Friday, September 24, 2010

A knothole perspective of the game

AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, is a classic urban baseball ballpark with a brick facade whose old-time feel has been a welcome, if not always kind, addition to the downtown city landscape since its opening in April 2000.

The privately financed ballpark at the corner of Third and King streets, in the South Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, replaced crumbling Candlestick Park as home of the Giants. It's been host to one heartbreaking World Series (in 2002, the Giants lost in seven games to the Angels); the scene of many towering home runs hit by Giants great Barry Bonds (including his record-breaking No. 756 on Aug. 7, 2007); and, it provided the setting for pitcher Greg Maddux's 300th career victory (on Aug. 7, 2004), a game my wife and I were witness to, from both far and near.  More about that later.

AT&T Park:
The ballpark at Third & King
With a 12.7-acre site, bounded by Second, Third and King streets and the China Basin (renamed McCovey Cove in honor of the Giants great first baseman and fan favorite, Willie McCovey), AT&T Park was built into one of the coziest parcels of land of any Major League ball park. Within it, the Giants have honored their past heroes, too. There's Willie Mays Plaza gracing the corner of Third and King streets complete with palm trees and a statue of the Say Hey Kid. Further down King, there's a statue recognizing Hall of Fame slugger Orlando Cepeda and heading toward McCovey Cove on Third is a statue saluting Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal. Finally, a statue honoring Hall of Famer Willie McCovey sits across McCovey Cove and is accessible by walking across the Lefty O'Doul Bridge on Third Street.

View of the Portwalk at AT&T Park
from across McCovey Cove (2006)
One of the unique aspects of AT&T Park is its Portwalk, located beyond the right-field wall, which allows visitors sweeping views of McCovey Cove and the San Francisco Bay beyond while walking along the perimeter of the ball park ~ and, in a nod to baseball charm, the opportunity to sneak a peek of the ball game for a few innings ~ or longer ~ without having to pay a fee in the tradition of the old knothole gang.

Framing Greg Maddux:
We watched part of Greg Maddux's 300th career victory while
standing in the knothole at AT&T Park on August 7, 2004.

Standing under the right-field arcade stands, looking through a chain link fence at the field, is an interesting, if not unusual, way to observe a baseball game ~ from the perspective of the right fielder ~ without the benefit of television monitors, but with the radio broadcast of the game piped in.  It's how we saw the start of Maddux's quest for his 300th Major League victory six years ago during his second stint with the Chicago Cubs. (We later lucked into buying field club seats behind home plate for the final seven innings of the game.)  Also, it's how we spent a portion of our afternoon last Sunday, standing in the knothole, watching a couple of innings of the Giants' 9-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Watching the Giants chase after
the 2010 NL West pennant
from the knothole.
Our Sunday travels brought us into San Francisco for morning church and brunch at Home. During our meal, I suggested we ride the Muni Metro train across town afterward to watch a bit of the Giants game from the knothole before returning across the bay. After all, the Giants are fun to watch ~ they are chasing after the NL West pennant ~ and the Muni Metro train would drop us right outside the ball park.

A knothole perspective:
Looking over Aubrey Huff's
shoulder, about
309 feet from home plate.
By the time we arrived, the Giants were batting in the bottom of the third inning, already leading 4-0 thanks to a first-inning grand slam homer by Jose Guillen.  There were a couple dozen other knothole customers enjoying the game, some who looked like regulars.  A few Giants fans took to razzing Brewers right fielder Corey Hart in between pitches, nothing unprintable mind you, just keeping him in the game. We stayed until the fifth inning.
No worries, the rain showers that were predicted for game time never materialized and neither did the Brewers' offense against Barry Zito.  The Giants scored five more runs after we left.

Looking back, our stroll along the Portwalk and visit to the knothole was an hour well spent at the ball park.  After all, we were cheering for our local nines.  And it didn't cost us a dime.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010 except where noted.

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