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June 8, 2001

6-4-3

Out at the Bell

by Gary Huckabay

I spent most of Thursday battling Bay Area traffic, largely because my wife and I had tickets to go catch the Padres/Giants finale out at Pacific Bell Park. Pac Bell is really a great place to see a ballgame, and would pretty much be perfect if it weren't for the fact that I loathe its primary occupant, the San Francisco Giants, with a passion usually only seen in those with a history of mental instability and accompanying violent behavior.

Or, to put it more succinctly....

I don't just hate the Giants.

I hate the f---ing Giants.

Part of why I hate the Giants is raw, unbridled jealousy. They are the top banana in this media market. No matter how many world championships my beloved A's win, (four in the last 30 years, including a sweep of the Giants--thanks for asking) the hearts of the Bay Area belong to the Giants. The A's get some bandwagon fans when they win, but the stickiness just isn't there. The local media loves the Giants, and as long as I can remember, there are just more Giants hats in the area than A's hats, and it's never going to change. I've heard similar sentiments expressed by White Sox fans, and I feel your pain. Well, as much as I can without having Hawk Harrelson around. ("Asparagus tastes good, Wimpy." "You bet, Hawk.")

Naturally, my hope was to get out to the park, see a crisply pitched ballgame, punctuated by a late-inning appearance by Rickey Henderson, who would draw a six-pitch walk with two outs, steal second, and score the eventual winning run on a squib single by some light-hitting middle infielder. That would have been perfect.

So anyway, I'm in the circumstance of being in enemy territory. I feel like Cam Bonifay at a SABR meeting or something, and I'm not really there on business. Russ Ortiz comes out to start the game, and he's a complete mess. Ortiz's fastball is a little flat and just a bit slow, and the patience of the Padre hitters is devastating. The first three hitters basically sit fastball and let everything else either drop out of the zone, or fade down and away. All three walk. Phil Nevin works the 5-6 hole for a single, and a blooper by Mike Darr brings in two more runs. It's a happy 4-0 after half an inning.

The top of the second is similar. I don't know if Ortiz was tipping his pitches, but the Padres were swinging only at fastballs, and letting everything else just drop out of the strike zone. Three walks, a couple of groundouts, and an early shower for Ortiz. Chad Zerbe came in and gave up a quick single to Darr, scoring two more for a 6-0 lead, and approximately 30,000 changes in SoMa exit strategies. Getting out of San Francisco isn't easy near commute time, and having a Giants game dispersing at about the same time the work day ends doesn't make things any smoother.

From that point on, the game is notable primarily for a very strange wind pattern. The wind at Pac Bell doesn't feel anything like the wind at Candlestick. It was beautiful on Thursday, with just a touch of a breeze blowing out towards the harbor. Or so it felt. Once the ball got above about 60 feet high, it absolutely took off. Felipe Crespo's two home runs were both legitimate (well, mostly), but got a significant boost from that jet stream. As the day got warmer, balls started to just fly out of the place.

The Giants pulled within four runs in the sixth, but it just didn't feel like the game was in doubt. Ryan Vogelsong threw meatballs to Alex Arias and Cesar Crespo in the seventh, and they did their part, depositing the ball over the walls in left field and right field, respectively. In the bottom of the seventh, I was heretically thinking about getting the hell out of the city and back to the East Bay. My wife Kathy, who is apparently and disturbingly psychic, says "I hope someone gets on this inning so Bonds can come up, and we can get over the bridge before it's complete gridlock." I married well.

Fate didn't disappoint. Rich Aurilia hit a bleeder to left for a single, and then Brian Lawrence wanted to test his theory about Barry Bonds's primary weakness being the 86-mph fastball in the middle of the plate at approximately the mid-thigh. Not all the results are in, but the first data point in Mr. Lawrence's study indicates that this is not Barry Bonds's primary weakness. Bombs away to dead center. The ball would have left an exit wound had it hit someone. Seconds after the ball landed, at least 50% of the crowd was headed for the nearest exit.

Some silly observations I made during the game, for what they're worth:

  • Bobby Estalella's bat looked very slow. Something is definitely wrong, either physically or mechanically.

  • Barry Bonds is ridiculously talented and disciplined. You don't maintain this kind of performance level at this stage of your career without an amazing amount of hard work. His preparation for each at-bat is surprisingly measured, and I'm surprised that it hasn't been the subject of a Baseball Tonight feature yet. The crowd response to him is one of respectful awe, not the sheer effusive love that St. Louis shows to Mark McGwire. (Please pardon my subjectivity and hypocrisy.)

  • Pac Bell Park is one of the best-run baseball facilities possible. From the mass-transit feeds to the well-trained ushers, to the beautiful architecture and view, this really is a wonderful place to see a game, and it's worth a trip. They've created an ambience that mutes your shocked laughter reflex when you hear the response of "Nine dollars" to your "Two Cokes, please." That's no small feat.


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Here's a view of the park from our seats; there are no bad sight lines at Pac Bell. The fact that 40,000 people showed up for a Thursday afternoon game against the Padres is a testament to the experience the Giants have created here. Their ops team deserves a serious round of applause. Also, thank you to Cathy, Pierre, and Christian DuVair for the tickets.


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And, as a favor to the sales guys at Pac Bell, I have discovered the last remaining square footage within the park that is currently without advertising. It's approximately 35 square feet of prime exposure just above Section 152.

Seriously, I'm unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to do stuff like this. Life is unbelievably great almost every day. I'm lucky and thankful. If you're reading this, find ten minutes to go outside today and take in some of the beauty around you. If you need to save the time, skip reading Sheehan's column.

Enjoy your weekend.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Gary's other articles. You can contact Gary by clicking here

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