The Twins got a good look at At&T Park this week, including (on Wednesday) that very deep part of the outfield where chasing a ball usually means trouble. As they leave the Bay, let's take a look back at the ballpark.
In case you missed the set up, here are parts one and two of the series. (And if you're reading this on Saturday the 26th, FOX is showing Indians and Giants from the park today at 3:00 PM.)
San Francisco's AT&T Park is a rare beauty among baseball facilities, but will look eerily familiar in places to anyone who has spent time in the equivalent areas of Target Field. Thanks to the finishing touches, the parks do feel distinct from one another, but in their bones they are almost Populous clones.
If you haven't done so, take a quick look at the 3D seat locator on the Giants web site, to acclimate yourself. You'll see some immediate similarities.
The Club Level
Most strikingly similar was the Club Level (TF equivalent: Legends Club). It features a two-story atrium on one side that could easily be mistaken for the Carew Lounge (with a different color scheme), large windows facing the field with drink rails, and fixed concession stands scattered throughout.
There are differences, to be sure.
The finishing at AT&T makes the whole club feel more like a bar than Target Field (which I heard described recently, and accurately, as "airport concourse-like"), but the view of the game is essentially identical. Given their respective site dimensions, it's a little surprising that TF is actually much more spacious on the club level than AT&T. Also, AT&T features a series of choke points in the club, something which is never a problem at TF.
At the end of the club level, near the left field foul pole, is something they call the "Legends Club." It is actually just a little sitting area that apparently can be rented separately.
If you like the club atmosphere as a place to watch a game (not all people do), you'll find the experience in SF very similar to that here in Minneapolis.
(For the slideshows on this page, please note that you can click directly on the picture to advance to the next one.)
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Same number of people as TF, but much less space
The Main Concourse
When the book is written on this era of ballpark design, the word "Promenade" may figure, er, prominently. You hear it thrown around a lot, and it seems like every ballpark has to have one. At TF, it's outside and over the railroad tracks. At AT&T, the name is applied to the main concourse.
I wrote earlier about the main concourse, which I found to be nicely appointed but somewhat claustrophobic. It definitely has more character than Target Field's main concourse, which sometimes feels almost too refined for its own good.
But AT&T's is also definitely filled with choke points. If red brick makes the exterior of the park appear retro, the lack of room to spread out serves the same function inside. It reminded me most of old Yankee Stadium, and not at all of the spacious walkways found in most newer parks. I'm sure some will prefer this old style, and others will wonder if the designers were crazy. (For the record, TF doesn't have any inherent choke points on the main concourse in the main grandstand. But the sheer quantity of people trying to move through there at all times creates its own special sort of gridlock.)
It's a little disappointing, however, that most areas of the concourse which might otherwise be open to the field were filled with gigantic food carts, leaving precious few spots where you could stick your head through to glimpse the game. On the one hand, this helps reduce traffic and discourages most SRO ticket holders from hanging out in the concourse -- a good thing. On the other hand, it separates the fan from the game when they go for a snack -- a bad thing.
Some would argue that if you get out of your seat, you deserve to be cut off from the game. That's a little punitive, if you ask me. There's a balance to be struck, and it may have nothing to do with the openness of the concourse, but rather management and location of food carts and stands -- plus, of course, efficient restroom configuration.
What they've done in SF works just fine, and simply represents a different approach from the TF design team.
Just off the Promenade on the first base side is a little patio area with cantina, and directly behind home plate is a rather large lobby area, separated from the field by the press box. This is different from TF, where the press box is located up one level, and the concourse is open directly to the field there like everywhere else.
And just for the record, there were long restroom lines everywhere on this level. Restroom efficiency seems to be pretty low on the priority list for Populous. Either that or teams are telling them to use space for operations that might otherwise have been available for restrooms. Either way, they tend not to be configured very well, making a quick in-and-out all but impossible.
The exception may be the "Express Restroom" I saw on the main concourse. I'm not really sure what this means, but there was no line, and the name does stoke the imagination.
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The View Level
There isn't much to say about the View level. In terms of watching the game it's almost identical to Target Field. The two essential differences are the lack of an open concourse, and the fact that the upper deck continues around the left field foul pole. Oh, I suppose there's the matter of the bay...
OK, you have to set that aside, because Target Field will never compete with that. No other ballpark will. It's a source of fog, wind, chilly temperatures -- and sublime beauty. Everything balances out, I guess.
Not using an open concourse leads to a couple of fundamental differences. First, there's room for more seating, although not as much as you might think. The small sections which hang off the front simply extend back a couple of rows in various spots.
But this has led to some very weird decisions, in which stairways seem to run in every direction in a Rube Goldberg sort of way. It looks from a distance way more complicated than it is. But between the seating and the stairs, all horizontal circulation is by way of the concourse. I understand why they do this, but it's too bad.
