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They did it right when they built Pac Bell

Special to

May 6

Last Friday night at Pac Bell Park, there were two dudes in wet suits on surfboards out beyond the right-field fence in McCovey Cove, in between the Morgan 41, the Whalers, three kayaks and a few small fishing boats. If you're sitting on the club level, where tickets cost less than a box seat is at Fenway Park, you can watch players hit in the two indoor cages. The lines for the garlic fries are ridiculous, but the Cha Cha Bowl of jerk chicken beans and rice, washed down with a Red Stripe near Orlando Cepeda's face in center field is as good as it gets in any ballpark.

Pacific Bell Park
After years of cold weather at Candlestick Park, Giants fans can enjoy warm days at Pac Bell Park.
It's hard to say what's best about Pac Bell Park, except that it is San Francisco. The view from the worst seats in the house still gives you a view of the Bay Bridge and the marina. As great as Camden Yards, Turner Field, The Jake and Coors Field are, this is the best fan's ballpark because it was conceived, built and paid for by Giants owner Peter Magowan, a legitimate baseball fan. Magowan is someone who's in touch with the general public, never leaves his seat for the owner's box, and because of his Safeway background understands customers' wants and needs.

The whole right field thing is unique, down to the knot-hole area at the right-field fence where anyone can walk off the street and for three innings watch the game through the wire-mesh fence behind the right fielder. Last week, a man watched three innings, then went outside and caught a striped bass off the pier.

And, hey, let's face it: Pac Bell's warmer than Candlestick because Magowan had the park built high behind home plate, where the winds whip from the southeast from May to September. On a night that touched 48 degrees with wind, one couldn't feel the cold air in the outfield seats.

It also has Wrigley bricks and many different quirks, such as the bullpens being on the field, simply so fans can see who is warming up. (They are very close, in fact, which could be John Rocker's worst nightmare.) The park also has the least foul territory in the majors along with the wacky right-field wall (309 feet down the line), which is actually inspired by the Hundred House walls at Groton School where Magowan played stickball growing up . Almost 40 percent of the seats cost less than $15 and, yes, fans can look through the glass at the indoor cages.

The food is varied from Mexican to sushi to chowder in sourdough bowls, and it's simply tremendous. There are 24 restaurants in all that go right up to the entrance near the statue of Willie Mays. There are also all sorts of attractions for kids in left field, including a smaller electronic scoreboard where they can see themselves running the bases. And they even made the walkways wide around the entire park because adults these days are just like kids -- they don't sit down and watch the game for 3½ hours.

And it's San Francisco, right down to the embarcadero.

This beautiful ballpark is a significant development for three reasons.

The first is that it's going to make San Francisco a baseball city. The only people who recognized me were baseball junkies, but I soon found out after walking around Pac Bell for seven innings what a mobbing experience it is. This place isn't sold out just because it's the in-thing to do nowadays. Rather, it's sold out because there is a huge baseball audience that's been waiting for generations to go to games where you don't have to freeze or fear for your life.

"My father used to bring me to Candlestick from Walnut Creek (on the East Bay side)," says former pitcher Tom Candiotti. "But day games were a 2½-hour trip back through the traffic, and night games meant freezing."

The Giants claim that their television and radio ratings have been excellent for years, but that didn't translate to big crowds at The Stick.

"We've always known that there is a terrific baseball audience in this area," Magowan says. "Now we can realize it as long as we put a good product on the field." The first time an opponent hit a home run into McCovey's Cove -- the Yankees' Jorge Posada in an exhibition game -- a guy fished it out of the water and threw it back over the fans and onto the field.

The second reason Pac Bell is so significant is that it's part of the real estate boom that is taking place south of Market Street down to the China Basin and the park. This is the area that the dot.commers are moving into, and since Pac Bell's development, the real estate on the streets going up the hill from the water are being bought up with the promise of all kinds of restaurants and stores. There were dire predictions about parking problems that haven't happened yet.

