AT&T Park, known for its first four years as "Pac Bell Park," is widely regarded as the finest of all the retro-, neoclassical baseball stadiums built in the last few years. It is beautiful in almost every way, from the Bay scenic backdrop to the palm trees to the brick construction, though there are a few tacky commercialisms such as the big Coke bottle. (Actually, that is perfectly consistent with the billboard-plastered ballparks of the good old days.) That huge old-style fielder's mitt behind the left field bleachers is a neat touch, if perhaps overblown in the nostalgia department. There is a kids' playground behind those bleachers, as a way to keep the restless kids of today occupied when the action on the field lags.
Just as Yankee Stadium became known as "the House that Babe Ruth Built," Pac Bell Park may become known as "the House that Barry Bonds Built." Both are/were pull-hitting left-handed sluggers, but the very short 309-foot distance to right field in AT&T Park is offset by the 20-foot height of the wall plus the prevailing winds that blow from right to left field. The distance to the left field fence is slightly above average, but the 382-foot marker exaggerates that a little, since it is positioned much closer to center field than to the left field corner. The very deep (421-foot) distance to the corner on the right side of center field is a very welcome (and rare, these days) opportunity for triples and -- dare we dream? -- inside-the-park home runs! Some say that AT&T Park is decidedly unfriendly to batters, and there were only 114 home runs there in 2002, fewer than in any other stadium, but I'm not completely convinced. The combination of the asymmetrical outfield dimensions plus the proximity to the Bay waters (SPLASH!) makes this an utterly unique ballpark. Where else do baseball spectators get around in kayaks? The seats are very close to the playing field, and the distance behind home plate is only 54 feet; there is a brick wall behind the below-ground-level ultra-close box seats, however, suggesting that there may be a plan to remove these seats and create more room in back of home plate later on. Downside: putting the bullpens along the foul lines exposes relief pitchers to line drives, especially in a park such as this where foul territory is so scant.
One feature that makes AT&T Park particularly attractive is that it was built almost entirely with private financing. The total construction cost was $319 million, and the San Francisco municipal government kicked in a mere $15 as a loan guarantee. (From the perspective of baseball franchise owners, however, this is a major embarrassment, and some have suggested Bud Selig will therefore delay holding an All-Star Game in Pac Bell for as long as possible.) In its first two years in operation, Pac Bell Park was sold out for almost every single game, and the attendance figures in every day's game were exactly the same: 40,930. Since then, the capacity has been increased by several hundred, but I haven't detected any newly built permanent seats, so I assume they just allow more standing-room-only spectators. Average attendance relative to capacity in 2002 was an astonishing 96.9 percent, even higher than at Fenway Park. (Indeed, official attendance at almost every one of the 2002 postseason games approached 43,000.) People can watch from ground level through the brick arches in the right field brick wall, as well as from the narrow walkway on top of that wall. To the left of the "jog" by the 365-foot marker, there is a small (elevated) bleacher section.
From both a player's perspective and a spectator's perspective, this is unquestionably a much more comfortable ballpark than the old Candlestick Park, a.k.a. "3-Com Stadium." It does get rather windy and chilly in the evenings, but it's (usually) not as bad as before. Being close to downtown Frisco makes it a much more attractive after-work entertainment option than the old place was.
After the 2003 season, the stadium was renamed "SBC Park" to more accurately reflect the ownership structure of the stadium's naming patron; SBC is the parent company of Pacific Bell, Southwestern Bell, Cellular One, etc., etc. After SBC bought AT&T (which was the parent organization of Pacific Bell, once upon a time) in 2005, the stadium was renamed "AT&T Park." Go figure.
Even though it was built expressly as a baseball stadium (unlike its predecessor Candlestick Park), AT&T Park WAS used for football games when the San Francisco Demons XFL team played their home games there in the spring 2001 season -- the XFL's only season. AT&T Park has also hosted the Emerald Bowl. They set up temporary bleachers in right field, and it actually was not a bad arrangement.
SOURCE: Washington Post, Street & Smith's 2003 Baseball Yearbook
FAN TIP: Brandon Henderson ("Demons"!)