SAN FRANCISCO - From the Grateful Dead singing the national anthem, to a female public address announcer and seagulls squawking after games.
From the smell of garlic fries to the fog hovering just above the outfield, San Francisco’s ballpark by the bay has its share of flavor not seen elsewhere during October baseball.
Now, the Giants have another World Series to show off all its charm.
“The park definitely has an identity,” said Texas Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle, who used to come here regularly while managing the Colorado Rockies.
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There’s that larger-than-life Coke bottle slide and humongous mitt above the left-field bleachers at AT&T Ballpark (which opened as Pacific Bell Park in 2000).
And how about all the characters on the field?
All-Star closer Brian Wilson and his thick beard, dyed jet-black. Shaggy-haired ace Tim Lincecum. Even outfielder Cody Ross, who once aspired to be a rodeo clown.
Panda heads are hip here because of Pablo Sandoval, nicknamed “Kung Fu Panda.”
Not only does this 11-year-old waterfront ballpark offer aesthetically pleasing views from many angles, its fans are a far cry from the hard-edged faithful who might be found in the Bronx, Beantown or Philly — perhaps even in St. Louis.
“Our fans have multiple heroes on this roster,” second-year managing partner Bill Neukom said. “It’s the place, too. We had one-on-one meetings last year and I was getting to know the people in the front office. Almost in every single instance, we’d say: ‘What do you like best about your job? What do you like least about your job?’ Always one of the things they liked best was it’s a privilege to come to work at this place. There is a physical sense of place. It’s pretty special.”
For opposing players, there are all kinds of odd angles as well, particularly in right field. There’s even a cartoon car on the left-field wall that adds a couple of feet to the fence.
“It’s definitely quirky,” Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “It has some corners in the outfield. It has that car over in left field. If I hit a ball off that, I might tear that thing down. It’s a beautiful ballpark. It’s great for baseball. It’s a perfect place for a World Series.”
For the lucky Giants fans, a hallway encounter with a Hall of Famer is a possibility. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda. They’re all regulars around here.
“How it’s different from Boston or New York, I can’t tell you that, but I can say this about this city: It’s really fallen in love with this team and these guys are savoring what they’re getting from the fans,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
What a refreshing change AT&T Park is compared to the Giants’ old home of Candlestick Park. It was ice-cold with fog and whipping winds — remember all the candy wrappers flying around? — not to mention remote seating arrangements and a huge outfield.
In 1989, there was an earthquake that interrupted the A’s-Giants World Series, won in a four-game sweep by Oakland after a 10-day delay.
The Giants got their privately funded new digs — in a fitting West Coast architectural style — during the height of the Bay Area dot-com boom. China Basin was boring before, and now an entire thriving neighborhood has completely risen up in the last decade within a line drive of the Mays statue out front. Baseball is popular enough in San Francisco to be a source of urban renewal.
“All that stuff is here. It’s at the bay,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington, who spent 11 years coaching across the water for the A’s. “I know people have gotten used to seeing the playoffs and World Series on the East Coast. Now it’s on the West Coast, the Southeast, the Southwest.”