Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A beautiful day at the ballpark

With the Major League baseball season in full swing ~ and one of my local teams, the San Francisco Giants, playing competitively ~ I decided it was time to check out the fun in person last weekend and go "root, root, root for the home team."

As it turned out, it was a Saturday afternoon well spent at the ballpark ~ the chaotic, 39-pitch ninth-inning performance by closer Brian Wilson, which preserved a 2-1 Giants victory, not withstanding.

Mind you, after 10 seasons of attending both day and night Giants games in China Basin and enduring the Barry Bonds years, my wife and I have become very selective about going to a game in person at AT&T Park. One, because of unpredictable Bay Area weather that can make even summer evenings seem like winter, it must be a day game. Two, Tim Lincecum, the team's two-time Cy Young Award winning hurler, must be the starting pitcher. Nothing against seeing Barry Zito or Matt Cain pitch. Lincecum started the season with a 4-0 record and left three other starts ahead before the bullpen squandered leads. With a little bit of luck, he could have been 7-0.

So, if you're going to spend good money ~ and leave the comfort of your living room to go watch in person ~ you want to see the local nines win. Right?

With those prerequisites, we found the perfect Giants game for us whilst we watched a recent Giants-Mets game on TV:

Giants vs. Astros, Saturday May 15, 1:10 p.m.

With day baseball, and knowing that Lincecum would be pitching for the Giants, we went online and ~ luckily ~ found a couple of $20 View Reserve tickets in row 4 of section 311 that fit our budget and promised a good view of the game below, a good view of the Bay beyond and a little bit of sunshine above, too.

As we have done numerous times since The Ballpark at 24 Willie Mays Plaza opened for business in 2000 ~ first as Pac Bell Park, then SBC Park and, finally, AT&T Park ~ we took a BART train from Oakland to San Francisco, exited at the Montgomery Station and walked down Second Street, about a 20-minute stroll, which nicely aligned us with the left-field corner of the ball park at Second and King streets.

We arrived at 12:30 p.m., too late to catch batting practice, but still about 40 minutes until first pitch. After we retrieved our tickets from a very efficient Will Call ticket machine (while others stood in long queue lines to buy tickets) and purchased a scorecard, we entered the ballpark and rode a pair of escalators up to the upper deck View Level. Then, after buying a couple of Johnsonville bratwursts and Diet Cokes for our ball game lunch, we located our seats, settled in and spent a few minutes just admiring the beautiful Bay vista.

Even with a day game, we've learned from experience, it helps dressing in layers. A pullover, half-zip Lands End fleece over a tee-shirt with an additional fleece vest for good measure seemed right for this spring afternoon. There was a slight Bay breeze and the sun hadn't fully broken through the clouds. We threw on some sunscreen, donned a Giants cap and sunglasses, and we were ready for the first pitch.

Then, as the game began, we tuned out the crowd of 40,060 around us and tuned in the Giants' broadcast on our Sony Walkman radios. The "three-headed booth" of Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow and Dave Flemming kept us duly informed of the matters down on the field and, often times, entertained us with wonderful insight and baseball lore. Listening to their breezy commentary made you feel like you were sitting at a sports bar and sharing a cold one with them.

Thanks to a nifty pitcher's duel between Lincecum and the Astros' ace Roy Oswalt, the game moved along at a brisk pace, much quicker than we anticipated. Once the sun broke through the clouds, the Giants' offense warmed up to the 61-degree San Francisco afternoon very nicely.

A two-run homer by Juan Uribe gave the Giants a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning and Lincecum, nicknamed "The Freak" for his unique pitching motion, got stronger as the game reached the later innings. He left after eight innings and 120 pitches, having allowed only one earned run, four hits, and five walks while striking out five. His ERA lowered from 1.89 to 1.76.

The game's outcome in the top of the ninth remained tenuous, thanks to Wilson, who loaded the bases with two outs. Finally, a lengthy, 15-pitch final duel between Wilson and the Astros' Kaz Matsui culminated with a routine fly out to left field that ended the game.


The Giants owned a modest two-game winning streak and Lincecum finally notched his fifth victory of the 2010 season. While the game only lasted an economical two hours and 35 minutes, it all added up to a beautiful day at the ballpark.

With our record perfect at 1-0, the post-game walk from AT&T Park along the Embarcadero became more satisfying, too.

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