Avert your eyes and thoughts for a moment from the 2011 Twins campaign. You'll feel better, and we can travel together to another place where plenty of baseball is also played.
In 1955, the Athletics left Philadelphia, a two-team market, basically conceding the City of Brotherly Love to the National League.
Three years later, in 1958, the Giants joined the exodus from New York, a three-team market, basically conceding baseball's largest market to the American League.
The Polo Grounds (left) and Shibe Park (Connie Mack Stadium)
Fifty-odd years later, here these two teams are, basically back where they began, trying to capture baseball hearts in a multi-team market. It's working out a lot like in the olden days, too. One team is thriving, the other pulling teeth.
AT&T Park (left) and the Oakland Coliseum
As always, results on the field tell a part of the story. But the ballparks also play a major role.
Don't believe anybody who tries to tell you this is two markets. A quick trip to a Walmart in Oakland (of necessity only) found the two baseball teams represented exactly equally, and right next to one another in every place they appeared.
The Bay may be a big psychological divide, but there's no denying that these two ballparks are about 10 miles apart as the crow flies, and only a 20-minute BART ride (see the sidebar for more on my public transportation experience). Visible logos on the trains I rode were split almost equally between the Giants and A's. The same was true pretty much everywhere I went other than the ballparks.
For the ballpark-obsessed visitor, however, this makes for a truly great two-for-one destination. If you go, be sure to work both parks into your schedule. I saw the Giants and Diamondbacks on a Thursday afternoon, and the A's and White Sox the next night.
Like the franchises and the cities, the ballparks are a study in contrasts. There are definitely two different demographics at work here, not unlike those of the old-time two-team towns. Thus, the ballpark experiences are pretty different, just as you would expect.
Here are some very quick baseline comparisons, featuring a few broad generalities and TF for reference:
60% Public, 40% Private
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
606K sq ft
500K sq ft
477K sq ft
4600K sq ft (incl arena)
500K sq ft
534K sq ft (incl plaza)
Car or BART
Muni, foot, ferry
35K (or 48K, or more)
Distant, not bad
Premium Lower Box
Anywhere in center
Value Deck ($12)
Field View ($12)
Almost full, polite
The place to be
Big baseball party
Trying to start the wave
Partly open, narrow
Closed, narrow, quiet
Open, clogged always
Covered seats, Mt. Davis
Bottle, glove, bay
Minnie & Paul, skyline
Huge, a bit busy
If you look for it
Mostly inside clubs
Moats, SRO overload
Staircases to field
French fry lights
Right field wall
2 decks, 1 concourse
Stand/walk in right
Real knothole area
Consider the upper deck
Dress in layers
Sit almost anywhere
Stand still too long
Batter's eye drink rail
History wall (incl NY)
Hrbek's, Twins Pubs
Water, mountains, grass
Sunset over the canopy
If you see something in the chart which isn't self-explanatory, don't worry. I'll elaborate at some point in this series. And while this article and the next focus on comparisons between the two parks, I'll have more about each park individually immediately following. For now, let's continue the comparisons.
Perception and Emotion
I've not heard this said before, but I found that AT&T Park has a miniature quality about it, as if Dayton's (er, Macy's) 8th floor auditorium was putting on a baseball-themed Christmas show. At first glimpse of the field, I wondered if I had wandered into a Little League facility by mistake. (Indeed, before the day was over, two teams of tweens would take the field in a beautiful display of youth baseball.)
This perception is partly because there is a gigantic expanse of water visible beyond the outfield stands. The optical illusion is striking and spectacular. The park feels very much like an oasis, or perhaps on its own island.
Exactly the opposite effect is in place in Oakland. The field is literally dwarfed by "Mount Davis", the colloquial name (used by every single person I talked to) for the football pavilion installed in 1996. One could be forgiven for wondering if that monstrosity is as tall as the field is deep.
But if you think this stark difference is going to lead me to lavish praise on one park and trash the other, not so fast. AT&T is naturally and definitely the winner in any competition between the two parks, but I found quite a bit to like about each, and for various and unexpected reasons.
