The Giants moved to San Francisco from New York in 1958, but it took the ball club 42 years to really find a home in the Bay Area.
After spending four decades (1960-1999) in Candlestick Park – renowned, even in the summer, for its cold temperatures, wind and fog – the Giants moved into a beautiful downtown waterfront ballpark in 2000.
The Giants were able to leave behind the ‘Stick, which is close to the San Francisco airport but located 7 miles from downtown, without costing local taxpayers a dime, as their new home became the first privately funded ballpark built since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962.
After a 1996 vote gave the Giants a reprieve from waterside height restrictions the team chose the China Basin area to build what is now known as AT&T Park.
Unlike most professional sports franchises, the Giants lease the land on which the ballpark sits at fair market value. And it’s the real estate that the Giants lease that has given SBC Park its most distinctive feature: a sweeping view of the San Francisco Bay.
The Giants have appropriately labeled the seats in the upper deck as “view” and sitting up high is rewarded with a panoramic sea of blue dotted by the sailboats on the Bay. A marina is located directly behind left-center field and the masts of the docked boats can be seen from the view level, along with glimpses of Berkeley and Oakland in the distance.
But I really have to give SBC Park a mixed review on taking advantage of its location.
Although the ballpark resides in downtown, it was actually built facing away from the city due to wind patterns, and the orientation of SBC Park does not take advantage of the downtown buildings or bridges like PNC Park, which to me remains the standard in downtown waterfront ballparks.
The Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland, is located next door to SBC Park, but it is obscured from view for all but the upper right field view patrons. It’s also ironic that those seats are the only ones that have any glimpse of the downtown skyline.
Also, on the day of my visit, there was a large cruise ship docked just behind the third base grandstand that I never saw until I walked along the concourse behind the grandstand.
The one other thing that jumped out at me about SBC Park is the playing field. The Kentucky Bluegrass blend the Giants use is a different shade of green than normal, and the crushed volcanic rock that makes up the infield is a milky shade of brown. Even the backstop behind home plate is different, as it resembles the small fence you see at Youth League fields that don’t have cables holding up the net. These factors, coupled with the field layout and brick right field wall give the ballpark a classic look.
The distinct architectural feature of SBC Park is in right field, where the ballpark’s outfield wall and promenade parallel the water the same way the Green Monster parallels Lansdowne Street outside of Fenway Park.
The Giants built a walkway that extends from the right field pole to near center field and this area is a hub of activity for fans to mingle or stand and watch the action.
The right field wall is built below this platform, and parts of the brick wall have been cut away to feature an out of town scoreboard and the historical home run countdown for Barry Bonds.
Since Bonds has been out of action for all of 2005, I did not get to witness the buzz that occurs when he plays. It is doubtful that one player has ever had such an impact on the energy level of a ballpark as Barry Bonds has had at SBC Park.
The patch of water known as McCovey Cove, located just a splash landing beyond the right field wall, is well-known for the crowd of kayaks seeking a historical souvenir when Bonds is in the line-up. As of June 2005 there have been 38 balls hit by a Giant into the water and Bonds has been responsible for 31 of them.
A banner touting the number of splash hits – home runs that land in McCovey Cove – hangs in right field and upwards of 100 kayaks have gathered in the Cove during Bonds’ pursuit of the home run record, all hoping for another one of his splash hits.
But while Barry is injured kayak traffic is down, and on a beautiful Saturday afternoon I only saw about 10 kayaks hanging in the otherwise peaceful Cove.
A cool place to go before or after the game is McCovey Point and China Basin Park, which is located on the other side of McCovey Cove. Along with a bronze statue of Willie McCovey, the famed Giants slugger, the park features a walkway with markers detailing every San Francisco Giants team from 1958 through 1999.
Another interesting feature located just outside of SBC Park is the public promenade on the waterfront in right field. Here fans can watch the game through a fence at no charge. Located at field level, this standing room area accommodates about 50 people at a time. They are recycled out every three innings so more fans can experience this unique treat.
Speaking of treats, fries seasoned with garlic are the main food of choice at SBC Park. They are served up at numerous concessions stands by Gordon Biersch, the chain restaurant and brewery that started in San Francisco and became famous as a result of their garlic fries.
For your ears you’ll notice that the public address announcer has a different tone than normal. The Giants have the only female PA announcer in baseball, as Renel Brooks-Moon handles the duties (she’s also the host of a local radio station’s morning show).
You can’t watch a ballgame at SBC Park without noticing the huge 80’ Coca-Cola bottle and super sized glove behind the left field bleachers. The Coke bottle actually houses four slides for kids, while the 26’ high glove is a vintage 1927 four-fingered baseball mitt.
The team also pays homage to their past greats by displaying the retired numbers of both New York and San Francisco Giants on the façade above the club level.
San Francisco is known for a high cost of living and tickets are definitely more expensive than at most ballparks, but that hasn’t kept the crowds from coming. Since moving from Candlestick the Giants have routinely led the National League in home attendance, topping 3 million fans each season, and the team more than doubled their season ticket base.
Much like the tickets, parking isn’t cheap. The Giants charge $25 to park in one of their lots, which are accessed by walking across the Lefty O’Doul Bridge. The cheapest spot I was able to find downtown still cost $10.
The high parking prices are in place to encourage the use of public transportation, which include the Muni Metro streetcars and trolley busses, BART (via an in-station link to Muni Metro), CalTrain, buses and ferries.
Once you arrive at SBC Park you are greeted with palm trees and a brick exterior that is highlighted by the clock tower located behind home plate. Statues of Giants legends Willie Mays and Juan Marichal are located close to entrance gates.
It’s hard to believe that just a decade ago the Giants were very close to abandoning San Francisco for Tampa Bay, where Tropicana Field had been built in 1990 to lure a Major League team.
Prior to moving into SBC Park getting fans through the turnstiles was a problem for the Giants, as attendance figures in their last 21 years at Candlestick Park were all below the National League average.
But local businessman Peter Magowan put together a group that saved the Giants from moving and when he took control of the team in 1993 his goal was to ensure their future in the city by building a ballpark that San Francisco fans would be proud to call home.
It’s safe to say that mission has been accomplished. Much like the Golden Gate Bridge across town, SBC Park has become a source of pride in the Bay Area, and – even if it doesn’t take advantage of all the area's picturesque surroundings – the Giants and their fans are here to stay.