The Giants Ballpark and the Architecture of Fun

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Good Morning:

It never fails to puzzle me; watching a baseball game on TV taking place in some other city and seeing vast swathes of empty seats in the stands, even in some of the best sections for watching the game, even in the ballparks of teams that are leading their division. This was the scene at the Giants Ballpark (the name of the stadium’s sponsor changes so often that people either don’t know or don’t care, and invent their own names) for an ordinary July 15 game hosting the Houston Astros:

Nikon Coolpix 9100, 180 Degree Panorama Mode

Not much in the way of vast swathes here.

You might think, “Well the Giants have been very successful in recent years, it was a weekend game, and it was Madison Bumgarner Bobblehead Day, so of course the turnout was huge.” Quite logical, but how does this explain the greater than 2.6 million fans who came to games during the G-Men’s 2008 season, their fourth consecutive losing year? It can’t be the ticket prices; some bleacher seats at the team’s website can cost almost $50.

People like to say “Meet me at Willie,” referring to the Willie Mays statue at the main entrance, but I prefer to meet people at “Juan Marichal,” the above sculpture, which is somewhat less crowded. The ballpark, among other things, is an instant historical landmark, with statues and plaques everywhere, plus a lot of exposed brick to create an instant “old-timey” atmosphere.

Which brings me to the title of this blogpost, which sounds like an architecture post-graduate student’s Ph. D. thesis title.

Almost anything that takes place in the ballpark draws a crowd. The San Francisco Giants Baseball Club owns the stadium outright, having used their own money to pay for everything, so they have considerable freedom as to what events they can host there. The San Francisco Opera experimented with live free simulcasts of their operas, using the giant screen behind center field. It’s not an experiment anymore; it’s a tradition. The next simulcast is set for September 15. The Giants make money on the concessions. I’m not an opera buff, myself, but darn, garlic fries and Shiner Bock or Anchor Porter (on tap, this might be America’s finest beer) make the experience quite enjoyable. Even the justly-legendary-for-all-the-wrong-reasons XFL enjoyed success here: the San Francisco Demons were the only popular team in the league.

The “Melk Maids” in the Bleachers: These are the female fans of Melky Cabrera, who did not play on the 15th. The “Melk Men” (you can guess how they dress) hang out in the field seats close to the left field foul line.

It has to be the ballpark. People seem to flock to events at the Giants Ballpark because the ballpark itself is worth the visit (come on, who watched any XFL games on TV?). The place seems to have been designed, from the initial blueprints to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, to match the quirky spirit of San Francisco itself. Consider for example the right field wall:

That’s not a wall. That’s a chainlink fence.

I think the Giants home is the only one of all the stadia, arenas and ballparks hosting one or more of the Big Four team sports (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) which was designed to allow fans to watch the games for free. These free SRO “seats” have become so popular that the police will ask the fans to leave every three innings to allow a new group of fans to watch the game. Hey, I’ve watched the games there. It’s a unique perspective; you are level with the players. At the time of its opening, no other MLB ballpark had the same online connectivity as the Giants home field. Of course, everyone has caught up since then, but even now, the most Instagram photos in baseball come from the stadium which happens to reside only a few blocks away from the company’s HQ.

Cotton Candy Vendor in the Bleachers at Giants Ballpark

I know one of the electricians who helped build the stadium (last time I saw, she had since gone to med school). The construction workers received a nice thank-you present from management one day: a meet-and-greet with slugger Barry Bonds, and the chance to be on the field as he took batting practice just for them. Even though suspicions about his steroid use had already begun to circulate, she still remembers the event as one of her favorite moments.

That must have something to do with the success of the ballpark; the club’s marketing and community relations divisions must do an excellent job. Even my dad, a Yankees and Mets fan, adopted the “Jints” as his #3 team after watching three innings of a game through the fence.

