SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - From the Grateful Dead singing the national anthem, to a female public address announcer and seagulls squawking after games. From the smell of fresh garlic fries wafting through the lower sections 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. “You pop up in this park foul and make an out and you’re disappointed.”
There’s that larger-than-life Coke bottle slide and humongous mitt above the left-field bleachers. An avocado tree grows behind the center-field wall. 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, the baldheaded guy 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.”
Neukom, in fact, prefers to jog outside on the field several times a week as he continues to regain strength from hip replacement surgery a couple of years ago.
Journey’s Steve Perry belted out “Don’t Stop Believing” _ one of his own hits _ from the stands several times in October.
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 real 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 _ Joe Torre and Padres manager Bud Black recall 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.”
There’s a new backdrop beyond AT&T Park’s right-field arcade these days amid all those kayaks and boats in McCovey Cove.
A couple of political messages, too. A “Free Johannes Mehserle” banner hangs from the main sail of one regular boat, reference to the jailed transit police officer who shot and killed a man on New Year’s Day 2009. Another boat sends a similar tone.
Those who hang out in their vessels on McCovey Cove hoping for home run balls often have a long wait. Atlanta’s Rick Ankiel splashed just the second postseason homer into the water during the division series. Home run king Barry Bonds hit the other one on Oct. 10, 2002, in Game 2 of the NL championship series against St. Louis.
Bonds has 35 of the 78 total in ballpark history.
“It’s a little different than South Florida, to say the least,” Ross said, chuckling while remembering his days with the Marlins. “I remember coming in here as an opponent and playing against Barry and the fog was rolling in and it was cold and it was a packed house. It was when he was chasing that record. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is really an eerie feeling right now.’ Fans in the outfield screaming at you, these fans are as passionate as anybody’s, I don’t care what anyone says. I know Philly’s fans are crazy and they love their team as much as anybody but these fans are passionate, too. It’s a different feeling coming in here as opposed to going anywhere else.”
In August, the Giants held “Jerry Garcia Tribute Night” with a concert by a Grateful Dead tribute band before the game. Members of the actual band sang the national anthem. Former Dead drummer Mickey Hart led fans in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” played on kazoos during the seventh-inning stretch, trying for a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
“It’s nothing like Candlestick,” Hurdle said.
AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker and AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham and Josh Dubow contributed to this story.