Since my first Indians game on August 2, 1995, I've attended – by my best estimate – between 75 and 100 MLB games. In all of those games, I've never caught a home run, foul ball or any ball from the field of play. Doing so requires good seat placement, some honest effort, and a little luck, and so far I've lacked all three. I don't tend to sit in areas that get a lot of foul balls or home runs, because I prefer the view from around the home plate area, which is either too high for most foul balls or behind the screen that protects fans from foul balls of the more lethal variety. Even when I've been in a high-trafficked batted ball area, my luck hasn't been great. I've only been in the best possible position to get a foul ball once: I was sitting in the first row of the mezzanine deck on the first base side at Jacobs Field (now the club seats), and the ball hit the auxiliary scoreboard mounted to the facing of the deck directly in front of and underneath my seat. If I had gone for that one I'd have probably fallen out of the mezzanine deck and into the lower deck, which would have put a serious damper on the rest of the evening.
And even when I've had the right luck, I don't tend to give it a ton of effort. The next best opportunity I had for a ball came when I was sitting with some friends behind the first base dugout at Jacobs Field, and an errant relay throw from the second baseman skipped off the first baseman's glove and into the stands right next to the left foot of a friend sitting directly to my left. If I really wanted that ball, I could have dove across her and might have beaten the guy sitting in the row behind me to the ball. But my friend would have been (rightly) angry at the fact that the nacho cheese she was eating was now all over my shirt, and I made the split-second decision that going for that ball wasn't worth it.
But it all came together last Tuesday night at AT&T Park. I had been looking forward to visiting AT&T Park for years, and after visiting the Coliseum two days before I was ready to watch a game at a real baseball stadium. AT&T Park surpassed all of my expectations and more: it's a beautiful park, in a beautiful city, and the owners seem to recognize exactly what fans want from a baseball experience in San Francisco. And not only that, AT&T Park will forever be the first stadium from which I got a home run ball from the field (kind of).
Before the game, my family and I had spent the morning and early afternoon at Alcatraz, then found an In-N-Out Burger for lunch before walking through Chinatown to kill some time before the game. A couple hours before first pitch we decided to take the light rail over to the stadium to find some dinner. The light rail stops right outside the stadium, and after a brief search we didn't really find much in the way of restaurants in the neighborhood so we just decided to head in through the center field gate.
The area behind the batter's eye in center field has a smattering of picnic tables arranged around a few huge planters, which the stadium calls an edible garden because the huge planters are filled with plants that source the two concession stands on either side of the picnic area. There's a limited view of the field from that level because it's in the batter's eye, and a net stretches over the entire pavilion to protect the diners and pedestrians in the area from unexpected batted projectiles. We couldn't have been in the stadium five minutes before a guy from the seats above and to the right of the netting caught our attention and pointed to something on the ground nearby. My sister saw it, picked it up, and handed it to me, and just like that I had a real batting practice home run ball.
Already the night was looking really good, and I couldn't believe my luck. We wandered up to the seats above the batter's eye and watched the Diamondbacks take batting practice for a little while. During batting practice, any ball that comes into the stands is obviously fair game to whoever catches it, but most of the balls that stay on the field are fielded by the players hanging out in the outfield and thrown back in to be reused later. But for whatever reason, one of the Diamondback pitchers decided to throw a ball from the field into the stands, and unbelievably threw it right at us. Me and a fan next to me jockeyed for position, jumped for it and missed, but my brother in law, standing patiently behind us, caught it one-handed, and now we had two batting practice balls.
After the adrenaline rush died down, we scouted the stadium for some food and I was really impressed with the options. AT&T Park's food options are all local, unique, and quintessentially San Francisco, sort of the same thing Progressive Field is trying to do with their food options in Cleveland. Traditionally I get a hot dog at every stadium I visit, and AT&T Park's hot dog was good enough, although for some reason they had only yellow Heinz mustard on the lower level while both yellow and brown mustard were available on the upper level. But I also had a salad and a smoothie from the edible garden area, which were both made fresh and tasted great. We also sampled some garlic fries, and they were much better and more refined than the ones in Oakland.
