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Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T Park? – A Better Idea
by Richard Van Zandt,
April 19, 2006

Willie Mays Field at AT&T Park

When Candlestick Park opened in 1959, it did so with a name chosen from among over 150,000 suggestions and I can still remember the antipathy I personally felt when the ballpark I grew up with was publicly renamed 3Com Park in 1995.  The name change was gratuitous and all about money.  What had happened to tradition?  For a little more revenue, the Giants sold out the park they’d called home for over 35 years.  I never gave in (nor was I alone in not doing so) and even though it is now known as Monster Park, it will always be the ‘Stick to me, the place of my childhood memories. 


When the Giants announced the name of their new stadium, upon breaking ground in 1997 for what would be the first privately funded ballpark since Dodger Stadium opened in 1962 (and only the second since Yankee Stadium opened its gates in 1923), it was perfectly understandable that they would sell the naming rights.  Stadiums cost a lot of money and since Peter Magowan saved the Giants for the City of San Francisco (and me) when they appeared Florida bound back in 1993, I was more than willing (not that really I had a choice in the matter) to let them call the new stadium whatever they wanted so long as it meant they wouldn’t be going anywhere. 


Pacific Bell had graciously agreed to pay $50 million over 24 years to help get the stadium built and so what was it to me if a ballpark that as yet held no special memories was to be given a corporate moniker?  At that point, the stadium was nothing more than a dream.  There were after all, still memories left to be made at Candlestick.  And even at that, just simply having a new ball park after so many failed attempts in the past was reason enough to be content with them calling it whatever they felt like.


When the stadium opened in 2000, it was an instant love affair between the fans and the new park.  With all its wonderful amenities and unique features, it was generally regarded as one of the most beautiful ballparks in the entire country.  Yet while features from the Port Walk along the bay and the Knot Hole Fence in right field to the 80 foot Coke bottle and the similarly large three fingered glove in left made the park unique, what made it particularly great to the fans was how spectacular a job the team did in paying homage to its glorious past and rich tradition. 


That is evidenced by the statues of Giants greats such as Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and, of course, Willie Mays.  Murals and pictures ring the ballpark and depict great moments in the team’s history. Various pennants and monuments denote different championships and Hall of Fame players going all the way back to the early John McGraw days of New York and leading up to even the most modern accomplishments by Barry Bonds. 


There is the Lefty O’Doul Bridge on 3rd street leading up to the stadium from China Basin Park at McCovey Point and the statue of Stretch himself where every team from 1958 through 1999 is commemorated with a plaque listing each team’s roster for you to browse as you walk around the park.  And it’s in the Lefty O’Doul plaza where you can find the statue of Marichal and his famous high leg kick. 


Or if it’s great food you want, there is Orlando Cepeda’s Caribbean B-B-Q serving up Cha-Cha Bowls behind the scoreboard.  And there is McCovey Cove, the body of water beyond the Port Walk so named for the feared Giants lefty that has seen dozens of balls get wet only to be chased down by fans in kayaks with fishing nets.  And of course there is Willie Mays Plaza at the main entrance which is ringed by 24 palm trees and is where you can find the statue of the greatest Giant of them all greeting visitors. 


Attention to detail is obvious in every facet of the yard.  Or at least it was obvious in every detail save for one, the name. 


As I mentioned, it’s perfectly understandable that the park was named after the company that spent $50 million to help build it.  Pac Bell Park even had a nice ring to it.  We would all get used to it and even embrace it and as the years went by we would all great memories we could tell our grandchildren about.  The rich history and tradition would live on. 


Not altogether unsurprisingly though, and as is all too common in the corporate world, Pacific Bell was soon purchased by SBC Communications and on January 1, 2004, after only 4 seasons, Pac Bell Park became SBC Park.  Well, so much for tradition. 


Yet we as Giants fans trudged on, some ignoring the change altogether preferring instead to take the road I took with the ‘Stick and continuing to call it Pac Bell.  Others just rolled with the flow and called it SBC.  I mean, it had only been four years and how attached can you get to a ballpark in four years?  And after all, those memories were made on the field right?  What did it matter what it was called?  In 30 years when we were telling our grandchildren about watching Barry Bonds play, SBC would sound as natural as Candlestick. 


