April 2009

You don’t see that every day

There have been some odd sights at AT&T Park lately. First, a snake threw out the first pitch on Earth Day:

earthday_snake.jpgChris Andrews, chief of public programs and director of the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences, holds Balthazar, a red-tail boa constrictor, while throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Then yesterday, as part of Star Trek Night, a number of fans participated in a pregame costume contest. Before the final judging, J.J. Abrams, director of the upcoming “Star Trek” movie, greeted fans on the video board, which also showed a trailer of the film. Here are the lucky costume contest finalists:
startrekfinalists.jpgstartrekwinner.jpgDon’t think ill of the dude in the middle: He’s being introduced to the crowd and soliciting applause as part of the judging. Speaking of which, Paramount Pictures representatives, folks from event sponsor Esurance and Giants relief pitcher Bob Howry picked the winner, based on applause and their own opinions. The lovely green gal (speaking of Earth Day) at right was the lucky choice — she got admission to a special advance screening of “Star Trek” and presumably a wicked case of frostbite. Seriously, it was bitterly cold and windy at the yard last night, and she deserved to win if only for the brave amount of skin she exposed.

There will be more colorful characters at the ballpark Wednesday night when the Giants host their annual Carnaval Night. Drop by Willie Mays Plaza and Lefty O’Doul Plaza starting at 5 p.m. for pregame entertainment featuring Latin dancers and drummers.

Friday night is the first of three editions of the wildly popular Singles Night, with a pregame party in Scoreboard Plaza, and don’t forget that the Willie Mays Gate opens an hour earlier than normal (4:15 p.m.) that night so fans can watch the Giants take batting practice.

Pac-Man fever hits AT&T Park

Yeah, I’m reusing the headline I wrote on the Giants homepage, but it’s too perfect not to. On Tuesday at AT&T Park, there was a stir the likes of which I haven’t seen the height of the Barry Bonds home run chases. Boxing champion Manny Pacquiao appeared as part of the first Filipino Heritage Night of the year, and he drew attention like a rock star wherever he went.

pacquiaobobble.jpgIn addition to a huge media contingent, from boxing magazines and Web sites to HBO to local Filipino newspapers. channels and sites, the crowd was swelled by an extra 11,000 tickets sold just for Filipino Heritage Night. That translated into a nice $50,000 check presented by the Giants to local Filipino groups.

Last year, the first Filipino Heritage Night smashed all records for tickets sold to one of these special group nights, with over 5,000 tickets purchased. The Giants even had to issue vouchers for the commemorative T-shirt because they ran out. This year, the giveaway was an extremely cool Pacquiao bobblehead, which is now a hot item on eBay. There was also a special T-shirt with Pacquiao’s nifty Nike logo in orange on sale at the ballpark. You can see Amy Gutierrez wearing the shirt in this video:

likhagroup.jpgBefore Pacquiao entered the field for the ceremonial first pitch to a HUGE ovation, there was a nice dance performance by the very colorful Likha Pilipino Folk Ensemble. Because people were rushing around in preparation for Pacquiao’s entrance, they kept walking in front of the camera, so this video is very short and features a jump-cut in the middle, but you get the idea:

Plenty more Heritage Nights and special group events are planned, including a second edition of Filipino Heritage Night, with a cool Filipino-themed Giants T-shirt, on Sept. 16.

Youth movement

youthbaseball.jpg

Youth baseball players use their giveaway bats to get Mike Krukow’s attention during the Q&A, as a member of the Orange and Black Attack holds the microphone.

When I arrived at AT&T Park around 10 a.m. Sunday, the first-base side of the lower deck was already teeming with young fans, enjoying the Giants’ annual Youth Baseball Day. Hundreds of Little Leaguers, Pony Leaguers, Police Athletic Leaguers and more enjoyed a question-and-answer session, hosted by broadcaster and former Major Leaguer Mike Krukow and featuring bullpen coach Mark Gardner, pitchers Jeremy Affeldt and Joe Martinez and infielder Emmanuel Burriss.

affeldt_talk.jpgAffeldt (above), as usual, was a riot. When asked what his favorite pregame meal is, he jokingly gave the parent-approved answer of “salad! And fruit!” Another young player asked if he enjoyed motorcycling, and he replied that since his bosses were around, “No! I do NOT enjoy motorcycles.”

martinez_talk.jpgMartinez, still sporting the wicked black eye he suffered along with a concussion and three hairline skull fractures when hit by a line drive on April 9, gamely answered questions about whether it hurt to get hit and how many strikeouts he has this season. He said his most embarrassing moment in baseball was making it on SportsCenter for the first time but having it be for getting cracked in the head with the ball (hey Joe, nothing to be embarrassed about there — your doctor called you superhuman). Martinez was asked to demonstrate his pitching motion, but Krukow quickly interjected and reminded the crowd that Martinez is restricted from any physical activity for at least another three or four weeks.

