Major League Ballparks: No. 1 AT&T Park
With Fenway Park celebrating its 100th anniversary and Dodger Stadium its 50th this year, our editor Matt Hurst, who was a baseball beat writer for four seasons in the mid-2000′s, takes a look at the ballparks he’s worked at in his life and ranks them from worst to first. We finish the series with No. 1 – AT&T Park. To see the previously reviewed ballparks, click here.
Oh sure, I could easily claim that
PacBell AT&T Park holds the top spot in our countdown because I was in attendance at three of the biggest games in the park’s history. Obviously that makes it memorable.
Although it’s a lot more than that. Going to a game should be some sort of experience. Between the sights, sounds, smells and then the actual game, it should be memorable for the fans. It should be memorable for anyone who walks through the gates.
AT&T Park is that and more. That’s why it’s No. 1 in our countdown. From Shea Stadium to San Francisco, we’ve now covered it all.
Before getting into the media side of things, AT&T Park is a beautiful park. It’s got some of the best sightlines in, not only baseball, but of any edifice in the country. To be able to look out onto the Bay and feel the breeze hit your face during a crisp day game is so enjoyable. Walking around the park and being able to watch the game from different vantage points, the park allows you to see the diamond from every part of the stadium, which isn’t necessarily true of every yard. The special nooks and crannies, the ability to see a game standing beyond the right field wall, feel the game from a kayak in McCovey’s Cove, sit in an old cable car beyond center field, have the kids play in a scaled down version where the giant glove sits in left field – there’s not much better when it comes to taking in a ballgame.
You know that feeling when a smell takes you back to a part of your life? Fresh cut grass reminds me of Saturday mornings in Little League. The smell of cooked garlic brings me back to AT&T Park because of the wonderous smell of garlic fries. They’re the best in baseball.
My first Major League game as a media member was when I scored a pass to cover the Giants’ first game in the park. I had never been to a grand opening of a park – and probably won’t again – but somehow the UCSB Daily Nexus had a media pass for the very first game. And then the Dodgers smoked the Giants as Kevin Elster hit three home runs. How about them apples?
My next two games working in AT&T Park came during Games 3 and 5 of the 2002 World Series. To cover a World Series game at 23 after covering an MLB game at 20 is something you just don’t forget.
Everything in the stadium is clean. Combined with the atmosphere of the gameday experience and the cleanliness, it’s like the Disneyland of Major League Baseball. Nothing was scrimped upon when the park was being built despite all of the hurdles the ownership group had to go through to get it built.
Sitting in the press box gives you an amazing vantage point of the game. It’s not the biggest box – in fact, in three of the first four games I worked there, I was in the auxiliary box in the left field stands – but it’s one of the nicest. Something you often hear around baseball is the term “big league” in the sense that something is done right. It’s “big league.” That’s how the Giants treat the press box. It’s always clean and organized and when you got to a seat, if it was warm enough (always debatable in S.F.) you could pop the window open and truly get the full experience of the game. Close enough to hear the pop of the catcher’s glove, then combined with the smell of garlic fries and a terrific view, it’s hard not to think that if heaven had a stadium it wouldn’t be similar.
Working in the bowels of the stadium, in each respective clubhouse, certainly has several memories. The first time I was yelled at came at AT&T Park and my first official media scrum also took place there.
While working at the Vallejo Times-Herald, we always made sure to over-cover our local athletes. Joe Thurston was a hot prospect in the Dodgers system and I was sent out to do a “local boy does good” story on him. Unsure of the amount of time allotted pre-game to the media, I showed up about 90 minutes before first pitch to chat with Joe – whom I had spoken with a few times before – and didn’t know the clubhouse closed about an hour before first pitch. After setting up my stuff in the press box, the Dodgers were just finishing batting practice, so I headed down to the clubhouse. The attendant let me in and as I approached Thurston’s locker, I hear: “What the fuck are you doing in here? Get out of here! What are you doing?” I turned to see Andy Ashby coming at me. He approached me and repeated his line of questioning.
“The guy let me in, I’m here to talk to Joe,” pointing at Thurston who was sitting in front of his locker. Thurston, as a September call-up wasn’t going to defend me or say anything, so Ashby kept being a redass and told me to get out of the clubhouse. Then he followed me out and balled out the attendant who had let me in. If only he’d put that much energy into being a better pitcher, he might have had a Hall of Fame career.
I’m not sure when the next postgame occurred – it might have been in an NLCS game in 2002 or a regular season game earlier in the year – but inside the Giants clubhouse Barry Bonds emerged from the shower and went to his corner of the room (yes, Bonds had his own corner, occupying three or four lockers complete with a TV and that big massaging chair). Several mediatypes moved a little quickly to go and get in position to talk to Barry and one radio reporter spotted this happening and began to run and then hurdled a small table in the center of the room to get over there kind of like when O.J. Simpson was running through the airport in the Hertz commercials. It was amazing.
Seeing Rick Reilly laying down on the Giants clubhouse couch, stumping Robb Nen with a question and being given the first question to Russ Ortiz before Game 6 of the 2002 World Series are also some of my favorite early baseball-covering memories.
Despite my Southern California roots, I’ve always had a sort of love affair with AT&T Park. Partially because of all the memories I have in covering games there, but also because going to the park was a wonderful experience. Covering baseball is a grind. It’s an everyday thing from February to October that really stresses your relationships in your life. But there’s an energy in that park and being there for interleague games and a few spot games as a media member and as a fan makes you appreciate your job when an organization does it right.
If I were a Giants beat writer, getting to cover 81 games at AT&T Park would be a treat. I’m just glad I got to go there and work a dozen or so games.