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Gotta Love It

Pac Bell Park makes new fans the old-fashioned way

By Joe Martin

SCORE ONE for the old school. Long before Willie Mays reared back and threw out the first ball Friday night, the outcome was clear: Pacific Bell Park, the new home of the San Francisco Giants, is a triumph of retro cool. The new park is a deliberate throwback to the quirky, intimate ballparks of the prewar days, when bigger wasn't necessarily better and the national pastime didn't have to compete with football and soccer for a space in the sun. Think Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, and put the 40-year nightmare that was Candlestick Park out of your mind for good. You're going to love Pac Bell Park.

Of course, there has never been much question about whether the new yard would be a better place to watch a game than the cold, impersonal, inaccessible Candlestick, where Giants fans suffered through decades of windchill and gridlock. The 40,390 people who passed through the turnstiles to see the first game at Pac Bell--for the record, a March 31 exhibition in which the Giants beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 8-3--had obviously bought the concept sight unseen. They arrived ready to be dazzled by neo-nostalgia, and Pac Bell didn't disappoint.

From the weird, irregular dimensions of the outfield to the see-through section of chainlink fence in right field that allows non-paying customers on the sidewalk outside a view of the action, Pac Bell Park is calculatedly designed to mimic the charms the old parks came by naturally. It also offers modern amenities, such as ATMs and baby-changing areas. By and large, it works. With the notable exception of the giant green Coke bottle that dominates the view beyond the left-field wall, most of the attempts at imitating the feel of the classic old parks do come off as more charming than kitschy.

Those who have only attended games at soulless, multipurpose ovals like Candlestick will be startled by how close the fans can be to the action in a baseball-only arena. Fans seated in the first row behind the plate are actually closer to the batter--a mere 50 feet away--than the pitcher is on the mound. The stands hug the foul lines down to the fences in a way that just isn't possible in parks shared by footballers, and the bleacher seats and upper decks virtually hang over the field. There is price to pay for this kind of intimacy--the seats themselves, along with the aisles and stairs, are all very small--but nobody was complaining on Friday night, even as they waited through inning-long lines for the privilege of buying a $6 draft of Anchor Steam, a $4.50 bag of peanuts or a $3 Giants dog.

Truth be told, both the concessionaires inside the stadium and the public transit agencies at work outside will need to improve their efficiency if the new park is going to retain its luster beyond the honeymoon period of the first weeks. (Remember, even Candlestick drew raves on opening day, with no less an expert than Richard Nixon declaring it "a dream come true.") Long lines were the rule Friday night, and I found myself deciding I'd rather go without another beer than miss any more of the game after my third-inning trip to the Bayside Brews booth took close to a half-hour. Similarly, I had intended to take a walk all the way around the perimeter of the park just to check things out but canceled that plan after meeting a wall of gridlocked humanity out by the big Coke bottle. With the narrowness of the aisles and stairs at the new park, these problems may be around to stay.

The transit problems were fairly mild--unless you happened to be coming from the South Bay. As you probably know, there is very little parking available at Pac Bell Park, and the assumption has been that people will take public transit to the games because there simply isn't any other choice. Well, people did, and for the most part things worked out well enough, except for those taking Caltrain from the South Bay. (See related story on page 9.)

Clearly, this was a night when the good vibes would triumph. People who might normally complain about the lack of parking crowded onto MUNI buses or walked for miles without complaint. Short of a major earthquake, these folks weren't letting anything get in the way of a good time. Besides, the weather was warm--I never even considered putting on my windbreaker--and the ballpark glimmered like a brand-new car. What's not to like?

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From the April 6-12, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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