Number of games seen: 3
First game: July 23, 2007
Most recent game: August 10, 2011
PHOTO GALLERY at bottom of page
By: Cole Shoemaker
Written in 2011, ratings updated yearly when necessary
Note: This review refers to Oracle Park by one of its previous names, AT&T Park.
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 postcard 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 the 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 is 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 the concessions are so expansive they transcend the generic categories of BBQ, Asian, Mexican, Seafood, etc, and are instead subdivided into specialties characteristic of Caribbean BBQ, Irish, Italian, authentic Mexican, Thai, Chinese, etc. The food is so 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. In 2014, the Giants added arguably the most exclusive private membership club in baseball. Cleverly dubbed the Gotham Club, members get a flurry of perks, including access to a swank bar and dining area behind the right field out-of-town scoreboard, exclusive field access, and a private game room on the suite level.
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 visually 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 lower 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 a second 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.
However, to say AT&T Park is far from perfect is an understatement because of some consequential functional flaws. 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. In addition, the sightlines are generally poor down the left field line. 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, by far (when aggregating many factors you’re naturally going to want to group them, however imperfectly). In my opinion, this will probably (and should) prevent AT&T Park from ever being the absolute best park in baseball. But the ballpark is so outstanding in it’s amenities and aesthetics, it will certainly be in the top 3-5 for the foreseeable future.
In hindsight, AT&T Park is a ballpark of extremes when looking at the post-1991 ballparks: the best view in baseball, some of the best aesthetics, some of the best amenities, some of the worst overall functionality, the most narrow concourse, and probably the most spatially constrained footprint.
When it’s all said and done, AT&T Park meets expectations in interior design, while exceeding expectations in thoughtful design flares and amenities, despite being limited by the extremely small footprint.NEXT - Setting