Or maybe not.  On March 1 of this year, for the third time since the park opened in 2000, the name changed once again.  AT&T had swallowed up SBC and thus the park would now be re-named AT&T Park. 


Again?!? This time the name had lasted two seasons.  How long will AT&T last?   What will be next, Verizon Park?  Cingular Park?  How long until another large corporate conglomerate gets involved like Time Warner or Nabisco or even Wal-Mart?  Can you imagine Wal-Mart Park?  How many more name changes must we go through?  This time, it’s simply gone too far. 


Pacific Bell paid millions and did much to help get the park built but to their credit, AT&T has also been a great partner to the Giants since becoming involved, helping to create, according to Giants COO Larry Baer, the new Build a Bear workshop in the Coca-Cola fan lot in left as well as helping with other improvements this past off-season. 


Now again, I understand the need for corporate involvement in this day and age.  For the kind of money they are paying they deserve the recognition.  But as it is now, the fans are not being considered, and the tradition of the game has been lost.  A ballpark should be an extension of the team and its name should reflect that.  For this or any ball park to become synonymous with its team and fans, it cannot have the name changing every two or three years.  For example, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium are all so synonymous with the teams that play there and are examples of their team’s rich traditions and histories. 


As wonderful as PacBell/SBC/AT&T Park is, it is difficult for me personally as a fan to grow that same kind of fondness and attachment that I felt towards Candlestick (I openly admit I was one of the few who loved the ‘Stick) or that fans of teams like the Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees feel towards their parks.  Not so long at least as the name is changed semi-annually. 


What the ballpark needs is a name befitting the great history and tradition of one of the games oldest and proudest franchises; one that the fans can bond with and grow fonder of as the years pass by.  It needs a name that won’t change, at least in its foundation.  And recognizing the need to retain the corporate involvement it would need to include the AT&T brand name. 


The answer is a simple one and one for which there was a precedent in Baseball set by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  I propose the name Willie Mays Field at AT&T Park. 


To me, this idea is a win-win-win solution.  It’s first and foremost a win for the fans that would have a name that will forever stay unchanged in its foundation.  If and when AT&T is ever sold or bought out, then they would just simply change the necessary ending, leaving intact the main portion of the title.  For instance while one might have great difficulty accepting Wal-Mart Park on its own, it is not such a stretch to imagine Willie Mays Field at Wal-Mart Park.  In this way, fans can develop an even deeper affection and fondness for the park.


And what better way to mark the stadium as a monument to the tradition and history of the Giants then by naming it after the greatest Giant ever?  The team would benefit from a move that would generate a tremendous amount of good will in the community and among its fans.  What Giant fan wouldn’t be proud to attend a game at Willie Mays Field?  This name change would really help to solidify the ballpark as one of the crown jewels of San Francisco and indeed, the entire game of baseball.  It would definitely be a winning situation for the team.


And finally, it’s a winning situation for AT&T, or for that matter, any corporation that follows.  Not only would AT&T then have the association with the ballpark, but also with Mays as well.  I mean, what company wouldn’t benefit from being associated with one of the greatest and most beloved ballplayers in the history of the game?  It’s not hard to imagine a commercial for AT&T with Willie Mays as a spokesman and the ballpark in the background.  While it does not put the AT&T moniker at the forefront, they too would benefit from the goodwill generated by allowing such a name change. 


In the end of course, it hardly matters what the building they play in is called.  It won’t affect what happens on the field nor will the name influence whether fans attend the games.  It is one of the best parks in the game, if not the best, and the Giants and their fans should be quite proud of it.  It just seems to me, as a fan, that it can be improved and that it wouldn’t take much to do it. 


Willie Mays Field at AT&T Park.  It has a nice ring to it.

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard lives in San Francisco, California, and can be reached by emailing Baseball Evolution.

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