For example, I was prepared to hate the Coliseum. In most corners it's simply dismissed as a relic from a different era, hopelessly out-of-date. To an extent, that is true. Multi-purpose concrete donuts are certainly anachronistic. The revenue streams are decidedly out-of-date, and it easily fits the definition of "economically obsolete."
It also falls squarely in the "pile in a parking lot" category. My first glimpse of it came on a shuttle bus ride from the Oakland airport to the BART station, and I'll admit this: it's ugly.
But, it's also kind of beautiful, in a modernist/brutalist, 1960s sort of way -- an era when bare concrete was the stuff of art, architecture and big thinking. The building essentially has no facade. It looks like what it is, and lets it all hang out. I can respect that.
Facilities from the 50s and 60s all had a get-it-done quality to them which has been superseded in successive generations of stadium design. Nobody cared about the facades back then. They were afterthoughts –- if they were given any thought at all.
This is in stark contrast to the eras both before and after. The A's seminal home, Shibe Park, had one of the most ornate facades in baseball history. It was intended to imply prosperity, permanence, and confidence. It wrapped the pastoral game in classic motifs -- repetitive, vertical, rounded, comforting, awe-inspiring. It was also very much in line with other urban (and baseball) architecture of the time.
Shibe Park was also built to integrate with and anchor a neighborhood. There are certain expectations of architecture in such a situation. Shibe met those expectations and exceeded them.
No such thing can be said about the Coliseum. It was built to lure a team, and what it looked like on the outside really didn't mean much. There would be no neighborhood, just the standard sea of asphalt stretching off in every direction. (Confidential to Zygi: Those days are so gone.)
With such a big, flat parcel of land, it made sense to the engineers to put the facility smack dab in the middle of it all -- effectively equidistant from all the cars, but also as far away from any neighbor as possible. And because they were much more concerned with wind control than they were with aesthetics, they opted to bury much of the building.
As a result, like the later Metrodome, the Coliseum is surrounded by an artificial hill which hides about half of the total height. What can be seen above is mainly the underside of the upper deck, with gates appearing at regular intervals but recessed so as to be almost hidden.
At one point as I walked around the exterior I came across a large group of people milling about mysteriously. Turns out they were in line to enter a gate I couldn't see! Once inside, these are the same type of long, low entrances which graced so many shopping malls and other public buildings of the era.
The exterior concrete walls which you can see remain relatively free of the nearly-ubiquitous gigantic banners which are often used to try and disguise seemingly unattractive facades. The result is that the place wears its origins with a sort of resigned pride. (The Vikings improved the look of the Metrodome when they became the sole tenant, but they're not fooling anybody. The place is still made of cement. And not the modernist, potentially attractive kind. Sometimes it's best to just be who you are. Sometimes not.)
Ah, transportation choices.
It's becoming an expectation that modern cities have modern public transportation. I assume this when I travel, but I do extensive research first because I've learned that some cities are much more modern and/or efficient than others.
The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system is neither modern, nor is it well-considered, but it did function just fine and got me where I needed to go, after a fashion.
I was shocked that it doesn't go directly to the Oakland Airport. I guess an extension is being built, but that airport has been there for a lot longer than the BART trains. Why would you build a train and not have it go to the airport? (Apparently it does go directly to the San Francisco airport.)
Instead, a $3.00 -- cash only! -- shuttle bus (confusingly called "Air BART") took me to the nearest train station, which happens to be at the Coliseum.
My 20-minute ride to AT&T Park ($3.85) was interrupted by some sort of police action on one of the platforms which left us in limbo between stations. This gave me a chance to inspect my surroundings a little more closely. Frankly, I wish I hadn't had that opportunity.
The trains are worn, kind of dirty, and have a feel more like a classic subway than modern LRT (which it technically isn't). When you throw in the stations, the overall effect is that you're traveling through someone's idea of the dystopian future, circa 1977. Logan's Run by the bay, as it were.
After getting off at the Montgomery Street BART station in downtown San Francisco, I walked about 20 minutes to get to the ballpark. I wouldn't have had to, but the BART web site is blissfully unaware of the Muni, and therefore so was I.
When I came out after the game, I saw this funny little train pull up next to the ballpark and asked a passerby what it was and where it went. He politely explained that it was a local LRT that did a loop around the city and connected to the BART.
