July 23rd 2007: Club Level seats
August 9th 2011: Field Club seats
August 10th 2011: Upper deck reserved
By: Cole Shoemaker
First impressions and high expectations are what characterized my trip to AT&T Park. Scores of articles have gushed over the blending of a world famous city known for its post card views with a perfect ballpark. As well as AT&T Park represents its city, it’s a bit of a paradox for me.
Mays Field, as some of the locals have dubbed it, is one of those ballparks where you need to see at least two games to see everything. So for the first game I decided to splurge on some field club seats, while I would do the upper deck the next afternoon.
Regarded by many as the pinnacle of the neoclassical ballpark renaissance, I was first struck by how many fans packed Willie Mays Plaza two hours before the game on a Tuesday against the Pirates. Even my VIP entrance was a mile long. I’ve never seen anything like that, even at Fenway or Wrigley.
Brilliantly shoehorned in the China basin area of San Francisco, AT&T Park’s greatest achievement could be its appreciation of the site. In an era where ballparks gained their identities through synthetic quirkiness and the self-conscious whims of the PR department, Mays Field is legitimately derived through adaptation to its environment. All of the design virtues are born of necessity.
On the inside, I was overwhelmed by the extent of the amenities and attention to detail. The quality and selection of concessions is so expansive it transcends the generic categories of BBQ, Asian, Mexican, Seafood, etc, instead being subdivided into specialties characteristic of Caribbean BBQ, Irish, Italian, authentic Mexican, Thai, Chinese, etc. The food is so truly remarkable that I’d buy it if I weren’t at the ballpark.
Historical touches are everywhere you look despite the spatial constraints, from the statues and “wall of fame” on the outside, to the thoughtful quotes and murals throughout the concourse. Every single available space, even throughout the ugly ramps, is appointed with a historical quote. The premium services are incredibly thoughtful, from the “Triples Alley” concept where fans can be on the warning track during batting practice, to the “Virgin America Loft” integrated into the arches, invoking a bay front home.
Instead of being the usual burden to the average fan, the innovative kid related activities are taken to a whole new level, instead integrated into the aesthetic appeal of the ballpark. The left field coke bottle, meant to add a small amount of whim to a monotonous array of bleachers, is both functional and attractive, containing a slide for kids leading to a mini baseball field.
I took all of this in while walking the concourses, and concluded this was as nice as a ballpark could be. Then I reached the arcade in right field, and was quickly reminded that AT&T Park is best known for sitting on the gorgeous San Francisco waterfront.
I mean this both as a complement and a criticism. Within the first 10 minutes, I was reminded of the two common misconceptions regarding AT&T Park.
While AT&T Park boasts the most scenic views in baseball from the upper levels, there’s little mention of the city from the lower bowl around home plate. Unlike PNC Park or Comerica Park, you don’t have a view of the cityscape or the water if you’re sitting in a box seat. Neither does it quite capture or take advantage of all elements in the environment, such as the San Francisco skyline or the bay bridge. While the interior design is still brilliant on multiple levels, AT&T Park isn’t the absolute best in contextual integration (different from acknowledgement).
That being said, my realization demonstrates another point: this is a great ballpark even without the view. And that’s really saying something. While much of the media hype surrounds McCovey Cove, the Giants’ attention to detail and thoughtfulness is unsurpassed. There are really few objective miscalculations.
AT&T Park is far from perfect, however. Perhaps unavoidable due to the size constraints, the concourses are the worst in baseball, even considering they are “open” to the field. 25-28 feet in width, the concourses are so narrow even short concession lines impede circulation. Visibility is poor due to the kiosks, columns, and a low ceiling, even though they have tried to improve this in recent years. While admittedly nebulous as a concept and perhaps incompletely defined for these purposes, you’ll note the “functionality” score for AT&T Park is the lowest in all of major league baseball (when aggregating many factors you’re naturally going to want to group them, however imperfectly). But the ballpark is so outstanding in it’s amenities and aesthetics, it will annually compete for the best ballpark in baseball.
When it’s all said and done, AT&T Park meets expectations in interior design, while exceeding expectations in thoughtful design flares and amenities.NEXT - Setting