Also, though I don't know this for certain, there appear to be less accessible seating areas in the upper deck as a result of this configuration.
On the other side of the seats, the closed concourse means that all the infrastructure could be built under the seating instead of along the outside rim of the ballpark (as it is with TF). This leads to a very different feel, as the walkway is open wide to the elements. But when the view beyond the walls is as lovely as it is in San Francisco, you can see why they wouldn't want to block it off.
It seems like the Twins might want to consider closing portions the upper concourse. It would trade some standing room for fixed seats, which would be welcome. It may also change wind patterns for the better. And maybe they could add one of those fancy "express restrooms".
Speaking of being open wide, another welcome difference from TF is the inclusion of wind screens over the fencing behind the back row of the upper deck. They look temporary, and might be removable during the peak of the season. In general, AT&T is a pretty windy place -- more so than TF (though if you've sat in that last row up there, you know it can get pretty gusty). A screen makes these uppermost seats just a little more comfortable.
The inclusion of flags (one for each Major League team) along the roof line, though it has become sort of standard in new ballparks, is a welcome connection with the Polo Grounds, which was famous for that feature long before it became common.
As you'll see in the pictures, Giants history is really everywhere on the upper concourse. This is a fundamental difference from Target Field, where history is largely confined to the private areas. The Twins really need to find a way to get some historical displays up there.
Maybe they could add a long suspension bridge in the distance while they're at it.
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Even though there are plenty of exclusive seating areas in AT&T Park, there appears to be no equivalent to TF's Champions Club. The closest they get is the Field Club Lounge, an area below the main concourse which, as far as I could tell, was open to anyone with a ticket inside the moat (which wasn't really a moat, because it is only a railing, not a walkway).
The Field Club Lounge is sort of like a nicer version of the First and Third Base Lounges, mixed with a scaled down Champions Club (minus the free food). Frankly, the atmosphere was sort of like a fancy cafeteria. And to get there, you have to walk across a service corridor (if the ballpark has a lower service level, I could not find it), where you just might just bump into a mascot and his handlers.
The Suite Level is certainly the largest exclusive area. It is nicely appointed, though both the hallways and the suites themselves seemed a little on the small side.
Finally, there is something called the Champions Suite, located just off the main concourse near the press box. It was hosting a party on the day when I visited, and no one was allowed inside. From the little glimpse I could get, it appeared to be just a nice party room configured a lot like the press box.
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The Field Club Lounge
Triples Alley and Beyond
Just as the right field wall is a distinctive aspect of the park's playing area, the right field corridor is a very distinctive walking and seating area.
For the most part, the views are pretty good. But as you move further and further into foul territory, it starts to get somewhat extreme. In terms of view, these sections (Arcade 149 and above) while not completely terrible, are probably the worst in the park.
In addition to the diminished view, you also have the SRO throngs breathing on the back of your neck. At one point I actually witnessed a very unfriendly interaction between a drunk SRO guy and a sober guy in a seat -- with no usher in site to broker a truce. In all, my immediate impression was that it's a heavy party zone. Nothing out there would be my choice for a good game experience. But it was packed.
Ushers throughout the park were a mixed bag. Most stood politely at their positions and barely interacted with the crowd. In several places there were no ushers where you might expect them. And in at least one spot behind the left field bleachers there was a guy ready to pounce on anyone who lingered too long. (I got pounced on for hovering about five seconds too long to take a picture.)
Adding to the party atmosphere out in right is the Coors Light Silver Bullpen, which consists of a standing area behind some nice padded, swivel seats, each outfitted with the name and number of a famous Giant. It's located beyond straight-away center, so the views are sort of distant, but once again, the party was the thing.
The whole corridor connects with a terrace area behind the scoreboard which has a lot of food options, and plenty of room to spread out. It has the feel of an amusement park food court, but if you're looking for a break from the game (why?) this should do just fine.
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Continuing toward left field, you come upon the kid zone, which I talked about in detail before.
Beyond that, the walkway connects back to the main concourse -- er, Promenade -- by passing over a little bridge which goes over the entry point for emergency vehicles. This little driveway apparently also serves as field access for big trucks when a concert is held here. One thing that the Target Field design team learned from AT&T Park is how not to do field access. It's reportedly among the worst in the majors -- old and new ballparks alike.
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Around the Horn
After the game, I had a chance to study the exterior of the ballpark in great detail in just about the most perfect late afternoon sunlight you could imagine. There's really not much to say beyond what I've said before. Much of it is very beautiful, if a little artificial.
