Got emailed a question, and I figured I’d answer it and use it as a post at the same time. Have questions of your own? Send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org (undoubtedly my favorite email address of the 20 or so emails I’m currently maintaining). If it’s a good question, I’ll answer it. No guarantee in terms of the quality of the answer, but at least your name will show up ONLINE, which means you’re automatically famous. Onto the question:
I live in Washington and am driving down to SF in Sept to see my first Giants game ever. Do you have any recommendations or inside tips that may helpÂ enhance my experience? (I have a lot more questions than that but I’ll keep it to a minimum seeing as how you’re a busy guy.) Thanks so much in advance!
A faithful reader
First, thanks for the flattery! Busy guy? All I do is work a full-time job, do the majority of the cooking and cleaning at home, post to a sports blog once a day or so, help my fiance make wedding plans, and … come to think of it, I am pretty busy.
What happened? I used to be an expert at skating by while doing the absolute minimum. I had two different part-time jobs during college where my duties included sitting on a stool and doing homework (if I felt like it, otherwise I usually just read the sports section). I recently broke one of our apartment’s kitchen cabinets and didn’t get it fixed until the landlords came into our place to see why water was leaking into the apartment below us. Still have no idea where the leak’s coming from, and I’m not about to explore it myself. But in general, most of my life consists of some sort of work (although to be fair, I’ve never really considered BASG to be work), and whenever my bride-to-be gets a case of the baby crazies, my life is going to be wall-to-wall duties and tasks. No more listening to three hours of a Marty Lurie postgame show while drafting fantasy teams for me!
Sorry, back to the question, which comes at a great time because I just happen to be going to tonight’s game! Sure, AT&T Park looks great on TV and everyone loves it, but how do you watch a game there without feeling like you’re a tourist who doesn’t know the ropes? Here are five tips from a so-called insider:
1. How to get there
Ever since moving to San Francisco three years ago I’ve avoided driving like the plague, but it’s especially true when it comes to Giants games. Parking costs like $300 or something, and driving around downtown San Francisco is something that should be left to taxi and MUNI drivers only. Except MUNI drivers are horrible, and half of the taxi drivers around here will take you on an extra-long ride to increase their fare (that, or they just have no idea where they’re going … I don’t know how many times I’ve had to alert a cabbie that Grove St. doesn’t run through Alamo Square Park).
Depending on where you stay, it’s usually best to either take BART to Embarcadero and walk (the walk along the Embarcadero is an attraction in itself), take a cab (and a map, just in case) or if you really want to, take a bus. Wait, don’t take MUNI. You don’t want to ruin your trip.
2. Where to pregame
Since you aren’t driving to the game, tailgating is out of the question. So where do you get ready for the game with a little liquid refreshment? While you’ll see the biggest crowd outside a bar across the street from the main entrance to the park called Momo’s (which I usually avoid due to the wait for drinks along with the Marina-esque douche element nearly always on full display), I usually head to one of two places: 21st Amendment or Zeke’s.
21st Amendment has good beer, no matter what you’re looking for. Pale ales, hoppy (strong) IPA’s, and a brew for the ladies called “Hell or High Watermelon.” I think it’s vile, but my fiance loves it, especially when they stick a wedge of actual watermelon in the glass with the syrupy-sweet wheat concoction they call beer (how cute!). And while 21st can get crowded, you can pretty much always get a drink relatively quickly and watch the game on one of their many TVs.
Zeke’s is a divey sports bar where you’ll find real fans and strong drinks. Or is it strong fans and real drinks? Probably both, actually. Not much more to say about Zeke’s, it’s a straightforward place where you can drink without paying an arm and a leg. Which is nice, since the beer prices at AT&T are astronomical.
The Giants love to say that there is no bad seat at AT&T Park, but that isn’t true. If you go to AT&T (or as those in the know call it, “Mays Field”) for the first time and you sit in the View Reserved section in left field (sections 331-336), it better be a playoff game you’re watching. Otherwise you’re going to be disappointed when you can’t see what happens to fly balls hit down the left field line.
Best place to sit if you don’t mind a few too many “What’s the matter with (fill-in-the-blank-opposing-outfielder)? He’s a bum!” chants, head to the bleachers. Cost effective (for the price of View Reserved, you get to sit about a half-mile closer to the field), and it’s also where the real fans sit. If you’re made of money feel free to sit in the lower box or club levels, but be prepared to sit amongst “fans” who spend most of the game looking at their smart-phones, talking about their jobs/stock prices/parenting/restaurants with Michelin stars, and generally doing everything but watching the game. Not only that, if you cheer too much (whatever that means), they’ll tell you to sit down. And if you DON’T sit down, they’ll call an usher.
