Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Los Angeles Dodgers 4 at San Francisco Giants 5 - April 12, 2011

After a short flight from Tokyo, I landed in sunny San Francisco to start a 3-week journey across northern California and Nevada with the hope of watching 25 sporting events during that time.

I was quickly reminded about how things don't work as well in America as in Japan. There was the 40 minute wait at immigration including a rather thorough questioning by the final inspector. He asked me what sports I was planning to see, so I started enumerating my schedule (today in San Francisco, tomorrow in Sacramento, Friday in Stanford...) and he seemed bemused, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. Surely nobody spends 3 weeks just watching sports. As I entered the 10th day his eyes glazed over and he waved me through, shaking his head in what I will assume to be awe.

When I got to my hotel, the room key was inoperative which necessitated two trips back to the front desk. Once I got in, the wi-fi didn't work and the TV remote was on the blink. I don't need the remote as I just put the tube on ESPN and leave it there for the day, but I do need Internet access. After a few minutes though, it was fixed, and now I'm able to bring you this exciting post.

Getting to the Park

I was staying out near the airport and took CalTrain to get downtown. There is a small, free parking lot at South San Francisco station which is just 20 minutes from the city. An all-day train pass for zone 1 is just $5 (the same as 2 one-way tickets, but you avoid the hassle of buying a ticket on the return leg) and drops you off right next to AT&T Park. If you are coming from the south and want to avoid the trouble of driving downtown, stop in here and take the train. Note that one station further south is zone 2 and the one-day pass jumps up to $9. As well, service is quite rare, about once an hour during the afternoon and limited after the game. There is a 10:40 scheduled train and if you miss that, the last train of the evening is at midnight. I am not sure if they run extra trains after Giant games.

If you drive downtown, parking is $20 close to the stadium and cheaper as you get further out. There are other options such as BART and the Muni that may be better depending on where you are coming from.

Another Roadtripper

Before the game, I had a chance to meet up with Andrew Van Cleve, who is another sports roadtripper. I first met Andrew last year in Chicago where he resides, but he is a native of San Francisco and is here visiting his parents. We toured around the ballpark environs with his father and caught up over a beer. When it came time to get tickets though, we couldn't find three in a row at a reasonable price, so we had to split up. But he did provide me with one piece of interesting news - StubHub sells tickets right up to game time. As one would expect, prices drop dramatically as first pitch nears, so if you live close to the stadium and can print out the ticket and head over.

AT&T Park

Before I met Andrew, I did the ballpark walkaround. There are plenty of reminders that San Francisco won the 2010 World Series scattered about, a few are shown below:

The park is still beautiful on the outside and in perhaps the most scenic location of any MLB stadium:

However, I noticed how the crowd has changed since the Giants won the World Series. There are far more casual fans here and this made things inside insanely crowded. Lineups for the men's room were extremely long even before the game started and didn't let up all night long. Walking the lower concourse between innings was a struggle. Fortunately, the Giants offer plenty of standing room, so I was able to move around and find a good spot for most of the game, away from the wandering masses.

I'm going to postpone a detailed review of the park until I come back next week as I didn't have time to really tour the inside. You really have to get in as soon as the gates open to beat the crowd and enjoy the park in relative calm.

The Game

I hadn't slept in about 28 hours when first pitch happened at 7:18 pm. I was worried about falling asleep but the Giants and Dodgers put on an entertaining affair that kept me enthralled and reminded me just how good baseball can be.

Tim Lincecum (above) started for San Francisco while the Dodgers sent Chad Billingsley to the hill. The first three innings were scoreless although neither hurler was overpowering. In the 4th, LA managed 4 hits around a Brandon Belt error to score 3 runs. Giants fans started booing here. Yeah, your team sucks people, and Lincecum is crap. I mean, you are one week into defending a championship with one of the game's premier pitchers on the mound and you are upset at a 3-0 deficit? Casual fans are also fairweather fans, and those types dominate when a team wins; they are also the quickest to leave at the first sign of difficulty.

Anyway, the Giants got 2 back in their half of the fourth on back-to-back RBI hits from Buster Posey and Pedro Sandoval. In the 5th they took the lead on RBI singles by Aaron Rowand and Posey. The fairweather fans went crazy. They don't seem to understand baseball is a long, long season. Manic ups and downs this early is just silly.

Tony Gwynn Jr. went 0-5. Dad was not impressed.

Lincecum continued to struggle and was finally removed in the 6th with the bases loaded and only one out. Guillermo Mota relieved and got two key outs to maintain the 1-run lead. But Jeremy Affeldt took over in the 7th and promptly gave up a solo homer to pinch-hitter Marcus Thames. Boooooooo! Affeldt is terrible! Booooooo!

The baseball gods must have been snoozing tonight, because the Giants fans were immediately rewarded for their hostility. Rowand led off the bottom half of the 7th and promptly crushed the first pitch from Blake Hawksworth to the deepest part of the park, legging out a triple. Hawksworth then unleashed a wild pitch and Rowand raced home to give the Giants the 5-4 lead and the fans responded appropriately.

After a scoreless eighth, Brian Wilson (above) came in to pitch the 9th. His ERA was 33.75 after one disastrous appearance, but he showed no signs of letting it bother him, striking out the side in 14 pitches to lower the ERA to 19.29. The crowd went wild; disaster had been averted as the Giants won to move to 5-6.

For me, it was a wonderful way to start the trip. A ton of energy in the park, and although I am slightly exaggerating, some of it was negative which surprised me. The whole season should be fun for the Giants' fans, their team is not likely to repeat so this is the time to revel in last year's success. Leave the booing to Oakland fans, at least those who are still there.

Next Up

I'm in Sacramento now where I spent the afternoon watching the AAA River Cats take on Toronto's affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s. In the evening, I managed to find a good ticket to what is likely to be the final NBA game in Sacramento. Check back for reports tomorrow.



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