Baseball is universal. While the language of the tongue may change, the lexicon of the game remains the same. Whether it's the United States, the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Japan, Chinese Taipei, Cuba or Italy that reach the semifinals and finals of the World Baseball Classic, whether it's "¡Adiós pelota!" or "Kiss it goodbye," baseball is baseball.
In a cosmopolitan city like San Francisco, baseball speaks many languages, but none more than it will when the World Baseball Classic comes to AT&T Park for the semifinal and final rounds of the now-quadrennial tournament.
"I think hot dogs are popular everywhere, and sausage, to tell you the truth," says Bill Greathouse, Vice President of Center Plate, the concessions supplier for AT&T Park, which will host the final rounds of the Classic from March 17-19. "I know beer is popular everywhere. It might be called cerveza in some places, but they're still going to drink it."
With those final three games sold out, the San Francisco Giants and AT&T Park are gearing up for an early opening, which requires much more than just an early delivery of beer, brats and nachos, and throwing some extra fertilizer on the field.
"I wish it were that simple," says Alfonso Felder, Senior VP of Administraiton for the Giants, who oversees the preparation for the Classic. "You've got to work through all the challenges of having four teams here over a three-game period. You have to make sure you're providing Major League-quality facilities for four teams, where you typically provide facilities for just two. You've obviously got to make sure that the field is in game-ready shape, and then, what I would call postseason-ready shape in the middle of March, which is obviously not the norm, and you're coming out of a couple of months that are not optimal from a growth perspective for the field, so that does pose some challenges, so it's something that we certainly know how to work through. It means that all of the maintenance that you typically look to achieve during the offseason -- which is never particularly expensive here at AT&T Park -- has to happen faster. And, you've got to make sure that all of your event staff are game-ready for baseball in the middle of March, which means trainings and things like that will happen a little bit earlier. Like I said, it's something that we're ready to do, and we're excited about doing."
AT&T Park is no stranger to unorthodox and sizeable events. After the 2011 baseball season, the park played host to five college football games for the California Golden Bears -- displaced by the $351 million renovation to their regular home, California Memorial Stadium -- and each December, the park hosts the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Between the 2007 All-Star Game and two of the past three World Series, the venue is no stranger to big crowds and adjusting on the fly. After the rival Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the 2009 Classic in Chavez Ravine, though, the club and the stadium have been using their considerable experience to make sure that next week's event will go off without a hitch.
"The first thing you do is, you raise your hand, and then there's a bidding process," Felder says. "We were engaged in the first World Baseball Classic back in 2006. We hosted games in Scottsdale, at our spring training facility, and so that really gave us our first taste of the event, and we had a great experience with that. We subsequently hosted an exhibition game at our facility as part of the 2009 tournament, and all along, we had remained interested in hosting the later rounds and the finals and the semifinals, as we're doing this year, so it's been something that we've been eyeing from the get-go. In this last go-around, we made the decision to bid for the finals and worked with the folks at the WBC and gathered all of the information that they requested through the bid process, and here we are."
Two years ago, the club began to look into bidding for the final rounds, and 18 months ago, the Giants were awarded the opportunity to host.
"There's sort of a year that goes by before you start getting really serious about the next tournament and where it's going to be, but we also have been in constant communication with the World Baseball Classic folks, just because we had a role in each of the previous events, and I think there was some knowledge that we wanted to continue to be engaged," Felder says. "The bid process is one not unlike what you would do for the All-Star Game. It is a big, international event, and you've got to put plans in place to deal with all the media and all the special circumstances that surround these games. There's also a certain reality to the international nature of it, where you've got teams that are coming from far away places, and you've got to make sure that you're ready to host them in a way that gives them everything they need. That's a little bit different, but at the end of the day, that's something we have experience with."
The 2007 All-Star Game brought a windfall of $65 million in financial impact on the city over five days, and the Giants expect a similar local impact over the three days of hosting the Classic next week.
"Well, I think we're looking at sell-outs for three games," Felder says. "We're looking at obviously fully-staffing the building at the levels that are required, so I would expect that you're going to see a number of people around the ballpark for these events pretty similar to what we saw around the All-Star weekend."
The city of San Francisco boasts a foreign-born population over 35 percent, and the Giants have taken advantage of that fact, scheduling 12 heritage nights for the 2013 season, and similar numbers going back several years.
Given the international flavor of the city, and the potential for a team like Japan -- which has taken the Classic title each of the past two go-arounds -- preparing for the inevitable language issues that could crop up is something that the Giants are uniquely equipped to handle.
"It's something that we contend with throughout the year, but that's one of the benefits of being in such a multicultural place like San Francisco," Felder says. "I think our staff here is very familiar with working through international audiences and, as a result, even if you can't speak the language, I think people are pretty adept at getting messages across and communicating. There is, obviously, attention paid based on the teams that are participating, in terms of the P.A., to making sure that there's enough that's said in the language of the home country of the participating teams, that the basic flow of the game can be communicated. Then, in terms of getting people around the ballpark, we're a pretty multi-cultural community here, so I think that's something you work through. The experience in San Diego and in Los Angeles is that there has been a huge, huge contingent of fans from the participating countries that have descended upon those venues, and obviously, you don't know what the participating teams are going to be until the weeks and -- in this case -- the team coming from Miami, we're not going to know until the day before the first game here. That all comes together very quickly at the end."