I'll highlight three things. First, the bayside walkway is something you might not know is there, but it's not to be missed. Markers are embedded in the pavement for many significant moments in the ballpark's history (many of them attached to the infamous #25). Make the time to take that stroll.
Second, on the way down Third Street, look to your left through the service gate just before you round the corner (at the Juan Marichal statue). There you will see a gigantic history of the franchise featuring all of the years they won titles of any sort. It unabashedly celebrates their time in New York on an equal footing with their time in San Francisco. It may be one of the most undersung sights of the whole building. (Would that the Twins might one day wake up and take the same approach.)
Third, this is where you will find the free "knothole" area.
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The Willie Mays gate
It goes without saying that AT&T Park is a beauty. I found it to mostly live up to its reputation, and there's no question that any baseball fan would be ecstatic to have it as their home field.
It was also a lesson in how the minds at Populous work, and the importance (once again) of their collaborators on the baseball team. Obviously, a great deal of care went into creating this wonderland, and that shows through in countless small details.
But the engineering also has a signature to it, one that I recognized immediately from my many hours roaming the insides of Target Field. I do wonder if someday there will be a backlash against this style of ballpark. Despite the many obvious strengths, the designs all have something of a premeditated quality to them, a coolness -- even a perfection -- which is in some weird way un-baseball. I have begun to wonder what other engineering firms might do differently. Populous certainly does not have the corner on the market for good ballpark ideas (though they seem to get most of the gigs).
Back in the days of the classic ballparks, they grew sort of organically, with pavilions and seating areas being added or subtracted or reconfigured more or less constantly. There was a wildness to this approach which led to some of the classic quirks -- still seen on display at Wrigley and Fenway, and fondly remembered from Tiger Stadium and the Polo Grounds. Some of these quirks are better in memory than in actuality, but creating a premeditated quirk is a decidedly different endeavor.
This is the folly of faux-retro. It never gets beyond the surface of what made those old parks so memorable. AT&T Park is a thoroughly modern baseball facility, wrapped in a stylish shell. That is the signature of our modern ballpark era.
The future may or may not be kind to these structures, but in the present it's all pretty sweet. What they got wrong is mostly forgivable. I could live without the gigantic play area, and every bleacher seat should have a back on it. The concourses have too many choke points (both the Promenade and Club levels), and the restroom issues remain. But the big stuff -- sight lines, overall comfort, baseball focus, amenities, even the scoreboard -- is all right down the pipe.
I'll leave you with a collection of images which don't fall neatly into any category, but will help give a feel for the place to those who have not seen it in person.
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Lots of retired numbers up there, and the display style looks familiar.
In the fourth (and final) part of this series, we'll take a closer look at the Oakland Coliseum. Thanks for stopping by here today!
"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 3045 found on this site. Click the image to be taken to the original post. A new list is created every 10 minutes.
Looking through the Oliva gate, you can see the outfield stands.
There are some great banners on fencing down Target Way. I'm not sure just who sees them.
Detail on the main gate, with Target Field sign
Click to enlarge.
Looking up Seventh Street (click to see what it looked like from the same spot in 1950)
You can finally see how the plaza will meet the street on the north side of this emergency exit tower (which will be converted to a regular entrance/exit)
This is very early in the day.
(Click to enlarge greatly)
The scoreboard also towers over the LRT tracks, which now are functional (though not open) all the way to the park -- and beyond!
Fenway has posts. Target Field does not. But...
Detail of the Puckett wall hanging
Signage for the concession stand which is available from the plaza (plaques are up on the fencing)
Dave St. Peter introducing the first physical models of the ballpark in June 2007
The Overlook, as seen by outfielders
Click to enlarge.
Winter approaches. But one day baseballs will fly where now there are cranes.
Good seats, but no scoreboard or sky.
The Fifth Street side is pretty busy. There's a small street entrance to the B ramp, then ticket booths and an entrance gate, a rare exterior section not covered in limestone, the wooden screen covering the circulation ramps, the administration building, and finally (just out of view) the interface with Northstar. All of that sits behind the LRT action. How pedestrians will interact with this side of the park is a great mystery to me. You know that Metro Transit won't be letting them cross the tracks anywhere but at either end of the block...
From about two blocks away you can finally get an idea of what it looks like. Just to my left (but out of view) was a valet parking stand where a limo was idling.
This looks south and shows the track configuration for Northstar. The platform shown is just a placeholder. To the best of my knowledge, concept drawings for this platform have not been released. Keep in mind, this is NOT part of the ballpark project. It is completely separate.
Work on one of the side panels
Stairs and escalator down to the platform
Large staircases, a staple of recent Populous (nee HOK) projects, are all over the place.
Peering through Gate 34
Thome steps in.
This is amazingly close to completed. It's a short tunnel entrance ramp to 394 underneath the outfield stands.