Baseball season just started so that means your summer ballpark road trip is that much closer! In a bid to help you with your upcoming journeys, Big League Stew has solicited the help of the locals. Over the next month or so, we'll be hitting up our usual guest blogger crew to feature 10 tips for enjoying each of the 30 ballparks like the locals do. Have a suggestion in addition to the ones listed here? Make sure to list it in the comments below.
Next up on our ongoing travelogue is our good friend Dave Tobener, who writes about the Giants for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. As a season ticket holder at AT&T Park, DT knows the ins and outs of maximizing your trip to one of baseball's prettiest gems.
Let's just get this out of the way first: AT&T Park is the best ballpark in baseball. You can make your case for your team's park, but I'm not going to listen. I'm going to put my hands over my ears, I'm going to shake my head, and then I'm going to wave my hand dismissively. There's nothing you can say to convince me otherwise, because you're wrong. There's no better venue in the game than our ballpark.
Now that we've got that covered, welcome to AT&T Park! Home of the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants, and the toughest ticket in town. If you've managed to score some seats, congrats: you're in for a great experience. Not only do you get to watch the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants (Yes, I love saying that), you get to take in all that AT&T Park has to offer. And that's a lot.
To get you started, here's a few tips to make your ballpark trip even better. This isn't an all-encompassing list by any means, but it should give you a good head start on getting the most out of your trip to the baseball cathedral located at 24 Willie Mays Plaza.
1. Getting there: If you're staying outside of the city, the best way to get to the ballpark is probably Caltrain. It'll drop you a block away from the main gate and you don't have to worry about finding parking, which would cost you an arm and a leg anyway. If you're staying in San Francisco, there's a good chance your hotel is within reasonable walking distance from AT&T. There's also an on-site bicycle valet if that's your preferred method of transportation. Or if you feel like doing some sightseeing before the game and end up crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin, you can hop on the Larkspur ferry and cruise to the park in style. Just get there early, because there's a lot to do before the game starts.
2. Take a mini history tour before you enter the park: Start at the statue of Willie McCovey that overlooks his eponymous cove. Make your way down the Giants History Walk and take in the 42 plaques that contain the rosters of every Giants team from 1958 through 1999. Cross over the Lefty O'Doul Bridge, pull out your smartphone and look up why this San Francisco baseball legend has a bridge named after him. Take in the Juan Marichal statue outside of the right field gate for a few minutes before heading down the right field port walk. As you walk alongside the ballpark, look down and notice the plaques commemorating the greatest moments that have happened there since it opened in 2000. Head to the marina gate outside of center field and take a picture of the San Francisco Seals statue that honors the city's old minor league team (where Joe DiMaggio got his start). Double back and head towards the front of the ballpark, taking a minute to notice the mural on the wall just past the Marichal statue that depicts all of the Giants' world championships, league championships, MVPs, and a host of other honors. Walk past the Willie Mays statue — you're saving that for last — and instead head to Orlando Cepeda's statue outside of the left field gate. While there, take a look at the Giants Wall of Fame that honors players who spent most of their careers with the Giants. Now make your way back to Mays, lean against the base of the statue and consider what you've just experienced. You've been steeped in Giants history before even setting foot in the park.
3. Join the social media parade: There aren't many teams in professional sports that utilize social media as well as the Giants. Start by following the team's official Twitter account (@SFGiants) where you'll find contests to win team merchandise and game day ticket deals. Tag your pictures on Instagram with #ATTPark and there's a good chance they'll show up on the scoreboard during one of the inning breaks. You can interact with other Giants fans on Twitter using the #sfgiants hashtag (not #giants, unless you feel like talking football). The Giants are constructing a social media cafe near the center field scoreboard that should be open soon for fans who want to really immerse themselves in the experience (and aren't that interested in actually watching the game, presumably). And if your smartphone battery is dying from excessive tweeting, just take it to one of the many charging stations throughout the park.
4. There's free stuff: Sign up for the Giants' designated driver program and get a coupon for a free soda, coffee, or hot chocolate. If you find yourself sitting in the sun with no protection, don't go buy a tiny, overpriced bottle of sunscreen. Instead, ask an usher to direct you to the first aid station where they'll give it to you for nothing. And the ultimate freebie: you can watch the game for no charge from the “knot holes” along the right field fence (see below) for up to three innings or longer depending on crowd size. Just make sure to get there early.