After we finished eating we started walking towards our seats. The lower concourse at AT&T Park feels open and uncrowded, and offers great views of the field no matter where you are. The Giants decorate the concourse walls with murals and pictures of Giants legends, but my favorite part of the decorations were the quotes painted on the wall. The quotes were various baseball-isms not only about the Giants but about baseball in general. There were quotes from Giants players and broadcasters, a Tom Brokaw quote, even a Field of Dreams quote. It shows that the caretakers of AT&T Park love the Giants, but more importantly they love baseball, and they know the fans walking the concourses do too.
Eventually we made our way to our seats, which were in the upper level but still offered a fantastic view of the field and the San Francisco Bay beyond. Additionally, these seats afforded good shelter from the swift breezes that were assaulting the pennants near the lightstands and the seats in the outfield.
I'm not sure if it was just luck, but I got these five tickets for $80 total: less than $20 each for the five of us, and about a third of what I paid for the tickets in the Coliseum. To be fair, these were StubHub tickets while the Oakland tickets were just TicketMaster, but I priced the StubHub offerings for the Coliseum as well and there wasn't a significant difference between the retail and aftermarket prices. It's possible that no one reading this will care how much I spent on tickets, but I found the difference striking, especially because if anything I figured the more expensive stadium would be AT&T Park.
The Giants have won three World Series in the last six seasons, but they're off to a bit of a slow start this season, and while Matt Cain pitched well, the Giants couldn't muster up any offense and the home team ended up falling, 3-0. (Before this visit, the home team was 12-6 when I visited a new ballpark, so this night was somewhat of a rarity.) But even though the game itself was kind of slow, there were still plenty of interesting things to see. The big Coca-Cola bottle behind left field actually houses several slides which kids can ride down. Also behind left field is a statue of Buster Posey in front of a mosaic backdrop, both the statue and the mosaic made from over 20,000 Legos. Pretty much anywhere you walk in the outfield is an excellent photo opportunity, whether you're facing the field or the bay beyond.
One thing I was hoping to see was a home run hit out of the stadium into the bay, but nobody homered that night. A home run into the bay, particularly with Barry Bonds gone, is a fairly rare occurrence: it's only happened 68 times since the stadium opened in 2000. The fact that it doesn't happen very often means that unlike the Bonds era, there aren't a whole bunch of Kayaks hovering in the waters just beyond the right field fence, and on the night we visited, there was just one. It was a pretty chilly night though, so I don't blame the other potential kayakers who decided to stay on land for the evening.
Speaking of that right field fence though, the concourse in right field especially offers a great view of the game and has ample and explicitly marked standing room so that people who just want to watch from there can do so without getting in the way of people who are walking. We lingered there for a while because it's a pretty comfortable and enjoyable place to watch the game.
But we finally ended up getting a little chilly, so before heading up to our seats for the rest of the game we made a stop for some hot chocolate, and if you're going to get hot chocolate in San Francisco, why not get it from Ghirardelli, the chocolate brand that was founded in San Francisco? It wasn't cheap, but it was the best hot chocolate I've ever drank at a baseball stadium, in an admittedly small sample size.
Maybe I'm a bit biased because of the batting practice ball, but apart from the nostalgic and emotional connection I have with Progressive Field, and the historic and atmospheric energy in the old Yankee Stadium, I can say that AT&T Park is the best place to watch a baseball game in Major League Baseball. It's a beautiful but modern stadium nestled in an excellent location. The owners clearly love the Giants and baseball, and the employees all seem to love that they get to work there. Like San Francisco as a whole, there are a myriad of food options and they're all excellent. AT&T Park so perfectly fits San Francisco that unlike all of the cookie cutter stadiums and even some of the newer stadiums, I can't imagine this ballpark being in any other city. For all those reasons, if you're a baseball fan, you owe it to yourself to check this stadium out. And even if you're not a baseball fan, you should still check it out. AT&T Park might just convert you.
You can see more photos from my trip to AT&T Park here.