Giants FanFest Ends the Offseason

If there's anything that can get the baseball fan's mindset out of the offseason, it's meeting up with thousands of other fans, seeing players from their team in person, and dedicating a sunny spring day to enjoying the American Pastime, again. So, with that in mind, the Giants' FanFest was a complete success.

One can wax poetical about spring all they want. Lots of great things happen in the spring. Robins return to front lawns in the early morning. Cherry blossom trees blossom for the only time all year. Trees start sprouting leaves again so you can find some decent shade in a park again.

But let’s face it, for us, all that Spring signals is an end to debate about whether the Super Bowl was better or it’s commercials were, and that Spring Training for baseball is about to start. And the official change comes with Spring FanFest.

The annual party is the first appearance for many new Giants in front of their fans, in person. It also gives the Giants a forum for their fans to get together, and start to get hyped about the oncoming season, and is the last stop in San Francisco before players officially begin to report to the Arizona desert for Spring Training. Pitchers and Catchers are schedule to report Thursday morning, Feb. 17th.

2005’s FanFest, in this regard, was a success. The Giants reported a record 7,000 fans showed up this year. Fans were eager to get both tickets and autographs. When doors opened at 11 AM, the line for autographs started at the doors to Pier 48, where Fanfest was held, down to McCovey Cove Park, then all the way down the Cove shoreline to the foot of the Lefty O’Doul Bridge, then back up along the park all the way, back down to Third Street again and then ran along Third Street for half a block.

The line wasn’t daunting for the hardcore fans. 14 year old Jesse Rayburn of South San Francisco had a brand new baseball, not yet out of the box, that his father had picked up for him the day before at the Dugout store. “I don’t know who’s going to be here today. Iwant to get every Giant to sign this ball this year,” Jesse proudly proclaimed. “I’ll be going to Spring Training and to a lot of games this year to do it.”

Once inside, fans could browse museum exhibits of baseball history, along with several exhibits of a San Francisco nature, including Joe DiMaggio’s San Francisco Seal uniform. Other exhibits held memorabilia from baseball movies, the negro baseball leagues and women’s baseball leagues.

Also inside, Giants fans could hear their favorite players and other Giants personalities talk at two different places. On one stage, KNBR broadcast interviews all day with Giant announcers and players, including Kirk Rueter and Jerome Williams. At another stage, Giant players and coaches appeared doing Q&A sessions with the fans. Rueter, who was called “Woody” by most of the fans who asked him questions, laughed at his nickname. “I don’t really have much of a choice anymore.” He seemed optimistic about the Giants’ chances this year, too. “You can’t predict the World Series, but I definitely think this is one of the better teams I’ve been on in Spring Training.”

Giant reliever Scott Eyre also stopped by to answer a few questions, and fans commented how great he looked. Eyre said he hurt his back in Spring Training in 2004, and wasn’t able to do all the conditioning he wanted to do over the summer. “I got…how did the bullpen guys put it?… Fat!”

There were lots of activities for fans, including batting cages, photo booths and pitch speed guns. When fans got tired of the crowds inside the pier, many went outside and walked around McCovey Cove park. A pickup T-Ball game raged on the diamond adjacent to the park, and several games of catch had broken out on the lawn in front of McCovey’s statues.

Many fans also took the opportunity to visit SBC Park, which was all too inviting just across the Cove. In the Giants Dugout store, a lot of fans were shopping for gear for the 2005 season. Jessica Green of Walnut Creek was taking her time browsing among the hats in the store’s upper level. “I buy a new hat for each season, and then retire it when the year is over. Some girls go nuts over shoes, I like my Giants’ hats.”

Other fans took advantage of the opportunity to see the Park mostly empty, going on the Giants’ Ballpark tours. The field wasn’t as green as usual, with most of it still covered in dirt from the Motocross event held there in late January, but concerned fans were assured that the crack groundskeeping crew would have the field in shape for baseball come late March.

While refreshments were available at FanFest, many fans opted for other choices around the ballpark. Some walked past SBC Park to McDonalds, others lounged at Amici’s with freshly made pizza. “I don’t usually think of pizza as a baseball food, “ mused Samuel Broadbent of Burlingame, “but this is perfectly placed. When I get off Caltrain, this is a wonderful place to grab food to take into the park to eat during the game.”

Around the Park, the environment continued to change. Most of the work on the new 3rd Street Muni line, which made driving to the Park a bit of a hassle last season, is done. The stations have some work to be completed, but the roads around the park shouldn’t need to be torn up much more. The 4th Street bridge is still being worked on, however, and the Muni line is still over a year away from being in service. South of the parking lots, the Mission Bay campus of UCSF continues to take shape. Across King Street from the Park, yet another new building is being built (this one adjacent to the still thriving Happy Donuts), while more condos are being built along the water further west down the Cove. The Safeway supermarket has opened a block away from the Park, giving fans who’d like to make their own sandwiches fresh an option.

As four o’clock rolled around, the ghosts of Candlestick began to settle on the hills behind Sutro Tower, and the wind began to blow a little down the hills and onto the Cove. That didn’t damper the mood, though. “It’s going to be a good year,” said longtime fan Phil Mahnke, of San Francisco. “I’ve been a fan for 30 years, and it’s hard to remember when I’ve been this excited at the start of the season. Maybe 1993.”

The season has indeed begun. Next stop, Scottsdale, Arizona.

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