Giants Fans Start Young 2

I believe that the Giants’ home functions San Francisco’s biggest and most exclusive nightclub where paradoxically, anyone can get in. This place is an 81-game/year party. Of course, since this is San Francisco, some fans contribute a little something extra to that party atmosphere, as Texas sports reporter Newy Scruggs learned when he visited McCovey Cove shortly before Game 1 of the San Francisco-Texas 2010 World Series. That video was wildly popular amongst Giants fans until YouTube took it down. This is why I’ve never understood why pitcher Tim Lincecum apologized to the fans when he got busted for smoking pot. I mean, come on, dude; we’re San Franciscans; what do you think some of us are smoking when we watch you attack opposing hitters with that motion of yours? And he plays for a manager, Bruce Bochy, a mild-mannered beer drinker, but who looks and drawls like a retired Mendocino farmer (and by “Mendocino” you know exactly which crop I mean, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more).

The Dodger Fan at San Francisco

The aforementioned Texas sports reporter did mention that Giants’ fans are some of the nicest people he’s ever met, but his standards might be a little low (we don’t spit on people, as do Yankees fans). I suppose he’s never been to a Giants-Dodgers game. Though much diluted from the New York-Brooklyn days and the Candlestick Park days, there’s still a little bad blood between the teams. However, we can tolerate each other. No one is bothering the Dodger fan above who is hoping to catch a home run ball hit over the right field wall (24′ high, Willie Mays’ number, another nice Giant touch). I also witnessed this event in 2010 and reported it to my friends:

World Peace Is (Kinda, Sorta) Possible! (September 15, 2010)

Good Evening:

There’s something about public transit in San Francisco…

Tonight I rode the J-Church streetcar to the Fringe Festival at the Exit Theater. However, other San Franciscans had other priorities, and many were going to the ballpark to see the Giants host the Dodgers. In my half of the car, six people wore Giants gear.

One person were a Dodgers cap and jersey. The gentleman sitting next to him wore a Giants cap and jersey.

Those of you with fond memories of Roseboro-Marichal will be disappointed. The two fans kept their noses in their reading and ignored each other. Except the Giants fan finally looked up from his magazine, looked at the book-reading Dodgers fan, and grimaced as if a posse of bad oysters for dinner had begun a counterattack in his digestive tract. He noticed me stifling a laugh, so I said, “This proves world peace is possible!”

The rest of the passengers laughed, but the Dodgers fan simply buried his face deeper into his book, while the Giants fan told me, “Yeah, well, I’m trying not to notice.”

I got off at Powell Street, and as I walked away, I looked back at the car. The Giants fan had taken my seat. I guess he couldn’t stand sitting next to the LA fan any longer.

Peaceful. Kinda, sorta, peaceful.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–The Dodgers won the game, but the Giants won the World Series.

I did not see Matt Cain’s perfect game (June 13, 2012) the first in Giants’ history, in person or live on television, but Comcast SportsNet Bay Area has not missed too many chances to rebroadcast the game, and I saw one of these rebroadcasts partially to listen to the announcers (Duane Kuiper and I think Jon Miller). I was curious about when exactly did they start to realize that something special was happening on the field. It actually took them a while, but I can’t really blame them. Not when something like this is prowling above McCovey Cove.

Is the ballpark perfect? No. It does not appear that the club anticipated year after year of consecutive sellouts because there are far too many pedestrian chokepoints both in and outside the park. Also, don’t get a hot dog and regular fries; you will spend far too much money to hold two pockets of air. I recommend the food at Orlando Cepeda’s concession stand behind the bleachers.

The chicken bowl is $10, but it’s a big honking bowl of food with a lot of chicken.

There are more pictures to publish and more tales to tell, but I’ll save those for another time. I hope you all had a great weekend.

Vonn Scott Bair

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4 responses »

  1. Pingback: Of Melky Cabrera, Hero Worship, and Possibly the Greatest English Bulldog in History « The San Francisco Scene–Seen!

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