Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Notes On A Game At AT&T Park

I am currently at Stanford University doing a week-long seminar, and on Monday decided to trek to San Francisco to see a Giants game at AT&T Park.  I am one of those weirdos who actually enjoys going to baseball games alone from time to time.  A good ballpark is like a good bar, you're bound to find good company if you make an effort.  As cool as some of my compatriots here at the seminar have been, I also wasn't too keen on wrangling others to come along anyway.  I didn't want the pressure of pushing through awkward conversation or having to come to decisions collectively about tickets and the like.  I just wanted to go to church, so to speak.

I strolled up to the ticket window in the first inning (I was late getting to my train) and got a ticket in the upper deck, knowing that being my first time in a new ballpark that I would be wandering around some.  When I got there high above the third based line, I knew I was lucky.  As is usually the case in the cheap seats, I was surrounded by families.  Nothing ruins a ballpark experience more than dealing with drunken assholes (more on that later.)  Since they (usually) don't have their kids in tow, they don't have to worry about affording four tickets, and can thus by something closer to the action.  One of the families were from North Carolina, possessed of a euphonious twang and friendly disposition.  They chatted throughout the game with the folks around them, who were more than happy to oblige.  (I was included in some of these conversations, which included Steve Smith's ability to demolish the Chicago Bears.) I sat next to a working class Latino man with his family who immediately talked baseball to me without any pretense or introduction.  That instant connection is one of the great things about going to a baseball game in the right circumstances.

For the first inning or so I was actually too awestruck to make conversation with anyone.  I have been to several ballparks, but none situated like this one.  Up high in the upper deck I got an amazing view of the San Francisco Bay, where I could see the big ships moving in and out, their lights reflecting on the water.  I would have paid the price of my ticket just to sit there without a baseball game.  The cool breeze started coming off of the bay, which felt immaculate after a week of scorching heat on the East Coast.  That breeze added to the feeling of surreality I've always had when visiting California.  It is a place that exudes newness and a sense of impermanence built on lofty dreams.  Rebuilt after the 1908 earthquake, San Francisco is a product of the 20th century, not the 19th like the big cities of the East, Midwest, and South.  New York too draws people from around the world, but in California it always feels like they don't just come for opportunity, but to slough off their past selves.  That's my perception, at least.

After the sixth inning I got up at started walking around the park.  I have been to a lot of ballparks, but none beat this one when it comes to the concourses. I could look right behind me over the bay if I wanted to, or look the other direction at the action on the field.  The ballpark food was also great, and I ate the best chicharones (fried pork skins) of my life that night.  After exploring the concourse I looked for an entrance to the lower deck not guarded by an usher, and found one on the third base side.  After the 7th inning I took my chance and traded up to the lower level.

Seeing the game on the lower level was a bit of an adjustment, everything suddenly seemed so near.  Before the 9th inning they played "Lights" by Journey, an ode to San Francisco, and everyone sang along and swayed.  In that moment I felt jealous that I was only visiting.  It also reminded me that a good baseball stadium will somehow find ways to draw people together in a community.

The only real blip was a dude sitting two rows ahead of me.  He had a baseball glove on his hand, marking himself as a humongous tool, since nobody over the age of 12 should be bringing a glove to a game, especially in a non-foul ball zone like the one I was sitting in.  He kept spitting tobacco juice into the aisle, and when anything happened in the game, would stand up and stagger into the aisle (he was obviously drunk) even though the elderly people sitting right behind him could then not see a damn thing on the field.  They were too feeble to keep standing up themselves, but did not contact any ushers or police.  It was a sad reminder that the assholes who ruin the fan experience for others are so often allowed to act with impunity.  Soon enough, however, Sergio Romo managed to close things out and have us walking to the exits.  Afterwards I felt calm, rested, fulfilled.  There's nothing like going to the ballpark.


Here are all the ballparks I've been to, ranked best to worst:

1.  Wrigley Field
It's different now with all the electronic doo-hickeys, but when I used to go there it was just pure baseball.  It's a truly beautiful place to see a game, and it transports you out of the daily grind in ways that other parks don't.

2.  AT&T Park
The view alone puts this park at the top.  There is no other ballpark situated in a better location.

3.  Camden Yards
This park is absolutely beautiful, and has a timeless element that makes it feel like something much older than the 1990s.

4.  Old Yankee Stadium
It was getting to be a bit of a dump when I went there, but man oh man did it have atmosphere.  The presence of the ghosts of the past was palpable.

5.  Kaufmann Stadium
This is where I saw my first major league game.  It is the paragon of the second wave of baseball stadiums, functionalist but still beautiful.

6.  Citi Field
While the design is not exciting, this park does the basics very well, from food to the availability of restrooms.

7.  Minute Maid Park
It is way too small, but it does have its own character, from the flagpole in center to the retractable roof.  The stadium has a nice intimacy to it.

8.  US Cellular Field
While I love the Sox, their stadium is a non-descript "ball mall."  At least the food and concourses are great.

9.  Turner Field
Pretty uninspiring, but at least the tickets are cheap (but not for long.)

10.  The Ballpark at Arlington
It looks better on TV than it is real life, which is the Dallas area in a nutshell.

11. Old Busch Stadium
Boring cookie-cutter stadium with bad sight lines.

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