stadium that can deflect San Francisco's wicked winds into gentle breezes.
Another death-defying feat here may be getting a ticket. In their 40 seasons at 63,000-seat Candlestick Park, the Giants drew 2 million fans three times, never more than 2.6 million a season. In their first season at 40,800-seat Pacific Bell Park, the Giants will draw more than 3 million. The season is sold out, aside from 500 bleacher seats available only on game days.
Tickets are expensive--$8.50 and $10 for the bleachers, $15 and $18 for the upper deck, $23 to $42 for the lower deck. The Giants do not apologize. In four elections, two in San Francisco and two in San Jose, voters rejected subsidizing the construction of a new ballpark. So the Giants paid the $330-million bill by themselves, for the first privately financed ballpark since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.
"For a while, we were the bad boys of major league baseball," said Larry Baer, the Giants' executive vice president.