If the bleachers seem a little too rough for your taste and/or you’d like a seat-back for your $20-$40, some of the best seats in the park exist in the View Box level, but make sure to sit down the right field line. Amazing views, shelter from the wind and great sightlines. And a lot of the seats either have no one in front of you or behind you. Nothing better than leaning your head back against a concrete wall or putting your feet up on a metal rail at a game. It’s like AT&T Park is your own huge, outside living room.
4. What to eat
While too much is made of all the culinary choices at ballparks nowadays, AT&T Park does have some food that actually stands on its own as pretty darn good.
If you need to have garlic fries go ahead, but they’re no better at AT&T Park than anywhere else (actually, just get the Trader Joe’s garlic fries for $3 … same fries, even more garlic and you don’t have to worry about where to put the ketchup). But if you want to eat the best food item at AT&T, and you don’t mind getting so full that you won’t eat anything else until five hours later, get a Cha-Cha Bowl at Orlando’s BBQ (pictured). $9 for ballpark food sounds kind of steep, but this is a full-fledged meal. Jerk chicken, black beans, rice and a pineapple salsa/slaw sort of concoction on top, along with whatever hot sauce you desire. And you can even convince yourself that this dish is somewhat healthy, although if they told me it contained 10,000 mg of salt I wouldn’t be too surprised (not that I care, especially at a ballgame).
They only sell these at Orlando’s BBQ behind the centerfield bleachers although the Giants’ site says there’s also a stand at View Level 314, and be careful if you’re eating a Cha-Cha in foul ball territory — it’s easy to get so transfixed on shoveling this dish into your mouth that you might find yourself surprised by a baseball landing in your Cha Cha Bowl (that’s what she said).
There are other food items you won’t find in many other parks, like Chinese food on the lower level that includes fried rice that my fiance always gets every time we go to a game. Always strange to look over to the seat next to me and see her eating out of a white chinese food to-go box. You can also find good gourmet sausages, hot sandwiches and extremely sloppy nachos.
5. What to do
Giants crowds are a strange group, one which I maintain has been trying to find an identity since the team moved to AT&T from Candlestick Park. Crowds at the Stick were hardcore. Immune to frigid temperatures and gale force winds, fine with the lack of ambience or food/beverage choices and LOUD (at least relative the amount of people attending). I still say no crowds demanded more curtain calls from its players than the crowds at Candlestick Park from 1987-97.
AT&T Park consists of several people who are there to eat, drink and buy panda hats, but the hardcores are still there. They’re just hard to see amongst all the smart phone-obsessed, casual types. But as much as people chide AT&T Park fans for not paying enough attention to the game, that’s not totally fair. Bay Area fans are cerebral, statistics-driven and neurotic. When the good times roll, there’s no better place to be. But as is the norm for any team that has gone multiple decades without winning a title, people get upset and give up quickly when things don’t go so well. Until things start going well again, and then everyone jumps on the bandwagon.
One last thing: don’t sit in your assigned seat the entire time. Anytime I go to a park for the first time (especially when I went to Wrigley and Fenway), I like to walk around the stadium and take everything in. And AT&T Park, with its expansive arcade bordering the San Francisco Bay, is one of the best walking ballparks. At the first game my buddy Carp and I ever attended, we sat in our terrible left field view reserved seats, and couldn’t see the field at all because in between us and the view of the pitcher’s mound was the entrance to the park from the concourse, and since everyone was new to the park they’d come out with their food, turn around and stare up at the stands to see where they were supposed to go. And people kept doing this. Every. Five. Seconds. So we got up and walked around behind the bleachers, checked out the coke bottle (meh), the giant glove (kind of interesting) and saw the game and McCovey Cove from a much better vantage point.
There’s a reason why attendance hasn’t dropped noticeably even after this park’s been around for a decade. Great views outside the park, mostly great sightlines inside, some really good fans and an interesting field with dimensions and angles that contribute a lot to the overall story of each game. And besides the games that are played there, the coolest thing about AT&T Park is the ability to watch baseball and experience all the sites and smells of being right next to the Bay. Oh, one last thing: if the Giants win, make sure to linger a bit and soak in the relaxed, happy mood while listening to Tony Bennett sing, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” That never gets old.