On Father’s Day we had a great treat. Tom’s daughter Annie, her husband, Mitch, and grandson Brady (14 months) traveled from Eugene in Oregon to stay with us for a few days. Brady is a cutie and we kept us entertained all of Sunday.
(Click on the images for larger versions)
Monday Margaret took a day off work and we all set off for a day in San Francisco with no real plans in mind except to meet Tom’s brother, Jeff, for lunch at the Connecticut Yankee at the foot of Potrero Hill. Our first stop was McCovey Cove, right alongside AT&T Park – the home of the SF Giants (that’s a baseball team by the way for all the non Americans amongst us). Across the small cove we could see the park – one of the best in the country (feel free to dispute me if you wish). What distinguishes from all other ball parks is the giant Coca Cola bottle and a huge sculpture of a leather baseball glove.
To get to the ballpark, we had to cross the Lefty O’Doul bridge. Lefty O’Doul was born in San Francisco and was a Major League ball player. The bridge is a steel drawbridge which has no clearance at all so it has to be raised for even the smallest boat to pass underneath. We have walked over this bridge many times and had never seen it open. A copper plaque states that Strauss Engineering Company designed and built the bridge and was opened in 1933. Joseph Strauss, who headed Strauss Engineering Co, engineered both this and the Golden Gate Bridge. It is a very noisy bridge, due to the iron plates at the joints and the wooden roadbed. Tom got into a conversation with a bridge operator who told him the bridge was about to be raised. Apparently this is a daily feature just to make sure that everything is in working order.
We just had to watch this event and there we were with our cameras. A klaxon sounded, a barrier was lowered and bells clanged. Slowly the roadbed was raised and the huge concrete blocks, which balanced the whole structure, were lowered until they were almost resting on the road. Tom, who was standing in front of the blocks, was dwarfed. We all got a kick out of it, including Brady who clapped his hands and grinned throughout. The whole process was repeated in reverse and five minutes later the traffic was flowing again.
The ballpark is right next to the Lefty O’Doul bridge and that was our next stop. By the Lefty O’Doul entrance is a statue of former Giants pitcher Juan Marichal. Just outside the main entrance to the park is a statue of Willie Mays, one of the greatest ball players ever. He played for the SF Giants from 1958-72. In 1973, when playing for the New York Mets, he hit his 660th home run and stands at number four in the rankings. His godson, Barry Bonds, currently is at number one with 762 home runs. Willie Mays was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979. His statue outside the ballpark is surrounded by 24 palm trees in honor of his number 24 uniform, which was retired by the SF Giants.
When we walked past the Giants Dugout Store I noticed a board advertising tours of the ballpark . They are conducted every day at 10.30 and
12.30 expect on days when there is a home game. As Mitch is such a keen baseball fan and coaches a high school team back in Eugene, we decided this was an opportunity not to be missed and bought tickets for the 12.30 tour. That gave us enough time to move the car from a parking meter to a long term car park and pay a visit to Borders book store on the corner of 3rd and The Embarcadero. At 12.30 we were at the top of the stairs in the Giants Dugout Store with several other people waiting to begin the tour.
Our guide showed up on time and opened the roll up door leading to the ballpark and through it we all trooped. Just inside we gathered round as he introduced himself. The only trouble was we could hardly hear him. The sound of the traffic outside seemed to be magnified and that didn’t help but even when we were inside later on, hearing still was a problem as he was so quietly spoken. In order to hear what he was saying, you had to stand really close. In the end, we must have missed half of what he said, which was a pity because he had so many interesting things to tell us.
Our first stop was the Press Box. I’ve never seen a press box before but I’m guessing they are all very much the same. It is located on the lower level and overlooks home plate. There are several banks of counters and chairs. On a game day I can imagine the room filled with sports commentators and journalists all talking nineteen to the dozen. On the back wall are the shirts bearing the numbers which have been retired by the SF Giants.
Then we took a lift up several floors to the club level where we first walked through the tunnel to one of the general seating areas with a view down to the field and over McCovey Cove. Our guide said that the ballpark was originally planned to be built the other way round, look towards the west instead of the east but following some research on wind movement, when it was discovered the prevailing wind was from the west, it was decided to turn it 180 degrees thus overlooking the bay. He went on to tell us the history of the coke bottle – which is a children’s slide – and the glove sculpture. He went on to explain about splash hits – that’s when a home run is achieved by hitting the ball out of the park and into McCovey Cove. When Barry Bonds was scoring home runs and splash hits regularly a couple of years ago, there used to be a multitude of boats and kayaks, all waiting to retrieve any balls which landed in the water. I wonder, now that Barry Bonds has retired, whether there are so many boats out there on game days.
We walked back through another tunnel onto the outside promenade where our guide explained how the ballpark was built to withstand earthquakes by showing us an expansion joint. We then looked out over the Embarcadero and the Bay Bridge before turning back and entering a luxury suite. There are about 70 luxury suites at the ballpark, most used by private companies or individuals. There are two though which can be rented for about $10,000 a day. That overall price includes the cost of food. The one we entered could hold about 25 people, though I was not too impressed with the view of the field. Our tour continued down the corridor, past all the other luxury suites. All the doors were open so we can take a peek inside but were not allowed to go into any of them. They all were decorated by the users in a variety of baseball memorabilia. Willie Mays has one of the suites and, inside, the main pieces of furniture were two, very comfortable easy chairs. Along the corridor were a collection of lithographs of ballparks around the country. None of the names meant very much to me and, to be honest, they all looked the same. Of course, to baseball fanatics, every ballpark name conjures up memories of past teams and games.
Halfway along the corridor we took a lift down to the Field Club Level and walked through a tunnel to some of the premium seating in the ballpark. Out on the field the groundsmen were mowing the grass. Mitch used to work at a golf club and knows a lot about the different types of grass. He was keen to talk to the groundsmen and here was his opportunity. While the guide led us to the visiting teams’ dugout he stopped and spoke to a couple of the men. Meanwhile we were hearing about how the seating areas and dugouts are cleaned after each game. First of all the rubbish is removed and then everything is washed down thoroughly. It was interesting to sit inside the dugout and have a player’s view of the field. Tom was fascinated by the beat up look of the wooden seat at the bag – ten years of abuse by players shoes and bats. Behind the dugout is another tunnel, this time leading to the indoor batting cages – all three of them.
Our last stop was the visiting team’s clubhouse. We saw the changing room and lockers where there is a baseball shirt up on the wall behind a perspex screen which has been signed by just about all the players who were in attendance the last day the Giants played at Candlestick Park. I was surprised how small the room was considering not only the size of some of the players but all the rest of the support people that must travel with them. We were also shown the laundry room and looked through a window into the Visiting Team Manager and his large collection of bobble heads.
The tour was advertised to last two hours and to cover over two miles of walking. It costs $12.50 for adults, $10.50 for seniors, $7.50 for children under 12 and free for children under 2. As the tour lasted nearly two and half hours, we certainly got our money’s worth and it was great to get a behind the scene tour and to see areas not normally visited by members of the public.
Needless to say we were a bit late getting to the Connecticut Yankee but as Jeff is the barman there it didn’t really matter. Tom had rung to let him know we were going to be late. Maybe it was just as well because the lunch time crowd had gone and the early evening drinkers had not arrived. We had a very nice lunch there without too much interruption. The only trouble being that this was the first time Jeff had seen Brady, his great nephew, but he slept most of the time we were there, due no doubt to all the exercise he had got on the tour.
If you are ever in San Francisco we thoroughly recommend the tour.