People have realized that it's a short walk to most of the hotspots in the city, as well as the financial district. And between trains and buses, concerns about getting to the park seem to be satisfied (but could someone please do something about the lack of cabs?).

The third reason is that this is the first privately financed baseball-only stadium built since Dodger Stadium nearly 40 years ago (Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami was also privately financed, but the Dolphins and Marlins both play there).

The Giants were on the verge of winning a referendum for public financing in 1989, but narrowly lost because right before the election came the earthquake, which cast a dark cloud over the Giants-A's World Series. Bob Lurie, the Giants' owner until Magowan bought the club from him in January 1993, then tried to move the team to St. Petersburg. But Magowan saved the franchise by keeping it in San Francisco, one of the greatest moments in baseball-ownership history.

Most fellow owners, however, aren't too happy with Magowan. As a whole, they want to be able to blackmail cities out of public funds and put schools in receivership (as they did in Cleveland for a football stadium). Or better yet, they want to rob the taxpayers, which is exactly what happened in Maryland when they had to build two football stadiums -- one for the Redskins and the other for the Ravens.

"The lesson I learned and would pass on to other owners is that this cannot be a part-time project," Magowan says. "You can't be running one company and building a park on your spare time. This is a lot of work and it takes a lot of patience, because you're faced with one setback after another."

For instance, Magowan was refused financing by both San Francisco banks, Wells Fargo and Bank of America, but he kept plugging and found a New York bank. And now, since Bank of America has been bought by North Carolina bankers, it wants in. As he searched for partners and investors, Magowan was turned down by Pacific Gas and Electric -- even though he sat on its board -- but he finally found Enron. He's gone through dozens of investment partners by the way.

For all of this, Magowan has been featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, got a 12-page spread in Business Week and appears on the cover of the current San Francisco Magazine. Where once he was ridiculed by Jerry Reinsdorf in the Wall Street Journal for privately financing the park, the imposing $20 million of service debt has been reduced by nearly $18 million in additional revenues and investments. The Giants' revenues will go from less than $60 million this year to somewhere between $120 million and $130 million -- and perhaps even higher -- down the road as the Giants become The Team of The City.

Where once there was nothing but empty rundown warehouses in a city where there was no place to watch baseball, Pac Bell Park rises up between the skyline and the bay with every home date a festival.

For a fan, it may be the best park ever built. But then, it takes a fan to understand one.

Around the majors
  • It may be a month from now that some clubs will decide that they are fated to the second division and will begin to discuss pitching trades, but believe it or not there are teams on the phones right now. The Indians, with Kenny Lofton down with his torn bicep muscle and Jacob Cruz gone for what might be the year, are shopping Sean DePaula and Dave Roberts for a center fielder, with Deion Sanders, Rondell White, Todd Hollandsworth (until the Devon White injury) and others on their list. It doesn't help that Roberto Alomar is struggling, however, as his .720 OPS is down more than 200 points from last season.

  • There is speculation that the Dodgers would consider moving Hollandsworth in this money-laundering special: Hollandsworth and pitcher Alan Mills, whose $5.5 million from 2000-01 is a must in any L.A. deal, to Colorado for Jeffrey Hammonds and Brian Bohanon.

  • Several teams have talked to the Rockies, knowing general manager Dan O'Dowd is in a trading mode. The Rangers talked Matt Perisho for Darren Bragg, the Red Sox Brian Rose and Tomo Ohka for Scott Karl and Rick Croushore.

  • What's bizarre about the Montreal situation is that owner Jeffrey Loria's assistant Mike Berger is initiating some of the trade discussions, not GM Jim Beattie. There are a lot of people around and inside the team that are concerned that Loria, with a stadium plan is in doubt and at odds with some of the French media, isn't going to make it, and that come the All-Star break the Expos will have to move a couple of salaries. Ownership has often discussed dealing Ugueth Urbina, who has a $4 million option for 2001, even though Urbina has refined his mechanics and is creeping back closer to 95 mph.

