SAN FRANCISCO — There is just something about a baseball park that makes me feel like I’m at home.
It can be a park that’s not really all that special — Turner Field, for instance. It was built for the Olympics and retrofitted to be a baseball park. There’s nothing particularly striking about it. It’s not a horrible park by any means, but it’s certainly not one of the best. Still, it’s great to be there for a game.
Then there are ballparks that are cathedrals. Fenway Park, for instance. You literally feel like you are stepping back in time when you walk down Yawkey Way and enter Fenway. Ted Williams, Tony Conigliaro, Babe Ruth, Carl Yaztremski. Those guys played there, and you feel the history of the park when you stand next to the Green Monster or Pesky Pole. It’s a fan experience that’s one of the best in sports.
Newer ballparks have done their best to bring back the feel of those old stadiums. That really started with the construction of Camden Yards in Baltimore in the early 1990s. St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have three of the best-looking new parks, and I would love to visit all three.
This past Monday, I had the opportunity to visit the park I’ve wanted to go to since I first saw it on television the year it opened in 2000 — AT&T Park in San Francisco. This park can easily sit beside Fenway and Wrigley in terms of its physical stature. The history, of course, takes time.
But in terms of sheer beauty, San Francisco’s diamond is tough for any park, new or old, to equal. It sits right on San Francisco bay and opens beautifully to the water. Part of the city and mountain skyline are also visible and striking. My wife and I paid to be part of a 30-person public tour of the park prior to the Atlanta Braves’ game May 12, and we walked around the park later that evening before first pitch. If there is a bad seat in the stadium, we did not see it. That’s especially important if your spouse is not as interested in baseball as you are. There is plenty to see all around you during the game.
Every section, every seat has a tremendous view of the field. And no matter where you sit, there is a feeling that you are close to the on-field action.
McCovey Cove — the name of the water just outside the right field wall — sees kayakers show up more than an hour before first pitch in an effort to be ready for any home runs that make their way that far. It’s a long way to the water from home plate, too, some 370 feet. But we saw the 65th splash hit by a San Francisco Giant find its way to McCovey Cove, served up by Gavin Floyd to Tyler Colvin. Freddie Freeman followed with a solo blast in the ninth that landed among the kayakers, but that doesn’t count as a splash hit by park standards. Only Giants players can officially record those.
Barry Bonds holds the club record for splash hits with 35. Those 35 were among the first 44 to make it to McCovey Cove.
It’s these type of traditions that new parks can establish that fans love. And the splash hits tradition almost didn’t happen.
The original design of the park called for home plate to be where the right field corner is now. The entire city skyline was going to be the backdrop.
But the Giants commissioned a wind expert team to come to the area and give their scientific estimates on the optimum setup for the park before its construction. The Giants desperately wanted to avoid building another Candlestick Park, where swirling winds blew in from the bay creating treacherous game and fan conditions. It could be bitterly cold in old Candlestick, including in the summer.
The wind team’s suggestion was to construct the park as it is. If the Giants had gone with the original plan, the park would be nice. It would no doubt be beautiful. But it wouldn’t be like walking into a sports cathedral, a place where you know it was intended that baseball be played there.
If you get a chance to travel to San Francisco, try to do it during baseball season when the Giants are in town. But be prepared — it might be the best baseball park you ever experience.