Of course, there's also the material preparation, which includes fully stocking the park with concessions, which has proven a challenge since the facility opened in 2001 because of the stadium's limited storage capacity.
"We have continual deliveries," Greathouse says. "We have deliveries almost every day here. There's a very small footprint as far as back-of-the-house, so in a ballpark that sits on a larger amount of land, your concessionaire can actually order pretty much for the whole homestand, and here, we're every couple days, getting deliveries in. We're used to it, though. We don't see it as an inconvenience."
AT&T Park sits on roughly 13 acres of mostly-reclaimed land in China Basin, while other parks routinely have footprints of over twice that amount. The fact that it sits on reclaimed land also means no below-street-level storage.
"One of the things is, because the place is right by the water, and the beauty of the ballpark is such, they had to sacrifice the acreage just to get it to fit in the area and within the city block," Greathouse says. "We're right in the downtown area, so it has to fit. We like to think that it's worth the sacrifice, just because of the beauty of the place, and the acclaim that we get. People just have a really good time when they're here, and obviously, it's the game itself, but it's just the comfort of the facility from the fan point of view."
One of AT&T Park's big draws is its wide variety of concessions, which include -- along with ballpark staples -- garlic fries, crab sandwiches, Latin fare, Ghiradelli chocolate, pizza, Italian flatbread sandwiches and sausages, pastries, Asian cuisine, deli delicacies, wine and a wide variety of beer.
"I think it's more business-as-usual a few weeks early," Greathouse says. "We're known for our wide menu here, and we plan on having most of that on-line. Certainly, beverages are a huge part of what we do, and that's all on-line. We're preparing for this just like it's Giants Opening Day. I can't stress how fortunate we have been over the last few years, that we've been as busy as we have been with the team success of the Giants. You can only fit so many people into the place, so if the WBC does sell out, it's going to be like a Giants game for us."
In fact, after finding that the park's Gilroy Garlic Fries were in such high demand in its early days, Center Plate and the park have continually expanded their availability to 10 locations within the park and 73 purchase lines.
"The All-Star Game was in '07, and from what I can recall, it was just like a sold-out game; there were a lot of out-of-town people, and I guess the excitement is a little bit heightened because there were a lot of people coming in for the first time," Greathouse says. "The World Series, of course you're going to have that excitement there, but that's our regular fan base, and they know where they're going. They know what they want. With a lot of out-of-town people, we're expecting people to maybe take their time and shop and experience the building a little bit more than maybe our regular fans do. Our regular fans are all about business, as they should be. They know where they're going, they know where their seats are. I'm sure they have their timing down as to when they get to the ballpark and how they do it and everything else. Generally, when you have an All-Star Game or you have games where you have a lot of out-of-town participation, there's a little confusion and some slowness there. We're expecting that."
Line length at the concessions, Greathouse says, has not been a large concern.
"Maybe some of the specialty things like the seafood items, the Latin items or the things that we do, there might be a little bit of a wait, just because there are less of those locations," Greathouse says. "Items like your standard staple things like hot dogs and nachos and sodas and beer, things like that, stuff that you would normally associate with a baseball game, I think we do a pretty good job of line management on that, and people aren't really inconvenienced to any real degree."
But, food and beverage sales within the park are just a part of the overall local impact of an event like the WBC. From Mo Mos across the street to eateries and watering holes up and down King Street, the event will be a huge boon.
"All along King Street and all along Third Street and Fourth Street, these are businesses that have learned how to ramp up to suit the demands of whatever we bring to the ballpark," Felder says. "I think we've worked pretty well, together with the neighborhood, for a weekend like this weekend, that creates a demand for services that all the businesses ramp up to, and we have a monthly transportation meeting that a number of the neighborhood folks attend. There are also community meetings that occur on a regular basis, that we're part of, so if people have questions, we're available to answer them. We're always on the phone and available when people have questions, and need to know answers to things, so I think that's a product of the relationships we've developed in this neighborhood over the last 20 years, since we started planning the ballpark itself. That's a nice reality for us, is that we've had a lot of continuity in maintaining relationships with neighbors, so it all works out."
With such a large-scale event though, the crowds along the sidewalks and streets, the influx of international travelers into the city and of course, parking, will have to be managed. That's where the Giants' relationship with the city comes into play.
"The good news is that we've got a great relationship with the city and with all the agencies that are involved in hosting events like this, so we're constantly meeting with the city," says Felder. "Law enforcement, for example, is already very much engaged in the conversations about this event. We sat down and made sure that the mayor was aware of a good deal of the detail of the event last summer, and so I think the mayor's office is excited about it. Because of the experience that we've had, putting on everything from the All-Star Game to the postseason the last few years, I think people are pretty clear on what's needed, and it's really just a matter of getting together and coordinating the details, which we're all accustomed to doing. We have a great partnership with the city, and that process is well under way."
Ryan Gorcey writes about the MLB for Fox Sports Next and publishes Cal Sports Digest. Follow him on Twitter @RGBearTerritory.
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