This is a new weekly feature in which I (and maybe you, too, readers) detail the various reasons for hating your ballpark. This week: The San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park.
Throw it back: AT&T Park (formerly SBC Park and originally Pac Bell Park) was one of architecture firm HOK's cutesy, retro-chic nostalgia palaces, all red brick and synthetic quirkiness, set down in a neighborhood built on a landfill and quickly trending toward Web 2.0-era schlock. This, you're meant to think, as you sip your Chardonnay and lazily check your e-mail via free Wi-Fi and gaze beyond the giant Coke bottle and the giant glove at the moneyed layabouts plying the Bay in their sailboats, this is how baseball used to be. (There's an old story, probably apocryphal, that the architects had intended to stick the bullpens in center field, but somehow forgot when the time came to build them, so consumed were they by the ballpark's outward appearance. That's why they're now in foul territory, a la Wrigley. I love this story. It's like a little parable.) These throwback ballparks are the brick equivalent of a Ken Burns documentary — is it any coincidence that Burns' Baseball arrived in the thick of the retro craze? — a window not on any actual history but on how baseball wants its history to be seen. It's a lot of infantilizing crap.
Private Benjamins: For years now, the Giants have billed AT&T Park as "the first privately financed ballpark in Major League Baseball since 1962." This is true if you don't count an estimated $25 million in municipal fire, police and garbage services; $33 million for the land itself, donated by the city; $83 million in property-tax exemptions; and on and on. (These numbers come by way of Baseball Prospectus, subscription required, from a study of hidden stadium costs by urban planner Judith Grant Long.) This has been the Giants' greatest public-relations coup, convincing San Franciscans they were getting a great civic landmark for free when in fact the public was footing 40 percent of the bill — and for a stadium enjoyed primarily by people from San Jose.
Absolutely fabulist: I don't expect a rigorous approach to history from a baseball stadium, but I also don't expect a baseball stadium to treat history like Boris from the Politburo with an X-Acto knife. In 2003, after the death of Bobby Bonds, the team unfurled a number of banners around the stadium in his honor, reading (if memory serves) "Giant For Life." This would've been a touching tribute, except that Bobby Bonds was famously and bitterly not a Giant for life, having been traded away in the game's first star-for-star blockbuster. On its own, maybe this wasn't so bad, but then came the treatment of his son. For 15 years, the team sold Barry Bonds and sold him hard, but last year, with Bonds at last off the roster and prevailing sentiment now aligned against them, the Giants all but sandblasted him out of their stadium, taking down the banners and murals commemorating his pursuit of Hank Aaron's record. Whatever you think of Bonds, this was very much his house, the dimensions tailored expressly for his bat. You can't just pretend him away. But the Giants tried, turning their ballpark into a massive, twee memorial to the team's animating philosophy that its loyal fans are a bunch of distracted, slobbering morons.
Testimonial: This isn't an AT&T Park story, per se, but I will always associate the place with an uncomfortable afternoon once spent in the company of Joe Morgan, back in 2004, at the height of his anti-Moneyball tubthumping. What I remember most vividly is that we made our way from the field up to the press box, and at pretty much every stop, he would jerk his thumb in my direction and announce to anyone in the vicinity that I was a fan of Moneyball and wanted to know why he wasn't. He'd laugh. They'd laugh. And I left the ballpark that sunny day feeling like the whole place was some sort of terrible funhouse, with carnies popping out of every corner to say, "Boo!"
Next up: Nationals Park. Got any horrible experiences to share? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.