    For now, Berger is making it clear that Loria will trade prospects for immediate help. What began as a suggestion has gone into the talking stage -- Rondell White for Matt Stairs, with other players being discussed, notably minor league right-hander Tony Armas Jr. Montreal is looking for outfield and pitching help, as well as a third baseman so Michael Barrett can move back to catcher. Chris Widger, however, is playing very well behind the plate and is hitting .321 in 26 games.

  • The Mets are now at the stage where if they cannot get someone -- anyone, that is -- to take Rickey Henderson that they may release him. GM Steve Phillips saw it first hand in San Francisco, and knows Rickey's time in New York has passed.

  • The Orioles are telling teams that they will pick up part of Mike Timlin's salary if anyone will take him. Even with the promise that Scott Erickson's return indicates -- despite the fact that his velocity is down a bit as he tries to build back arm strength -- there are teams that believe that Peter Angelos would move Erickson after the All-Star break if the Orioles aren't in contention.

  • The Tigers are stepping up trade talks about Tony Clark and have been looking for a center fielder in return, but when they inquired about the Devil Rays' Randy Winn, who is currently in the minors, Tampa asked for Matt Anderson. Puh-leaze.

  • The Cubs are trying to find a taker for left-hander Mark Guthrie while the Marlins are taking calls concerning right-hander Dan Miceli.

  • Reds general manager Jim Bowden this past week took five calls from teams who are interested in acquiring Deion Sanders, the most serious coming from Texas and Cleveland.

    This and that
  • There are two business areas to watch:

    1. The Free Agent Watch: Since Juan Gonzalez walked away from $140 million from the Tigers and Brad Radke hasn't jumped on the Twins' three-year, $24-million offer, there has been no movement on this winter's crop of major free agents. That indicates that agent expectations right now exceed club projections, so Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Mike Mussina, Mike Hampton, et al are playing it out, for now.

    Some of the big free agents, like Radke, will get traded by the July 31 deadline if they're not close to deals with their current teams. It will be curious to see which way the Cubs go, whether they will re-sign Ismael Valdes or go after Dodgers free agent Darren Dreifort, who is well-known by Cubs player development chief Jim Hendry and is often speculated to be headed to Wrigley next season.

    Add Dreifort to Kerry Wood, then eventually bring in youngsters Mike Meyers and Carlos Zambrano, a right-hander with a 1.13 ERA who is the youngest player in the Southern League, and the Cubs could have the makings of a young power staff.

    2.The Amateur Draft: Think about the intent of the draft -- to give the weaker teams first call on the best talent. Baseball already has the legal right, which theoretically should give teams all the bargaining power and keep bonus money down. But they've let that slip away, and between agents outsmarting clubs, the huge foreign bonuses and the year that Scott Boras outsmarted Jerry Reinsdorf and freed Bobby Seay, Matt White, Travis Lee and John Patterson for millions in bonus money, the cost of signing first-rounders has far exceeded the players' worth.

    Ken Griffey Jr. got $160,000 as the first pick in the '87 draft. Last year's first-rounders averaged more than $1.8 million, so scouting directors are going to Lansdowne, Va., on May 15 for a day-long negotiations seminar, where they are expected to talk about not being afraid to say no and let a bunch of these players walk away from millions.

    "This is a strange draft to start with," says one scouting director. "I'm not sure you can't get as good a prospect with the 35th pick as you can with the first. I wouldn't want to be Florida or Minnesota (picking 1-2). Unless they cut a pre-draft deal, they'll have to pay $3.5 million to players they don't like much better than the 35th pick. And if they cut the deal, that's one of the problems. The small-market teams cannot compete for the Drew Hensons, Rick Ankiels and J.D. Drews, and have to pass on them."

  • It indeed is a wacky draft, with no clear-cut favorites at the top of everyone's list. Early on, speculation had centered on Arizona outfielder-pitcher Ben Diggins, Cal third baseman Xavier Nady, Stanford right-hander Justin Wayne, Notre Dame righty Aaron Heilman and Pepperdine catcher Dane Sardinha, but now it may be evolving into a high school draft.