Turns out that I could have gotten off the BART one stop earlier at Embarcadero, hopped on that little train (which feels sort of like a bus on tracks) and gotten to the ballpark in a couple of minutes for only $2.00. Ah well, live and learn (and exercise).
My return trip across the bay involved a minor mistake caused by a weird misunderstanding on my part.
The BART system maps show the various lines using colors, and the web site also refers to them the same way. Either the blue or green lines would have worked for all my travel. The first train I got on had a blue stripe running on the outside which led me to assume that it was a blue-line train.
Not so. All of the BART trains have a blue stripe. So for my return trip, I ended up getting on a yellow-line train thinking it was a blue-line train. I noticed my error pretty quickly as the train turned the wrong direction, and was able to easily navigate myself back to a correct train by observing a little more closely the electronic signs on the platform. But it wasn't very friendly to a non-native.
This makes me wonder about our own LRT situation once a second line opens. Will it be clear to visitors which train is which? I should also say that, once again, our own system looks pretty puny compared to another metropolitan area.
The bigger lesson here is that AT&T Park is pretty well-connected to public transportation and something of a nightmare to park near. If you go, ditch the car and get on a train. It's worth the effort, and really not that difficult.
It's also a pleasure to see the original light standards still in service, reaching out of the heap, and looking like living cousins of those we remember from the Met.
As an aside, that football pavilion, despite its ugly and tall hugeness, also reminded me emotionally of the Met and its own gigantic football pavilion, in which I sat (cheaply) for most of the games I attended. I was unprepared to be taken back to that emotional space, and my heart warmed to the Coliseum as I entered it. (But let's be clear: Mount Davis may be one of the most unfortunate pieces of sports architecture in history. More on that later.)
The experience across the bay couldn't be more different. It starts with the fact that the Giants franchise has a very different stadium history.
Polo Grounds facade, obscured
The Polo Grounds, by virtue of (I think) geography, had a very plain facade in its ultimate incarnation. There was no real way to see the whole exterior, so there was little point in adorning it. (Not so across the Harlem river.)
Polo Grounds from the south
Candlestick Park has much in common with the Coliseum, being from only a few years earlier. It's a lot of cement and parking, with nearly identical light standards. The facade is slightly more refined (and was when built), but certainly wasn't on anyone's priority list.
The original Candlestick Park
Between those two was Seals Stadium, an Art Deco gem which housed the team while The Stick was under construction. It had the most distinctive appearance of any Giants stadium before their current home.
Thus, the outward appearance of AT&T Park is not really intended to connect with anything which has gone before in Giants history. Instead, its facade is a direct result of two factors: neighborhood and fashion. When it was built, the retro ballpark movement was essentially at its peak. Everyone wanted one. Happily, this also worked well with the China Basin site.
The red brick, large windows and semi-ornate detailing (nothing as careful as Shibe, but carefully considered, nonetheless) reek of the retro trend, but with sufficient reason. While it's not fair to say it fits perfectly with its surroundings (several nearby buildings are glass boxes), it does put an exclamation point at the end of Second Street, which is lined with early 20th century structures. Ultimately, the ballpark fits well with the neighborhood.
On the horizon, the profile of AT&T park neither soars nor sprawls, unlike its ugly stepsister across the bay. It is every bit as tight and compact vertically as it is schematically, just barely reaching above its surroundings.
It can actually be difficult to get far enough away to appreciate its facade and profile. I had to cross to the other side of King Street just to get a good look.
From every angle, compactness, control and efficiency rule. But just as there was an optical illusion inside, wide sidewalks, a large (but underutilized) plaza, and a beautiful bayside promenade provide the exterior illusion of spaciousness. The average patron will probably not notice just how crammed into its site this ballpark is. It's every bit as impressive in this regard as Target Field -- though they didn't have to move any train tracks!
But here's my unexpected emotional reaction to these two parks: AT&T's retro facade, while superficially attractive, held no emotional content for me. I was not moved by a sense of nostalgia, maybe because the whole retro fashion has come and gone, or maybe because it doesn't connect directly with anything in Giants history, or maybe just because the ballpark of my youth didn't look like that at all.