5. Come hungry: It's best to come to AT&T with an appetite, since the food choices are pretty incredible. Everyone knows about the garlic fries, but how about poutine fries? They're french fries smothered in gravy and white cheddar cheese and will likely change your life. If you're looking for something off the grill, try McCovey's BBQ and try to resist their pulled pork nachos. San Francisco institutions like Original Joe's and Lefty O'Doul's bar have stands in the park if you're in the mood for local flavor, and you can find clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at a number of locations. Venture a little further and you'll find bacon-wrapped hot dogs, massive trays of nachos, gourmet tacos, and a host of different grilled sausages. The crab sandwich from Crazy Crab's behind the center field scoreboard is legendary, and while you're there you can visit Orlando Cepeda's barbeque stand and order the famous Cha-Cha Bowl. There's even a wine bar to wash it all down with.
6. Leave room for dessert: AT&T has almost as many sweet options as it does savory, and chances are you'll want to try them all. You can go the traditional route and get a chocolate malt or a pre-packaged ice cream cone, but what fun would that be? Instead, head to the Ghirardelli Chocolate stand and get one of their hot fudge sundaes. If you're at a night game, try their hot chocolate — it's the most expensive of the ballpark's hot chocolate options, but it's also the best (there's even a caramel hot chocolate option this year). Leave the Ghirardelli stand and walk around the park for a bit to find even more dessert options. The cinnamon-sugar coated Bavarian pretzels are amazing, and by the time you've finished your carton of warm, hand-spun caramel corn you're probably going to be feeling pretty bad about yourself. But fear not, that's nothing that ice cream from Haagen-Dazs won't cure. And if you want to pretend you're being healthy, you can always grab a piece of fresh fruit.
7. Entertain your kids: If you have little kids, there's a good chance they're going to get bored over the course of the game. Rather than stuffing them with overpriced cotton candy, walk over to the Giants Fan Lot in left field and entertain them for an inning or two. There are slides inside the giant Coke bottle for kids to ride (and adults, if you find an employee nice enough to wave you through), a miniaturized version of AT&T Park in which younger kids can play wiffle ball, and a speed pitch game if you want to finally back up all of that talk about what a great pitcher you were in high school. There are a number of photo opportunities too, from the giant four-fingered baseball glove to panoramic views of the Bay Bridge and the surrounding area. There's even a wall of Giants signature plaques where you can get an etching of your favorite player's autograph. In short, there's plenty to do to tire your kids out so you can watch the rest of the game in peace.
8. Take a walk: You can't visit AT&T Park without taking a lap around the Promenade Level before the game. The views of the San Francisco Bay can't be beat, and you'll get a chance to see some of the small touches that make our ballpark so great: the water cannons along the right field arcade that shoot off whenever a Giant hits a home run, the cable car parked on the right-center walkway, the street signs that show you how many miles it is to Candlestick Park and the Polo Grounds, and a bunch of other things waiting there to be discovered. And if you want to take your walk while the game is going on, don't worry: the Promenade Level is open to the field, so you won't miss any of the action.
9. Better yet, take a tour: For a fee, the Giants offer tours of AT&T Park that give you access to areas most fans only dream of seeing. You'll get to walk along the warning track, visit the Giants' dugout, go inside the visitor's clubhouse, and more. The best part of the tour, though, may be walking through the ballpark's Club Level. Tickets for this level are pricey, and not everyone can afford to access it during the season: a shame really, since the Club Level contains a stunning amount of Giants memorabilia on display, from the two World Series trophies to the original Crazy Crab costume. If you don't want to pay for a Club Level ticket, taking a ballpark tour is the best way to make sure you soak in the history that's on display there.
10. Visit Willie Mays one last time: There's a lot to do in San Francisco, and chances are you'll have plans after the ballgame. But before you go, take a minute and visit the Willie Mays statue again. Take pictures, reach up and put your hand on his foot, or stand around with other Giants fans and either celebrate or commiserate. Just make sure you pay your respects to the greatest Giant of them all one last time.
Hopefully you'll leave the ballpark to the sounds of Tony Bennett serenading you with “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” signifying a Giants victory. And hopefully you'll agree with me that there's no better place to experience a game than AT&T Park. Enjoy your trip.
Dave Tobener writes about the Giants for the Yahoo! Contributor Network and still hasn't quite gotten over the 2002 World Series...maybe one more championship would do it. He's on Twitter if you'd like to say hello.
Previous parks: Citi Field, Marlins Park, Great American Ball Park, Petco Park,Comerica Park, Progressive Park, AT&T Park, Rogers Centre, Wrigley Field, O.Co Coliseum, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, Fenway Park
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