Giants mascot Lou Seal has a lot of friends in the mascot world. He usually travels to visit some of his buddies at their home ballparks each season, and some of his pals drop by AT&T Park from time to time.
Today, Lou played host to Gapper, the mascot of the Cincinnati Reds, who was kind enough to take time off from chasing Lou around the field to greet some of the Junior Giants gathered on the field for Junior Giants Day festivities.
The kids, nearly 5,000 of them, clearly enjoyed the day. They got to parade around the field before the game, holding signs proudly declaring their league — from Oregon to Las Vegas to San Luis Obispo. They loved seeing themselves on the Astrovision screen, and a few even got a special surprise treat as Moises Alou stopped to sign some autographs on his way off the field after working out with trainer Stan Conte. It did bring the parade to a screeching halt, of course.
Junior Giants were involved in all of the game presentation, from the national anthem to the first pitch to the seventh-inning stretch. Each kid got some sort of Giants souvenir, and they got to enjoy a Giants victory on top of everything.
Tonight, thanks to a night off, I got to actually use my own season tickets and enjoy the game from the Arcade section (the view is actually much better than my photo at right makes it seem — you can judge pitches quite nicely from these seats).
As I made my way to the seats from underneath the center field scoreboard, since Marina Gate is my favorite gate of the four at AT&T Park to enter, I passed the ballpark operations crew that runs the water cannons, the Barry Bonds home run counter and the intentional walks chicken toteboard. For those who don’t know, the Giants keep track of the number of intentional walks issued to their players by a tally next to a cartoon representation of a chicken and a string of rubber chickens hanging on a line, one chicken per intentional free pass. It started in 2004, when Barry Bonds was racking up intentional walks so fast, he outpaced every other entire team in baseball by a huge margin. The Giants even started selling a special orange, SF-branded rubber chicken named "Walk’er" as part of "Operation Cluck."
A few of the chickens hanging from the wire affixed to the Arcade in foul territory down the right-field line are a special breed — they’re known as "Neifi chickens," named in honor of former Giants infielder Neifi Perez, who, as the frequent No. 8 batter in the order ahead of the pitcher, received three intentional walks in 2004. Perez has pretty skinny legs, so Giants broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper found a particularly scrawny chicken on the string, circled it with the telestrator and dubbed it the "Neifi chicken."
Now, what causes a Neifi chicken? Is it the runt of the flock that didn’t get enough rubbery feed at the rubber farm? Does the cold weather cause some birds to shrink to conserve energy in some weird form of adaptive evolution?
Nope. Turns out, as I have witnessed out on the Arcade before games, the chickens must have air blown into them to puff them out, and yes, this is something the gameday staff have to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation style. It appears some rubber chickens don’t get as much of the breath of life as others.
Boy, it seemed like forever since there’d been a game at AT&T Park before the Giants returned home and kicked off a 10-game stay with Orange Friday. They’re back, finally, and plenty of cool things are on tap at the yard, which has already seen a nice retirement ceremony for Kirk Rueter and today’s Strike Out Cancer commemoration. (Side note: PA announcer Renel Brooks-Moon did an excellent rendition of the national anthem, accompanied on keyboards by the ballpark’s DJ, Michael Addicott, aka DJ Addi.)
This week is the very popular Heritage Week, starting with the season’s second Irish Heritage Night on Monday and continuing with Italian Heritage Night, Jewish Heritage Night, African American Heritage Night and the first Mexican Heritage Night. Fans with special tickets, available online, can redeem them at the game for a nifty heritage-themed item, like a Giants cap in Hebrew or the very cool Giants sombrero.
Monday is also "Law and Disorder" Legal Professionals Night, where judges, lawyers, law students, friends and family who purchase special tickets will be treated to an evening of baseball, drinks, live music and a speaking engagement by Jack Bair, the Giants’ general counsel and a pretty good baseball player himself.
On Saturday, the Giants will welcome nearly 5,000 participants in the Junior Giants program to Junior Giants Day at the ballpark. The Giants Community Fund helps more than 13,000 kids get the chance to play baseball in areas that otherwise might not have that opportunity, while also providing them with life lessons about character, leadership, teamwork and other positive qualities. For some, this is their first chance to see a Major League game in person. I can’t say enough about this wonderful no-fee, non-competitive program, and it’s a treat to see these kids get to parade around the field before the game.
Finally, the first 20,000 fans at Sunday’s game will get a pack of Emerald Nuts trading cards. And don’t forget that kids get to run the bases after every Sunday home game. Line up along the Portwalk outside the free viewing arches for that.
One of my very favorite promotional days is slated for Saturday: the 10th annual Dog Days of Summer at AT&T Park. Hundreds of dogs and their humans will be at the park to participate in a pregame parade and costume contest, which you really have to see to believe. Then they get to watch the game from a special "dog zone" in the bleachers, and they go home with a goody bag, which this year includes a bag of dog food, some "party mix" dog treats and a nice black dog bandanna, all supplied by the fine folks of Purina.
Now, I really like dogs. But what’s especially neat about Dog Days is how much a lot of the players like dogs, even bringing their own pooches to the yard that day. You’ll see plenty of them hanging over the rail of the dugout with huge grins on their faces as the dogs parade by, some of them even dressed to resemble those same players.
Representatives from "Late Show with David Letterman" will be on hand from 4 p.m. until the fifth inning to audition candidates for the show’s "Stupid Pet Tricks" segment.
While fans need a special ticket to bring their dogs to the yard, anybody going to the game will enjoy the experience. The first 40,000 humans in attendance will get a fan courtesy of Purina.
As I arrived for last night’s game, pulling into the parking lot was quite different from the last homestand, when the Bay Area, like most of California, was suffering through a record heat wave. Not only had the temperatures returned to normal, the notorious wind was threatening to take off my door as I got out of my car.
The wind is an interesting phenomenon at AT&T Park. During the All-Star Game this year, the media made a big deal (and rightfully so) of the stunning downtown views at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Originally, AT&T Park was designed to sit 90 degrees counterclockwise to where it sits now, with the outfield views featuring the Bay Bridge and downtown San Francisco looking north. But a wind study showed that orientation would have made the park more windy than the infamous gusts of Candlestick Point, so the decision was made to situate the park as it is now, where the shoulders of the yard absorb the worst of the wind. That decision also gave us the fun of McCovey Cove and the trademark of Splash Hits over the right-field wall, of course.
That said, the wind still can play havoc at AT&T Park. The open archways out in right field (where fans can stand and watch the game for free) allow gusts to come in and create a weird vortex in shallow right field and behind second base. Balls often smack into a wall of air and drop nearly straight down there, making Ray Durham‘s ability to field popups back there pretty impressive. Last night, Randy Winn noted after catching a long fly that the wind was also swirling in deep right. There’s also a jet stream headed straight out to the Bud Light sign in left field — a ball hit at the right height directly to that sign will often carry and carry and carry, right over the fence for a homer. And catchers often look like drunks stumbling out of a bar fielding popups at the plate. Wind coming over the top of the ballpark can take any ball hit just high enough and push it in crazy directions.
But the nice thing is that for the most part, the ballpark does a great job of cutting down the wind that attacks fans sitting in the main seating sections. My season tickets, out in the Arcade, get a little buffeted, but nothing like when I went to games out at Candlestick. And folks sitting in the top few rows of the View level also take more of a hit from wind coming over the top of the yard.
Of course, many of those folks also get to experience some of the most breathtaking views available at AT&T Park, a fair trade, if you ask me. (Check out my 360-degree shot from the View Level here.)