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They did it right when they built Pac Bell
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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."
"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.
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.
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.
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