Pac Bell Promenades (Part 1 of 3)

We want Pacific Bell Park to be old. It already has a homerun record, a 100-win season, and that World Series never to be spoken of again. It feels old—brick never seems young in California, no matter how brushed and red. And it plays old, deadening an entire power alley to lefties and the few righty sluggers who find it vogue to hit a dozen homers the opposite way. Old to all but one old hitter, of course.

Old ballparks are more than their accumulated history. They reach as far into the future as the past. Imagine what the Northside will be like when the Cubs finally host a World Series (It'll happen eventually, but not until Alex Gonzalez and his double-play-bobbling defense are pumping gas in Tuscaloosa). Or imagine Fenway in its last season. Or the Yankees Bronx-bombing the Dodgers in a four-game sweep. At old Ballparks the future is predicted and waited-for. Unlike at new ballparks, where championships are a new beginning, and blood-red Thundersticks and a pool-themed renovation can wash away a choking past and my belief in a benevolent baseball God's power over evil (Scott Spezio's got horns and a bifurcated tail under his uniform, you know this.)

They will soon change the official name of the Giants' ballpark. But I refuse to indulge SBC, and I will always call it Pac Bell, as most will. On the bright side, this spurious change will mark another notch in the stadium's young history, adding to our appreciation of its remarkably-quick lore. Because we all want Pacific Bell Park to be old. It already has a homerun record, a 100-win season, and that World Series never to be spoken of again. It feels old—brick never seems young in California, no matter how brushed and red. And it plays old, deadening an entire power alley to lefties and the few righty sluggers who find it vogue to hit a dozen homers the opposite way. Old to all but one old hitter, of course.

A given—this ballpark will serve as a monument to Bonds. This whole city should be gilded and cooled into a hands-in-the-air statue for what he did against the Braves this year (we can bury Salomon Torres behind the inscription). A monument not because of what he has and will accomplish. Of course there's no denying that he's brought the stadium a fledgling history, a sense of accomplishment and renown that fits well within the asymmetrical fences and single-deck bleachers. He's even created a new angle to our perception of the homerun, adding the panorama of Bay Bridge, ruddy brick, and ocean to baseball's favorite parabola. But it's what others will do, once he's gone, that will make the dimensions of Pac Bell his memorial. Or more specifically, what others won't do.

I've come to believe that J.T. Snow has been put on by his hometown ballpark. In four years, the first baseman has hit 15 homers at Pac Bell (as opposed to 26 on the road): 6 to left, 2 two center, and 7 to right. But in the area between the Visa sign and the 5th archway, from where the right-center bleachers begin to where the brick juts in and drops to only 20 feet, he has hit 0. Though J.T. is driving the ball in that direction. He's hit five doubles, two triples, and four fly-ball outs to the warning track there. That's 11 would-be homeruns at almost anywhere else—Pac Bell's deep-angled power alley is further than stadiums like Boston and Florida with 400's closer to center—more than two-thirds his total!

And this stat is based on distance alone. There's also the sea air. The wind through the chain link fence, blowing toward the Giants' dugout. The temperature drop at dusk that makes you lament the sweatshirt sitting on your dresser.

Yes, Pac Bell is the worst hitter's ballpark. It made a traitorous Jeff Kent compliment the dimensions of Network Associates to the media (you think someone so resembling a highway patrolman would be able to curtail his speeding-off mouth). It makes Richie Aurillia shake his goatee at the 404 in left center and at the roof of that way-too-happy Chevron car down the line. Makes Miguel Tejada lollygag long drives to the wall.

But forget the fortunate righties. Pac Bell's true victims are lefties who hope to hit with power. Jose Cruz Jr. has hit only 4 of his 13 homers from the left side at home. Both Klesko and Helton have 3 in over 40 games—Kevin Elster knocked out that many in one ruinous afternoon. Larry Walker finally hit his first into the promenade this year. And poor Jack Thomas, with all those unappreciated doubles, and after this year, a ticket out of town.

Of 31 Giants homers over the second fence, only four have been by not-Bonds: Snow and Cruz this year, and two splashed by a pinch-hitting Felipe Crespo. The first fence can seem just as distant as the watery flat behind it, forcing us to borrow the word "death" for description.

Stats have a limited staying power, but they do impose a sense of Bonds upon history, joining him to a Ruthian past. His .602 career slugging percentage. 1941 runs, 9th all time. And he needs less than a season's worth of walks to catch Henderson's record, making his piled homerun statistics all the more amazing.

But stats and time. We have seen mounds rise and DH's ascend. Seen expansion and relief pitchers and a relativity in binding baseballs. We've even seen the fences creep forward (poor, misguided Detroit.) But it would take an oceanic will to move Pac Bell's wall closer. In the same wedge of field that J.T. has 0 homers, Barry's smacked 25. Maybe not a fair comparison, but Bonds only has 12 extra base hits to the warning track—that's reversing the percentages! This park has erected a Bonds-favored comparison to withstand time itself: pure, measured distance.

50 years from now, Pac Bell will be old, and we—the collective SF we—should be able to stand on right field wall and watch the Giants. I squeezed into the promenade during a June night game against the hated Marlins in 2001, and watched Bonds hit a towering line drive (a paradox for anyone else) right at me. I was standing around the sixth archway, where there's more room for a souvenir. The ball was climbing, right to my bare hands, and then past me, tens of feet above, into the bay. I was tilting backward from more than overpriced Anchor Steams. He hit another later in the game. I thought wrong that I had a chance. Everyone around me rose, too, leaning back toward the water, collectively, as it kept rising. Same feeling in Wrigley this year, during batting practice. The hardest, highest ball I've ever seen, over my head and through a window. The crowd tilted and cheered.

So what of distance? Sosa has his Waveland Ave. McGwire his Big Mac Land. Right? But Pac Bell. That same Marlins game, I watched the visiting batting practice. Not a single ball above the green trim. Every fly or liner with pace drew me forward, toward the infield. The warning track and chainlink fence did all the work. And the same for countless BP's since. Don't take my word for it. Head to the park early and see for yourself. Watch the righties—The Andrew Joneses and Preston Wilsons—hit thirty rows deep, below the mitt. Then watch the Luis Gonzalez and Brian Giles bounce one down to the baywalk, occasionally.

50 years from now, the procession of left-handed hitters will have failed. You have to believe that. Even stats back away from widespread chicanery. 50 years of hard hit balls drawing us toward the Giants' two-tiered dugout and the Bonds of the century-turn who could tip you back against the drink with his follow through, one-or-two-handed depending on his groove. Stats tell us that only fifty more splash hits should have landed by then, marking the years like distance.

A Giants World Series ring at Pac Bell (it must come, inevitably) will not be the same as at Candlestick—not worse, just incongruous. The same way a championship in 3Com's orangey bowl would not offer valediction for the ‘62 series and that open and hilly park now buried beneath football renovations. Victory will start the 50-years-and-counting clock over, a clean slate erasing but not justifying the cold and concrete memories of a no-longer-baseball stadium and the Giants' losses there.

Instead continuity will stem from Bonds' departure. A continuity between his successful career and a future of left-handed failure that our bayside park will span.

Surprisingly I look forward to seeing it.



Tim Denevi is a raving Giants fan who can't decide if he would rather have Mike Aldrete or Marvin Biz-nard pinch-hitting with the game on the line. E-mail him with your opinion on any issue at denevi@hawaii.edu

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