After the Q&A, the kids got to participate in a pregame parade around the field before enjoying the game from their bleacher seats. The budding pitchers in the crowd got a great lesson from Randy Johnson, who no-hit the D-backs for six innings in earning his 296th career win. Tip No. 1, kids: Scowl.

Speaking of Johnson, before the game, nine of the youth players took the field before the Giants’ starting lineup joined them to sign a ball. Steve Gilbert, our MLB.com D-backs reporter, told me that while with Arizona, Johnson never participated in such on-field events when he was starting (presumably because it would disturb his focus). However, the Big Unit jogged out, shook the hand of a young player wearing a Braves shirt, signed a ball, then shook the kid’s hand again before beginning his warmup throws. Clearly, his focus wasn’t affected — perhaps he should get that young player to show up before all his starts.

Early birds catch Giants BP

Last night, the Giants opened the AT&T Park gates an hour earlier than normal for the first time this season, part of a special program where they’ll do that for every Friday and Saturday night home game so fans can see the entirety of the Giants’ batting practice.

Previously, the gates opening two hours before gametime would mean the earliest arriving fans would see perhaps the tail end of the Giants taking BP and all of the visitors. Now, with the gates opening three hours prior on Friday and Saturday nights, fans can see the home team stretch, take infield and swing away.

Each early opening will include an “Orange Plate Special” at the concession stands (last night, it was a meal deal of a hot dog, peanuts and soda) and 20 BP baseballs will be specially marked so fans who end up with them can redeem them for a prize.

Don’t I know you?

caincalendar.jpgAs we sit here hoping the rain holds off long enough to get at least part of this game in (it’s been dry for the last hour), some of the players participated in the now-traditional ritual of handing out Opening Day calendars to unsuspecting fans as they entered the gates at AT&T Park.

While most fans were thrilled to get their calendar from Matt Cain and snap a few photos, one gentleman held up his hand and shook his head when Cain offered a calendar.

At another gate, some fans couldn’t identify new reliever Jeremy Affeldt, but he took it in stride when one fan wished “Brian” a great season. “I’m not Brian [Wilson], but thanks!” Affeldt cheerfully replied.

Below, a young fan is so engrossed by the calendar, he doesn’t even notice a player is the one handing it to him. After being told, he stared with his mouth open for a full minute.

affeldtcalendar.jpg

Giants add green to orange and black

No, the title doesn’t refer to one of those hideous Giants/A’s split caps — it’s describing the Giants’ recent announcement of efforts to be the greenest ballpark in the Majors.

By the end of the year, the Giants plan to have AT&T Park become the first Major League facility to earn U.S. Green Building Council certification for  Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings, Operations and Maintenance. Conservation steps they’ve already taken include being the first MLB  park to install a solar energy system, advances in irrigation practices (including a cool-sounding “irrigation clock” that receives weather conditions, including “evapotranspiration” information, to establish watering times) and adding energy-efficient office equipment to the executive offices.

Two of the cooler green inititatives fans will notice:

The Green Team — Employees wearing special uniforms and badges made from recycled material will help fans with recycling and composting of ballpark trash. During the seventh-inning stretch, fans can pass their trash to Green Team members.

greengarlic.jpgThe green garlic fries stand — The popular promenade level garlic fries stand behind home plate has been converted into a sustainable concession stand. It has new Henny Penny open fryers (love that name), a Coca-Cola Energy Management System Cooler, more efficient lighting, signs made from 100 percent biodegrable and recyclable materials, environmentally friendly paint, recyclable drink cups and compostable trays. The energy saved by this stand is enough to fry 110 tons of garlic fries a season. Fun fact: 800 pounds of garlic fries are made at this stand every game.

Oh, the entire ballpark is now a no-smoking facility — the smoking areas are no more.

American hero, American Idol

The Giants held their annual media day Wednesday, with tons of information about what will be happening at AT&T Park this season. It’s too much to share in one post, so I’ll dole out the highlights over the next couple of days, but if you want to consume the info all at once, here’s a 15-page PDF with all the details.

sullenberger.jpgOpening Week will be special as always, and they’ve already started hanging the bunting at the ballpark. Opening Day on Tuesday will have an especially American theme, as the first pitch will be thrown out by national hero Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who safely landed a jet in New York’s Hudson River, saving the lives of all the passengers and crew. He’s a local guy from the East Bay town of Danville.

The national anthem will be sung by Taylor Hicks, who won the fifth season of “American Idol” and is now starring as Teen Angel in the national production of “Grease” currently performing in San Francisco.

The next game is Opening Night, and in addition to the traditional postgame fireworks show, it’ll be the night Tim Lincecum officially receives his 2008 National League Cy Young Award (the first 20,000 pins get a Lincecum Cy Young pin). Randy Johnson makes his Giants debut as well, looking to notch one of the five wins he needs for 300.

To close out the three-game homestand vs. the Brewers, the Giants will be the inaugural game for MLB Network‘s Thursday Night Baseball (a special 4:05 p.m. start time for that) and the Giants are going to have a Fan Appreciation Day, much like the one traditionally held at the end of the season with lots of prizes given out to random fans.