A Day at the Park with Gregory Pratt
by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
July 13, 2008

Recently I received an e-mail from my colleague here at Baseball Evolution, Gregory Pratt.  It turns out he was going to be making his way out to California from the Windy City, and he wanted to know if I’d like to take in a ballgame with him.  Well, I’m always up for a ballgame, and likewise, I am always interested in meeting someone with a passion for the great game of baseball, so I was hopeful that we’d be able to work it out, if not for a Giants game, then at least an A’s game. 

My preference would obviously be to see the Giants play, not just because they are my favorite team, but also because if he was going to come all this way to see a game, then I certainly wanted to be able to show off one of the most beautiful ballparks in all of baseball, Willie Mays Field at AT&T Park

One scenario, ironically, had him coming out while the Giants were in Chicago to play the Cubs, meaning we’d have had to go to an A’s/Angels matchup.  Now that wouldn’t be a bad game at all, but let’s face it, nobody comes to California hoping to see Oakland’s McAfee Stadium (or, The House That Al Davis Wrecked). 

But as it turned out, he would be in town for the final game of the Giants/Cubs series in San Francisco on Thursday, July 3, and, as good luck would have it, Tim Lincecum – my favorite Giant – would be on the mound that day for a 4 o’clock start.  I normally get off of work at 4pm but I was able to leave at two so that I could catch the 2:11 train up to the ballpark (conveniently enough, my desk at work sits about 300 yards from the train station in Palo Alto). 

What a way to kick off a three-day, holiday weekend.  I mean, there’s nowhere at any given time that I’d rather be than at a baseball game, so obviously, I’m always excited to get out to the yard.  By the time the clock on the wall said 2 o’clock, I had already changed into my Giants gear, and I was on my way out the door shouting, “Happy 4th of July everyone,” as I went. 

I hopped on the train and passed the time by reading the legendary Japanese home run king, Sadaharu Oh’s autobiography, A Zen Way of Baseball, to get me in the mood.  I mention this because I’d like to recommend this book to anyone who loves baseball and/or has an interest in the history of the game in Japan.  It’s no longer in print, so you may have to search a little bit for it.

The train pulled in a little late at 3:23, but it’s only a short walk down the street from the train station in the city to the ballpark at the corner of 3rd and King.  We had arranged to meet in front of the stadium at the most logical place for such a meeting: the statue of the greatest Giant of all-time, Willie Mays. 

After meeting up, exchanging greetings, and getting our picture taken in front of Mays, we made our way down 3rd Street to the statue of Juan Marichal by the Lefty O’Doul gate for another photo op.  I then insisted that we’d also have to check out the statue of my hero, Willie McCovey, located on the far side of McCovey Cove.  So from there, it was across the Lefty O’Doul Bridge and down the Giants History Walk, which represents every team that has played in San Francisco since the franchise moved west in 1958, and where supporters and fans of McCovey back in 2002 were able to purchase tiles to be placed along the History Walk in honor of the Hall of Fame slugger.  Of course, I had to show him the one my (at the time future) wife got for me.  

As we made our way down past all the different tiles on our left, I explained how the Giants have big plans for the parking lot on our right, where a large, new park is planned along with other exciting additions.  Indeed, the entire area has undergone an incredible change since the ballpark opened in 2000, and all of it for the better (don’t tell this to all the naysayers who contend that taxpayer funded ballparks do little to help a city's economy).  Finally, we made it to the statue – located next to the Junior Giants Little League field – where we again had our picture taken.

Now it was time to make our way back across the bridge and into the ballpark.  We had to stop at Will Call to pick up the tickets, which were for seats located in the upper deck on the first base side.  Thanks to Lincecum, Tyler Walker, and Brian Wilson, who combined to strikeout 14 batters in Tim’s previous start, the tickets were discounted by $14.  I told Greg he could re-pay me by buying my requisite garlic fries.  Garlic fries and WMF simply go hand in hand, and I never venture to the yard without picking up myself an order (preferably with extra garlic!).  They come with my highest recommendation.

From there, I had to take him to the back entrance – the bleacher entrance – because if you’re going to come all this way, you’ve simply got to walk down the port-walk which runs parallel with the Cove.  He had to see of course, the knot-hole, where fans can come and watch the game through the outfield fence for free, and the commemorative plaques on the ground that mark significant Giant achievements over the years, including several of Barry Bonds’.  The Giants organization – as they should – do a great job of going out of their way to recognize and remember their rich and illustrious history, and I am always proud to call myself a Giants fan, no matter how long it’s been since they last won the World Series (54 damn years and counting, for those of you do that sort of thing).

We decided to take in the first few innings of the game from the centerfield bleachers, not far from the 421-foot marker in right-center.  I’ve always been especially fond of the bleachers, especially the ones back at the ‘Stick, where I spent a fair portion of my early 20’s.  Initially, we sat not far from the non-existent seat number 23 that I held a ticket for when I went to my first ever game at the brand new ballpark back in 2000 (it was just the second game ever in the new yard, and I guess they hadn’t worked out all the kinks yet). 

