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Life out here: A viewpoint by Bret Kofford: Man on a mission

June 06, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO n I thought God was messing with me again when I arrived in San Francisco and it was 101 degrees.

I was certain this work-related foray to Babylon by the Bay would bring me some relief from the Imperial Valley heat, but I soon realized that God, being all-knowing and all that, had a plan for me.

Yes, he wanted me, a qualified journalist (I got me a license) to not only experience San Francisco's renowned new Pacific Bell Park but to do so in conditions that San Diego sometimes faces and San Francisco almost never does. He's always thinking a few innings ahead, that Big Manager in the Sky.

It was a miserable night at the ballpark, yet a beautiful one. San Francisco Giants' hero Barry Bonds hit the first pitch he faced that night over the right field wall, the right field walkway and into McCovey Cove. That moon shot tied Bonds with both longtime San Francisco Giant/giant of a human being Willie McCovey, after whom the cove is named, and Ted Williams, another giant in many ways. Later Bonds hit his second home run of the night, leaving McCovey and Williams behind and moving up to 11th on the all-time home run list.

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All that was wonderful for a lifelong Giants' fan in his first game at Pac Bell Park. I felt blessed to see it, to feel it. Then the Giants lost, so it all stunk.

My petty feelings be damned, though. I was on a journalistic mission to determine whether the off-again, on-again downtown stadium would be a good thing for both San Diego and us in the Imperial Valley, since some of us spend many nights and days watching the Padres play in the relative spring/summer/fall cool of San Diego.

After close study, my analysis-based determination on the aforementioned question? I don't know.

The Giants needed to get out of Candlestick Park, which, as I recall, became 3Com Park when the whole corporate sponsorship reared its serpent head. "The Stick," as it was known, was dirty, ugly and gray. It was on a point in San Francisco where the wind kicked up cold and mean almost every afternoon about 2, and by the evening The Stick felt like Fairbanks in February.

I attended countless games at the Stick in my youth. I remember wearing a sweatshirt, down jacket, gloves and a wool cap pulled over my ears … and still freezing. The faint of heart and mind were not real Giants' fans, at least not Giants' fans who went to The Stick. To be a Giants' fan at The Stick one had to be a tad sadistic.

Yet The Stick bonded Giants' fans and players. We were all in this ugly old icebox together, and for that we loved each other. Ironically, old-time Giants' fans were and are spiritually more like Oakland Raiders' fans — blue collar and surly — whereas Oakland A's fans are more like San Francisco 49ers' faithful, as in, "Where did we park the Volvo, Ian?"

The first time I went to a major league park other than The Stick or Oakland I asked my host, "How come there aren't any fights in the stands?" That game was in San Diego. At The Stick there were always good brawls between both Giants' fans and fans from other teams and Giants' fans and other Giants' fans. My theory was it was just a way to try to stay warm. I tried it once and it worked. There were fights at A's games, but my theory was it was just transplanted Giants' fans showing the lightweights how to really enjoy a night at the old ballpark.

Pac Bell Park, though, is a marvelous place. It is intimate, cute, clean and faces the bay. It has all kinds of attractions and amusements to entertain kids and others who don't like to watch a good game.

It appears some of the old, crusty Giants' fans have found their way to Pac Bell, although many no doubt are either dead, in prison or on home release. Many, however, may not feel they fit at this sweet and ritzy place. Still, even if all the old Giants' faithful made the move to Pac Bell, it still wouldn't be enough to support a baseball franchise in these big-money baseball days.

One issue to consider in the San Diego ballpark is the Padres don't have the hard-core faithful the Giants do. I have gone to many Padres-Giants games in San Diego, openly rooted for the Giants and left without a scratch. The reverse would have never have happened at The Stick (although at Pac Bell Park it might).

I was one of those who said the Padres didn't need one of these new, cozy, downtown, retro baseball homes. I thought Qualcommunism Park was a nice and better-than-adequate facility. Now, though, I have visited one such new/old-style park and I know such facilities can work in many ways.

One thing I noticed during this visit is the city of San Francisco seems more tuned in than ever to the Giants. And while many folks might not have had the fortitude, or the parkas, to endure The Stick, the Giants long ago made their way into the soul of the city. The Giants simply make San Francisco a better place.

Have the Padres captured the soul of the city? Do they make San Diego a better place?

If the answer to those last two questions is "no," or even "maybe," a fancy new ballpark won't make a huge difference.

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