South Shore fans measure Pac Bell Park against the ‘Stick’
South Lake Tahoe resident Les Wright received many happy birthday wishes before finding what he really was looking for: a ticket for opening day at Pacific Bell Park.
Outside San Francisco’s new stadium Tuesday, Wright, 58 on Tuesday, set up with his sign – “Birthday boy needs one ticket” – and waited for the right ticket to come along. After several offers for $200 left-field bleacher tickets ($10 on game day), the right one did come along, and for $80, Wright was on the front row of the right-field wall for the first San Francisco Giants game at Pac Bell Park. Not only was the experience worth the price of admission, Wright said the stadium is everything it’s cracked up to be.
“It is,” said Wright, probably best known in the basin for organizing the annual Lake Tahoe Marathon. “It’s a spectacular stadium.”
And, according to Wright, who also was at Candlestick Park when it opened 40 years ago, the new park measures up well against the Stick.
“Down in the stadium, you didn’t feel any wind at all,” Wright said. “Nothing was blowing around. There were no hot-dog wrappers blowing around.”
The Giants ultimately lost 6-5 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on opening day, but the city clearly considers itself the winner with the new park. Signs around the surrounding streets, Embarcadero and Willie Mays Way hark the stadium as a miracle. Home runs over the right-field wall fall into Willie McCovey Cove, a channel of San Francisco Bay, and knotholes provide strollers on the pier a way to look in. Inside, the stadium contains a 20,000-pound fiberglass replica of a 1927 Rawlings baseball mitt – and design quirks that include very little foul territory and a 25-foot high brick wall in right field.
“They say it feels like an intimate park, and it really is,” said South Lake Tahoe’s Kerry David, a third-year Giants season ticket holder who went to the Pac Bell opener with sons Kirk, Brian and Jeff. “I can’t believe the opposing teams would put up with the proximity of the fans to the bullpen.”
That intimate setting not only means fans will have less room to spread out than at sparsely attended Candlestick, but they have to pay attention. The extremely small foul territory sends ordinarily harmless foul balls – like the rocket off the bat of Dodgers slugger Shawn Green Tuesday – right into the stands.
“You have got to be paying attention,” David said.
David anticipates Pacific Bell being a park that’s easier for hitters, whereas Candlestick was more of a pitcher’s park. While it may not turn into Coors Field West, David noticed a lower margin for error in Pac Bell.
But it’s that 25-foot wall separating the field from the pier and McCovey Cove that may change the game most for the Giants and their opponents at the new park. The wall features at least three different surfaces – brick, padded, screen – that make judging where a ground ball is going to bounce difficult.
“I think the first-base coaches in particular are going to take advantage of it and look at running the bases more aggressively,” David said.
Wright sat atop that wall for Tuesday’s game, but had nearly 45 minutes to tour the stadium and take pictures before the game started. Baseball writers predicted the wall and the stadium’s other quirks would play havoc with fielders trying to judge foul balls, but Wright didn’t notice any fielders having that trouble.
“I didn’t see any of those problems,” he said.
The cove probably is the Pac Bell feature that has drawn the most attention. While nobody was able to make a splashdown during the opener, Barry Bonds did reach the water in an exhibition game. To reach the marina beyond the scoreboard in the center, though, probably would take a Herculanean home run – maybe beyond the reach of Mark McGwire or Andres Galarraga.
“For anybody to hit it out of the park, it would have to be a humongous shot,” David said.
Both South Shore spectators rated Pac Bell’s weather better than that at the famously cold, blustery Candlestick – where Wright got then-Governor Richard Nixon’s autograph on opening day. But the new park still does have its drawbacks. Wright pointed out that there seemed to be fewer die-hard Giants fans on opening day with the number of spectators there on corporate tickets. Both noticed the long waits for concessions and men’s rooms, although David did point out a shift toward gender equity in the restroom line.
“The ladies can feel that they’re getting their come-uppance in that the men have to wait 10 deep in the line for the restroom,” he said.
Still, the flaws weren’t enough to drive either fan away. Both have definite plans to return. David plans to return for the Montreal Expos series at the end of the month, and Wright will make the trip again at the end of May – after a trip to the Boston Marathon this week, and Fenway Park.
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