We talked about a few different things, most of it baseball.  I raved a bit about Timmy, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez, the club’s three young starters who became the first trio in SF history to reach 100 strikeouts before the all-star game, and gave glowing scouting reports on Fred Lewis, John Bowker and Emmanuel Burriss.  We debated the merits of Omar Vizquel’s possible Hall of Fame induction (I’m of the school that says if Ozzie is in, Omar should be too) and he told me about the interview he’d just done with the former White Sox pitcher, Black Jack McDowell. 

He also told me about how he’d nearly died the previous day swimming in the Pacific Ocean. 

Just some friendly advice here, as a native Californian: let me just say that if you’ve never been in the ocean before, then you probably shouldn’t do it for the first time with all your clothes on.  Oh, and Google rip tides beforehand as well, just for safety’s sake.

Before you knew it, four innings had flown by, and the Giants had a 4-1 lead, having put up a four-spot in the 2nd inning against Cubs' starter Sean Gallagher (apparently making his final start for Chicago). 

Somewhere around the 4th or 5th inning, we decided to go check out some other areas of the park.  Since our tickets weren’t actually for the bleachers, we were beginning to get pushed out by the actual seat holders.  Also, Greg wanted to see the view from our actual seats – a rather a spectacular view of entire East Bay – as well as check out the Giant Coke Bottle and slide down its slide.  So we made our way up to the concourse behind the stadium scoreboard where I decided to get myself a half-pound Kielbasa slathered in onions and peppers. 

WMF has some really great food, and if you have the chance to go there, I highly recommend just about anything they serve.  Orlando’s, where you can get a Baby Bull Tri-Tip Sandwich or a Cha Cha Bowl, is one of my favorites.  It, too, is on the concourse behind the scoreboard.

While waiting for me, Greg decided to check out the Build-A-Bear Workshop and build a bear for his mom; another good idea if you’re only going to be in town for a single game and/or if you have kids or just a good heart.  It’s located on the concourse behind the left-field bleachers, next to the Coke Bottle, the Giant three-fingered glove, and the mini-WMF, where toddlers can take their hacks just like their idols on the field. 

I have to admit that I loved Candlestick, have great memories of it and even miss it sometimes, but let’s face it: there was nothing there to see but the ballgame.  WMF at AT&T Park is a gorgeous building with lots to see and enjoy.  It’s a celebration of Giants history and an experience for the whole family that I highly recommend to anyone.  It’s also a pretty nice place to watch a ballgame, if you ask me.

Eventually, we made our way upstairs, passing along the way the spot where I stood when Bonds hit the single-season record setting home run number 73 in 2001.  By the time we arrived at our seats, the Cubs had narrowed the lead to 4-3.  Tim had bent but not broken.  I was really hoping to see them win, as I had had a run of rather bad luck over the past couple of years.  In fact, I had not been to a winning ballgame since the 2006 season!  Having 15-month old twins certainly puts a crimp in your budget, and I hadn’t been to as many games recently as I’d like, but really, 2006?!? 

Rich Aurilia soon put matters to rest however, giving the Giants a commanding lead with a 3-run, pinch-hit home run of Carlos Marmol just moments after both Greg and I had been raving about the young Cubs pitcher.  I was able to relax a bit more after that.

It was as promised, a glorious view from section 305.  Typical San Francisco fog was rolling in and engulfing the eastern end of the Bay Bridge while the view across to the East Bay was indeed spectacular.  You could see clearly from Oakland in the north all the way down to Milpitas in the south.  You can even see the Trans-America building peeking over the bowl of the stadium.  It was typically beautiful California summer weather, and thanks to the Happy Hour game time, it was still early evening even as the game began to draw to a close. 

We spent the rest of the game talking more baseball, and I have to say, it was a pleasure to do so with someone who shares a similar passion for the game.  I particularly enjoyed our discussions about the merits of evaluating players such as Satchel Paige and Honus Wagner from eras gone by, whom we of course had never had the chance to actually see play. 

Later, when Osiris Matos, while making his major league debut, closed out the now five-run lead in the 9th, I actually felt a little disappointed that it was already over.  It’s times like this that I wonder why anyone ever complains about the length of a baseball game.  I could spend all day long, everyday at the yard, losing myself in the dreams of my youth as they’re played out by nine grown men wearing the Orange and Black.

With the final out in the books, we made our way down the escalator and ramps, out the Willie Mays Gate, and back to the real world.  From there, Greg accompanied me back down the street to the Cal-Train station where I would catch the express back home.  We split there, across the street from the station as he was headed to another popular, must-see SF destination, Fisherman’s Warf, and went our separate ways: two friends drawn together by a shared passion for the greatest game on Earth…baseball.  What a great game it is.

Get Gregory's take on these events.

Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at richard@baseballevolution.com.