The Dodgers' 2012 season is over. However, the season for our arch-rivals, the San Francisco Giants, continues. So being a fan of baseball, and finding myself up in the Bay Area this past weekend, I called an audible and opted to spend Saturday night going back to AT&T Park and seeing what Giants playoff fever was all about.
First, a confession: my brother-in-law is a Giants fan. Aside from that, he's a really nice guy with a whole lot of redeemable qualities, and hey: you can't have everything in life. And I will note that he was kind enough to pick up the tickets for the two of us, which was super-cool of him since he had already planned to attend Sunday's Game 2 anyway.
The understood condition was that I was not to wear Dodgers gear (which would have been ridiculous, I know). After threatening to wear Dodger gear all morning long, I finally assured my brother-in-law I wouldn't do it.
Instead, I wore a red-colored cap and sweatshirt picked up that weekend at my college reunion. Perfect.
This was my second trip to AT&T Park this year, the first coming during the capper of a three-game Dodgers sweep. I think it's my fifth time at that ballpark, so I'm pretty familiar with it. Our seats were high up but closer in than last game, and I admit that the view over of the bay was beautiful and picturesque, particularly as the day faded into night.
Another distinction of Phone Park is the vibrant bar scene around the stadium, which is a stark contrast to Dodger Stadium's sea of asphalt, I admit. It reminds me a lot of Wrigley Field or Petco Park or PNC Field. I confess that I've never done a pre-game visit to the Short Stop, but these bars were incredibly convenient and fun. Man, if we only had public transportation to Dodger Stadium.... Anyway, the Giants' scene was pretty hopping, with queues outside most of the main drags just to get in.
En route, we spotted this option for nearby parking, at prices so low, you'd have to be crazy not to spend...$80.
We snuck into Lucky Strike and grabbed a beer (Guinness and Anchor Steam, thanks for asking). People were jazzed for this game. My brother in law was worried, given how he felt the Giants had been playing in the last week. I reminded him that the team was around 20 games over .500 post-the all-star game, leaving the Dodgers in the rear view mirror. What could possibly go wrong?
We made our way into the ballpark and it was packed like sardines. First you had to get past the purse-check station. Then into the gates. And then, for us, up the long escalator to the upper tiers. Each level was a bit of a logistical nightmare. Amidst the cattle herding was a Reds fan who was summarily heckled, but nothing too bad. Giants fans would save their most unpresentable hosting behavior for later.
First things first: we have to get a beer. And what do I find serving alcoholic beverages?
When we finally hit our seats, even though they were nosebleeds, the sightlines were incredible. Giants fans were waving their towels in earnest (maybe they thought they were white flags?). It was awesome to feel the tension of playoff baseball, which was palpable even for me to feel, despite the fact that I didn't really have a horse in the race. Every pitch was meaningful, every play had people pretty transfixed. This is playoff baseball.
My brother-in-law and I debated this during the game. NFL playoffs are exciting because they're single-elimination, and the NBA playoffs are interminable. But the MLB playoffs are great. There's already so much drama in very pitch, that it doesn't necessarily need to be further concocted and manipulated by additional one-and-out wild card games. In this stadium, you knew it was a special game, and it was electric.
Okay, so let me take a quick second here to dispel some of the myths around AT&T Park. Yes, it is definitely newer than Dodger Stadium and with that comes its benefits; it's shinier, and the concourses are open and more airy, and it's a fun fan experience if your kids are into all those distractions in the outfield. I like new, and having been to almost every MLB stadium, I can say with some experience that the Giants' ballpark is pretty sweet.
But just like any other stadium, AT&T Park has its own set of issues.
And there's other problems, too, but back to the action on the field for now. The Reds went 1-2-3 in the top of first inning (Giants fans going nuts), and then Johnny Cueto took the mound for Cincinnati. When Cueto called for the trainer, beset with back spasms eight pitches and two batters into the game, some Giants fans cheered a little too eagerly than I thought was appropriate given someone might be injured. To be fair, I'd probably be a little psyched myself if I were a Giants fans.
However, it did give me pause when some idiot behind us yelled, "That's what you get, Cueto, for taking too many steroids before the game!" I looked at my brother-in-law with an incredulous expression. "Really?", I asked him. "You guys, of all people, are going to go there?." He could only just shake his head in disbelief. There was no defense for such idiocy.
Brandon Phillips' solo shot in the third silenced the crowd (I missed this one as I was getting beer). I did see Jay Bruce's HR to right-center, giving the Reds a 2-0 lead. The Giants fans were largely still for most of the game thereafter, with the exception of the bottom of the fourth, when the leadoff hitter, Hunter Pence, reached on a Scott Rolen throwing error. When Brandon Belt followed with an unassisted DP to Joey Votto, however, you could feel the air being punched out of the guts of Giants fans with a collective exhale.
I should also note that the seats to my left were unoccupied for half the game, until midway through the fifth inning, when a Giants-clad couple decided to join us. I don't want to hear it, Giants fans. You guys show up even later than the worst Dodger fan stereotype.
Oyster Pubes' solo HR in the sixth brought the home fans back into it, and it was funny to watch former Dodger, current headcase, and Red midseason-pickup Jonathan Broxton get into and out of trouble in the bottom of the eighth. The fateful top of the ninth sealed the victory, however, when Phillips singled in Ryan Hanigan to make it 4-1, and successive miscues from the Giants' Santiago Casilla (wild pitch) and Oyster Pubes (passed ball) allowed a fifth Red run to score.
Most Giants fans around us were largely civil, save the steroid-shouting guy above us, who later tried to mock a Reds fan wearing a Jay Bruce jersey (to his credit, he soaked it up, remaining in a standing position and pointing to the name on the back). I did see a section over that someone had tossed a Reds cap over the edge of the balcony, and I think there may have been a fight to the section left of us. But look, you can't blame the whole fan base for a couple of scattered idiots. Down 1-0 at home in a 2-3 series, I understand the frustration, even if I don't get the lame actions that accompanied it.
(The Reds fan in front of us loved our anagram for Buster Posey, as well as the fact that I was clad in a non-confrontational shade of red--cardinal red--that evening.)
And remember Giants fans showing up late? Well it also true that the Giants fans were leaving early, possibly to avoid that Saturday night city traffic.
In fact, when the ninth inning got interesting for the Giants, with Oyster Pubes representing the tying run at the plate--many Giants fans had already evacuated:
And now for our exit from the View Level, which took twenty minutes just to get out of the ballpark. We took the stairs, which basically didn't move an inch for five minutes, with people just crammed into a cinder-block-walled staircase with nowhere to move. Not a place for the claustrophobic, and the poor logistics are consistent with my experience trying to leave the ballpark earlier this year. The Giants have their own set of traffic problems.
Once outside, it's not much better. Exiting the gates of AT&T Park is treacherous due to the streetcar line running right outside; even though streets are closed to car traffic, and there are police folk trying to keep things flowing, weaving your way through the first five blocks is a disaster. Once you get in your car, it's almost worth it to just wait it out rather than swim against a sea of pedestrians. I barely made it onto the Bay Bridge without picking up an errant pedestrian on the front fender of my car (which was a rental, so it would have been okay).
Luckily, however, Giants fans are clad with trendy, eye-catching fashion.
Anyway, I was pleased to see the Giants lose but thankful just to see playoff baseball (even at our rivals' stadium). I owe a great deal of thanks to my brother-in-law for putting up with me all game. It was a good time. Heck, with my record this season at SF games, I'll have to make sure to come back soon.