On the club level of AT&T Park, in the enclosed walkway behind Section 227, a photograph hangs on the wall of four children peering through a fence at a baseball field just beyond. With your back to the photo, you can look directly across the field to the high brick archways of the park’s right-field wall, where dozens of people of all ages will adopt the same pose, at least for a few innings, at every Giants home game.
Peter Magowan says it was no accident. Magowan, who envisioned AT&T Park and helped bring it into being, said a similar image that appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post was the inspiration for the AT&T archways, along with a story about Shibe Park in Philadelphia, the one-time home of Connie Mack’s A’s.
Shibe Park had a short right-field fence over which fans outside the stadium could look in and see the action – until management raised the wall and blocked the view. In designing the Giants’ home along China Basin, “we did exactly the opposite,” said Magowan, the team’s former managing general partner.
That right-field wall remains Magowan’s favorite part of AT&T Park – the brick facade, the jagged dimensions and odd caroms, and the fact that “it’s very retro-feeling, I think,” yet is easily distinguishable among major-league facilities in its 16th season. It has been a backdrop to World Series telecasts in three of the past five years, and as the Giants begin a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Tuesday night, their waterfront home has sold out 347 consecutive regular-season games, the longest streak in the majors.
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347 Number of consecutive sold-out Giants games at AT&T Park
The success of the Giants and their stadium has gone hand in hand, but the relationship is not necessarily one-way.
“The very best teams and brands in sports are able to, in many ways, co-mingle their stadium with the team in terms of the brand and profile, whether it’s the Red Sox and Fenway, the Yankees in Yankee Stadium,” Giants president and CEO Larry Baer said.
To be sure, Baer said, consistently filling the stadium four years running “provides us the resources to start with a strong payroll.” And Forbes recently estimated the Giants’ value at $2 billion, fourth-highest in Major League Baseball behind the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox. But that, Baer argued, does not capture the entire effect of the stadium.
“I think there’s an energy transfer,” Baer said. “A lot of times you’re coming off of long road trips, Sunday night from an East Coast game, it’s hot on the East Coast, you walk in and you may be pretty tired. But the 41,000 screaming and yelling give you a total boost.
“For the playoffs last year, you had home games with all this passion. And then you go on the road, I think that energy we have here – a sold-out season, the sold-out postseason – transferred when (the Giants) took the field in Pittsburgh and St. Louis.”
Outfielder Justin Maxwell, in his first season with the Giants, said he noticed the effect as a visiting player with the Houston Astros in 2012.
“We were young,” Maxwell said of the Astros. “We weren’t that good. But anytime we came here in June or July, this place was always packed, the fans were always behind them – and it was cold, too.
“I think having 40-some-thousand people supporting you every play, every at-bat, has a lot to do with how these guys play. You kind of feed off the energy of the fans.”
It’s cozy – and confined
It’s a small space, and in many ways that informed the shape Pacific Bell Park (then SBC Park and, beginning in 2006, AT&T Park) took. Magowan recalled designing the dimensions of the stadium to fit the site, though it meant an asymmetrical outfield.
“Somebody said, ‘Right field ought to be 330 feet away,’” Magowan said. “We said, ‘It can’t be 330 feet away.’ That would have put the wall in McCovey Cove.”
There also was resistance to the minimal foul territory and to having bullpens on the field, Magowan said, because of fear of endangering players (when relievers warm up during games, a bullpen member stands facing the field to protect them.). But the Giants’ group wanted to create a stadium that felt intimate and dismissed uniformity. Magowan recalled the day the project’s head of construction indicated that idea was taking shape.
“He said, ‘I’m in the top deck – the worst place to sit – and it’s right on top of the field,’” Magowan said. “He says, ‘There’s no foul territory here.’ I said, ‘Great, that’s just what we want.’”
The intimacy was an idea borrowed from iconic stadiums like Fenway and Wrigley Field. It also was enforced, said Alfonso Felder, who oversees the Giants’ ballpark operations, by the park being privately financed: “We couldn’t afford to build extra square footage.”
“And while we wanted it to be comfortable, we didn’t want to have extra space,” Felder said. “What in San Francisco has extra space? So I think that was in some respects a very San Francisco quality – making something work on a small site, and having it feel right.”
At AT&T, fans come first
Other aspects of AT&T are gleaned from Fenway (the odd heights of the outfield walls) and Wrigley (the flags on the roof, the old-fashioned out-of-town scoreboard.) It marries with the retro-feel introduced at Baltimore’s Camden Yards to create a sense that the space, unlike the Giants’ prior home, Candlestick Park, is uniquely about baseball.
“The thing was really designed with baseball fans in mind, and if we had some people that weren’t baseball fans, the hope was we’d turn them into baseball fans,” Magowan said. “Players love it; they love the ballpark and the atmosphere that’s created by the ballpark. And I think that has to have a huge (role) in our overall success. I can’t see us winning three out of five World Series if our home base was still Candlestick. I think we would’ve had 25,000 (fans) a game, average. And it just wouldn’t be the same thing.”
Though they did not clinch any of their three recent World Series at home, the Giants are 16-7 at AT&T Park during their last three postseasons. They went a combined 142-101 (a .584 winning percentage) at home during the regular seasons of 2010, 2012 and 2014. In each of the past four seasons, their total attendance has surpassed 3.3 million.
Major aspects of the park are similar to when it opened in 2000, including the red brick exterior, the Coca-Cola bottle slide and giant glove in left field. New features have taken advantage of existing spaces. Last season the Giants opened an edible garden beyond the center-field wall, where Felder said the team used to grow sod. The team introduced the “Gotham Club,” a members-only area inside the out-of-town scoreboard, and before this season completely renovated the home clubhouse and facilities.
In-game entertainment is decidedly G-rated. Day games are punctuated by organ music. The Giants introduced a new between-innings video feature this year about a gopher that lives under the field.
“We try to make the park a place that, if you’re not walking down the street memorizing batting averages, you’re still very comfortable,” Baer said. “It’s a page out of Disney, or any kind of family-friendly place. We’re competing against other ways to spend time.”
Yet people continue to fill the seats. Thursday afternoon, the Giants’ N.L.-record sellout streak will almost certainly hit 350 in the series finale against the Dodgers – a projected pitching matchup of last season’s N.L. MVP, Clayton Kershaw, and World Series MVP, Madison Bumgarner. The forecast calls for the sun to break through.
“I think the location is phenomenal, and I think in a city of views, it’s great to have a ballpark that gives fans a great look at baseball but also a nice vantage point on the bay,” Felder said. “And I think that’s part of it. But I think the other piece of it is, it’s a building that has a lot of soul and a lot of character.
“It’s always full, there’s a lot of energy – we’ve been fortunate that it’s a lot of positive energy. And I think that when you walk in here, I think people have the feeling that good things happen here.”