The ballpark of my youth looked a whole lot more like the clunky Coliseum, surrounded by surface parking and retrofitted for football. The more I walked around the Oakland park, the more I was transported back in time, and it was sweet.
AT&T Park's facade tries just a little too hard to look vintage. It has a very slight Disney Main Street quality to it, and it ultimately sinks into the morass of retro ballparks built with consideration mostly for fashion. I liked it, don't get me wrong, but it didn't take me back anywhere. In fact, it looked a little bit dated.
That's the problem with imitating history. It's never as good as the original, and is pretty quickly outed as false in some way. (Prediction: Target Field's limestone facade will age much more gracefully.)
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This page was last modified on July 29, 2011.
"You talk about the magic, the aura, but what really makes a stadium is the fans. Concrete doesn't talk back to you. Chairs don't talk back to you. It's the people who are there, day in, day out, that makes the place magic."
– Bernie Williams
Explore the Site
Here are 50 images chosen randomly from the 3037 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
Here's one big problem with a retractable roof: completely terrible seating in left. These scant few seats would have been tucked under the track. No sunshine, no open concourse, it was a terribly kludgy idea. With some hindsight, it's very clear that adding a retractable roof on this small site would have required compromises which would have just been too extensive to tolerate. Without it, the design was free to grow into something much more memorable.
Look beyond the gigantic hand (a hounds tooth jacket? really?) and you'll get a glimpse of the main grandstand configuration. The two (or is it three?) levels of suites are visible, as is the design of the so-called "split upper deck," and the extensive use of limestone for decorative accents. Let's hope these little touches don't get cut as costs increase, because they make a nice tie-in from the outside of the park to the inside. Of most interest to me is the way that the very best seats are physically separated from all the rest of the seats by that limestone. There will be virtually no way to sneak into these seats. On one level, that's a somewhat sad design feature...
Viewed from up Sixth Street (that's Target Center on the left), you can get an idea of how the connection is currently planned. As it stands now, the plaza will extend to that support pillar, from which a stairway will empty to the sidewalk below. If they get their wish, additional support structures will provide a walkway along Target Center which will gradually (without stairs) meet the sidewalk somewhere up near First Avenue.
Looking through it, you can see the outfield pavilion (upper deck at least).
First, an overview. The base of the plaza here will meet the base of Sixth Street at Second Avenue.
The view from section 210
The finished product. Note that, at the very bottom of this image, you can just barely see the tops of the windows which look into the Champion's Club. (Home Plate Box)
Note the gigantic -- and very permanent -- M's on the gates at the base of these stairs.
This guy at the Puckett atrium chef stand caught me taking the picture and said I should stop back later because he was "just getting started." I still don't know what he meant.
Site of the proposed new Atlanta Braves ballpark. Look familiar?
Here's a first view of the surprisingly spacious walkway on Fifth between the ballpark and the LRT platform.
Wow! Looking good.
Looking northeast from the ballpark site (Source: LP)
Note that, even though the scoreboard appears strategically placed, it's the outfield stands which block any potential view of the field from this roof.
A few weeks ago there were sand volleyball courts here. When the park opens, this will be surface parking. Maybe one day there will be something more interesting built on top of that parking...
Uh oh. Schizophrenia.
Section 117, Row WC (applies to all the back rows under the Legends Club seating)
The wooden louvers are in on Fifth Street
I see an opportunity in this view for an Abbey Road-style promotional photo! Mauer, Morneau, Nathan and Cuddyer walking toward the ballpark. The only question: which one takes off his cleats?
Ballpark elevation viewed from Seventh Street. (Click to enlarge.)
The art panels on the Fifth Street facade as viewed from the top of the Minnekahda building.
Gate 29 "Carew" is at right.
Flowers and Hall-of-Fame plaques. Very nice.
Click to enlarge.
Fencing is going up all along the plaza
The HERC side, viewed from Fifth Street.
Dugout Box and Champion's Club sections are sequestered by separate moats
"Hey look! There we are!"
Handshakes all around (there's gonna be a lot of that over the next few weeks)
This would be easy to miss, but I found it on a cart located directly behind the Batter's Eye seating on the upper concourse in center field.