    Coppell, Texas first baseman Jason Stokes, Miami shortstop David Espinosa, Palmdale (Calif.) right-hander Matt Harrington and Rancho Bernardo (Calif.) righty Matt Wheatland are the hot names. Outfielder Rocco Baldelli, a big, athletic (he's been invited to join Team USA volleyball) from Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, R.I., has shot up so far despite a minor injury that Tampa Bay is looking at him with the sixth pick while Milwaukee is also interested in him with the 11th. Boston had been sitting there hoping he'd fall to them as outfielder Rick Asadoorian did last June, but Baldelli likely will be long gone by the time the Red Sox pick at the end of the first round. Rocco Baldelli. How great of a name is that?

    News and notes
  • There are those who laugh at Red Sox GM Dan Duquette's Halfway House penchant for signing rehabilitating pitchers, but he calls it "a lower-cost method to sign high-cost talent. There's a premium to pay for any pitcher who has proven he can win in the big leagues, especially in pressure situations. The key is patience. You have to be willing to put time and effort into these rehab cases."

    Bret Saberhagen is a major reason why Boston got into the playoffs the last two seasons, while Rheal Cormier has been one of the best left-handed relievers in the AL in 1999 and 2000 and Ramon Martinez is Boston's No. 2 starter.

    Now Duquette has more pitchers in his halfway house. Saberhagen hopes to be back within a month, and Duquette thinks that by the end of this season the Red Sox will get help from a couple of the current cases -- Hipolito Pichardo, Mel Rojas, Julio Santana and Nerio Rodriguez (whom the Mets tried to hold onto, but had to put on waivers).

    "Dan is always working, and he is ahead of the crowd on this one," says Expos manager Felipe Alou. "Medical science cannot create a man with heart, but it can rehabilitate a man who has it."

  • Padres GM Kevin Towers says he "can't recall ever going through a season like this." The latest blow to the Pads is the aneurysm that has sidelined Woody Williams, one of the most popular players on the team. The Padres also dealt Andy Ashby for three pitchers, and what happens? Carlton Loewer falls out of a tree and Steve Montgomery has arm problems, exposing the eighth inning to pitchers that should be pitching in the sixth. Add to it that two-thirds of their outfield -- Ruben Rivera and Tony Gwynn -- was out for several weeks until Rivera returned to the lineup Friday night.

    "Maybe we'll find out some things, and as we get Loewer, Montgomery, Rivera and Tony back, perhaps we'll be better off for it," Towers says. The Padres have found out that Damian Jackson has been a major offensive player despite occasional defensive problems, and the third part of the Ashby deal, pitcher Adam Eaton, is throwing very well at Double-A Mobile.

  • How about Tony Womack with two walks? Don't forget he's playing shortstop for his offense.

  • Yankee GM Brian Cashman insists that Shane Spencer and Ricky Ledee will get every opportunity to prove that they are regular players. "We've been playing well enough so that we can afford to give them the opportunities that young players get on other teams," says Cashman. "Look at the patience Jimy Williams showed last year with Trot Nixon."

    Spencer, who is among the leaders in pitches per plate appearance, is on a 30-35 home-run pace, and Ledee has shown sparks since moving into the leadoff spot in place of the injured Chuck Knoblauch. There are times when Ledee looks as if he's drifting, but if those moments are minimized he can be a slashing offensive player like a Matt Lawton or Troy O'Leary.

  • One of the biggest reasons the Yankees have been able to win so many close games thus far is their bullpen. You'd have to go back a long way to find a trio that has been together for four or five years, as have Mariano Rivera, Mike Stanton and Jeff Nelson (whose combined postseason ERA in 114.2 innings is 1.10). Now Jason Grimsley may have harnessed his talent, helped by the maturation of his changeup.

  • Speaking of Jimy Williams, he says he's never seen another outfielder drop down into a slide instead of crashing into a wall, as does Carl Everett. "I started doing it in rookie ball," Everett says. "I just think it's smarter than crashing. I slide on my opposite (left) leg, so it's easier." Remember, Everett claims he started switch-hitting at age 3, which is why he evolved into two distinctly different styles -- Gary Sheffield from the right side and Junior Griffey from the left.

  • The Red Sox are frustrated by their talented waterbug infielder Donnie Sadler, whom they sent to Triple-A Pawtucket to get at-bats, hoping he'd start keeping the ball out of the air and be a major contributor in the second half at second base, shortstop and center with his speed and defense. "He's still swinging from his behind, trying to hit home runs and popping everything up," one scout says after a week in Pawtucket. "I'm beginning to wonder if he'll ever learn." Sadler is hitting .195 with no home runs.

  • The Indians had better not slough off the White Sox, not with James Baldwin (13-2 since Aug. 1 of last year) and Cal Eldred in gear and Jon Garland close to being ready. With their bullpen depth, the ChiSox' pitching is developing into a major surprise. Now, the fans have to buy into it. The weather has been brutal in Chicago, but attendance is down 19 percent. So much of what you hear on talk shows in Chicago centers around whether or not Reinsdorf will dump payroll prior to the July 31 trade deadline. The answer to that one is no.

    Random thoughts
  • It's May, so it's open season on managers.

    Terry Francona has taken some hits in Philadelphia, but right now is not in trouble, as GM Ed Wade knows that eight of the Phils' first nine series were against teams currently better than .500. And in all of those series they faced a No. 1 starter and they played seven of them without their own No. 1 (Curt Schilling) or their closer (Mike Jackson).

    Pirates GM Cam Bonifay, meanwhile, backs Gene Lamont in Pittsburgh, despite heat and speculation that owner Kevin McClatchy is getting nervous. Bonifay is fair. He realizes that Aramis Ramirez and Chad Hermansen have not provided the offense expected, nor has Wil Cordero. He knows the bullpen has been a work in progress, and that the defense -- first baseman Kevin Young may make 50 errors over two years -- has created the most unearned runs in the National League. But this week, when Brian Giles criticized the pitchers' consistency in throwing strikes, reliever Jason Christiansen responded, "How would the hitters like it if the pitchers criticized them for not hitting enough? No wonder so many of us want out of here." Oh boy.

  • All Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti wanted young right-hander Joe Nathan to do was scrap the two-seamer and concentrate on locating the power four-seamer. He did it. Kirk Rueter is coming around, and the Giants are now so confident in their young starters that they're shopping Mark Gardner. The problem, however, may be the middle relievers, other than the reliable Felix Rodriguez.

  • Before Mets fans jump into the passing lane of the Long Island Expressway, they should consider the following: The club is above .500 despite Al Leiter missing 10 days with a pulled groin, Rick Reed sitting out 10 days after being hit on the left hand by a line drive, Bobby Jones on the disabled list and Mike Hampton walking the house. It appears Hampton's mechanics are messed up as he's nibbling with his pitches, and his stride is messed up, which makes him unable to get the ball in on right-handers. Thus, he's not getting the tailing strikes that he got so often in Houston last year. As the Mets have discovered, Hampton is also very stubborn. But he's also a hard worker and is still going to win 15 games before it's over.

  • The Pedro Martinez/Charles Nagy/Einar Diaz show that resulted in Martinez getting a five-game suspension is turning the Red Sox-Indians rivalry into a bigger one than even the possibly Red Sox-Yankees. The Sox and Indians have met in the playoffs three of the last five years, including the past two. This rivalry has had former Sox manager Kevin Kennedy -- or his front office -- calling for Albert Belle's bat, two Jaret Wright-Darren Lewis beanings that resulted in brawls and the Red Sox last season accusing the Indians of using their center field camera to tip them off as to what pitches were being thrown.

  • Felipe Alou is still fuming at what he considered an intentional drilling of Vladimir Guerrero by Colorado's Kevin Jarvis. "You don't you see anyone hit Mark McGwire or Griffey or Sosa," says Alou. "Why doesn't Guerrero get the same respect as they do?"

  • Tom Candiotti may be out of the majors for good, but he's one veteran interested in playing for Team USA in the Sydney Olympics in September. Bob Watson has a monumental task assembling that team, because of September call-ups and teams like the Yankees, Orioles and Red Sox undermined efforts to send their best players. The laughable thing about the undermining of Team USA in last summer's Pan Am Games -- George (Mr. Olympics) Steinbrenner refusing to allow Nick Johnson to play, the same with the Orioles with Matt Riley and the Red Sox with Adam Everett -- is that the international experience sped the development progress of most of the players that did go, like Gookie Dawkins, Peter Bergeron, Mark Mulder and Brad Penny, among others.

  • Much has been made of the offense the Rangers lost and haven't found with Gabe Kapler, Tom Evans and Ruben Mateo. But their defense has been mediocre, especially at second and third base, and Jeff Zimmerman's continued problems (1-7, 6.23 ERA since Aug. 1) remain a mystery.

  • A scout on Pedro: "No wonder he has the control and command he has. He takes three-quarters of his warm-up pitches between innings out of a stretch, and he takes each pitch seriously. Most pitchers just goof off warming up. But he throws a lot fewer pitches out of the stretch than the windup during a game because he is so good, so he works on throwing out of the stretch. Amazing."

  • Don't think the Mets aren't a little worried about the reliability of Armando Benitez as their closer, in that his velocity is down and because of his extreme mood swings.

  • Beat your neighbor to get on the Adam Piatt bandwagon. Here's a guy who knocked in 140 runs in 150 minor-league games the last two years, and after he's called up to Oakland to DH he lays down two game-deciding bunts in his first four starts. And he looks like a professional hitter that should be able to do some serious damage as he learns the pitchers.

  • It will be a long time before there are any conclusions drawn from the commissioner's office in studying the baseballs. But this will not be a cursory test, not with Sandy Alderson. Once tests are completed at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Alderson will go to Costa Rica to the factory where the baseballs are made.

  • It's just about time for Reds fans to start worring about Dante Bichette, who is at the bottom in cleanup hitters' slugging percentage. Bichette has only two home runs in 105 at-bats.

  • John Rocker may have blown his first save Friday -- after a week in which he was mooned in L.A. and had a nasty incident with a cameraman in San Diego -- but he's got the advantage of being back home and having the Braves not play a team with a winning record the rest of May. That will help the Braves get by without Walt Weiss for two weeks, but losing Eddie Perez to shoulder surgery is a huge blow, on and off the field. Perez is one of the most respected teammates in the game.

  • The Cubs may think Jose Lima is funny after his two-game line: 9 2/3 IP, 26 H, 22 R, 21 ER, 6 BB, 11 SO, 8 HR. But Larry Dierker doesn't, and the Astros manager is sick of Lima's Enron-altered mechanics. Due to the alterations, Lima's changeup is flat and his slider seems as if it's being thrown uphill. That stuff isn't cute when you're down 10-2.

  • The calls for Ryan Anderson in Seattle have quieted down with two rough starts at Triple-A Tacoma. The Space Needle gave up four runs in the third inning in his most recent start against Salt Lake City. He also has strep throat and could get pushed back a week until his next start.

  • Mark McGwire has a great point about Rick Ankiel's batting prowess, that the young left-hander is only two years out of high school, so he's only been away from batting cleanup for less than two years.

  • USA Today's Rod Beaton had a great number in one of his most recent columns that should be a red flag to the Players Association: Fourteen percent of the players make more than 50 percent of the money. It's a rich man's guild, indeed.

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  • Gammons: Not your conventional closer

    Gammons: The eyes have it
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