At Pacific Bell Park, the gleaming, new home of the San Francisco Giants, you can slide down a gigantic Coke bottle, eat sushi and get your e-mail. At Boston's venerable Fenway Park, once you settle in with a couple of dogs and a cold one, it's all about baseball.
One balmy evening in August, a ragged line of fans unrolled a long cloth banner out in the bleachers of Fenway Park. Its red painted message read, "Stacey, will you marry me?"
We hope that Stacey saw the sign, because a combination of wind and boisterous banner holders made her beloved's proposal a little difficult to read. If only he could have asked his question on the giant screen that juts above the bleachers, but the Sox don't post personal messages. "I probably get about 40 requests a season," says James Shannahan, the broadcasting manager for the Boston Red Sox. "But we just don't do things like that."
It's a pity the couple doesn't live in San Francisco. Giants fans who have something to say to the world can post a message on the scoreboard at spanking-new Pacific Bell Park for 75 bucks, and the proceeds are donated to the Giants Community Fund.
Fenway is the oldest ball yard in the majors, a creaky but beloved symbol in a town that glories in tradition. Pacific Bell is one of the newest of the retro stadiums (others include Baltimore's Camden Yards and Detroit's Comerica Park). Both parks use technology, and a lot of it, but the similarities end there. You go to Fenway to watch baseball. Technology, old and new, is a servant to the ball game. At Pac Bell, or the Phone Booth, as locals call it, technology furthers the cause of entertainment. And that doesn't always mean baseball.
When it comes right down to it, the new ballparks are more destination resorts than pure baseball venues. Although his cell phone rings to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," Pac Bell CIO Bill Schlough is really more concerned with customer service than ERAs or slugging averages. But that's what baseball is all about at many modern parks: entertaining the customer, be it through video arcades, trendy food or Internet access.
Technology-past and future
Technological gizmos start right at the front gate of Pac Bell with electronic turnstiles that scan bar codes on the tickets-a feature that cuts down on counterfeiting and tracks attendance and crowd flow. Fans can purchase tickets or pick up preordered ones at any of 11 kiosks scattered inside and outside the park. The Fenway faithful still either stand in line at the ticket window or use pen-and-ink-based technology to create a sign begging for tickets. And they'll find a real human tearing their tickets, probably the same guy that's been there for 30 years.
Pac Bell has 200 miles of fibre optic and copper cable woven through its infrastructure, as well as its own satellite hookups and camera ports to accommodate television broadcast. Fenway also has lots of wires, but they're hardly a built-in feature-one serpentine coil even drapes over an outside balcony near the administrative offices.
When it comes to keeping score, Pacific Bell relies on a minty-fresh, state-of-the-art scoreboard. Although Fenway also has a brand-new scoreboard, tradition demands that members of Red Sox Nation look first to the old hand-operated scoreboard built into the left-field wall (a.k.a. the Green Monster). There, part-time employees record the game score and keep fans posted on the status of other American League games. Their workplace? A concrete bunker that's sans sanitation and rich with rats. The walls are scrawled with decades of graffiti, and "at night you can hear the people out partying on Lansdowne Street," says scorekeeper Stephanie Joy. As they've done for years, the guys in the control room phone the out-of-town scores down to the scoreboard operators, and they update them every inning.
The control rooms at the parks are also very different, but more in tone than technology. Both have sweeping views of the park, but that's about the only thing they have in common. The Giants outsourced their control-room duties to Fox Sports, and the staffers are all broadcasting experts that work other gigs around town. The atmosphere is tense and focused. Even silly gimmicks like the big cheer-off that happens each game requires a separate electronic set-up in the control booth to monitor the crowd noise. Everybody in the Fenway control room, on the other hand, works directly for the Red Sox, and they share a common bond: love of baseball. "It's very mellow here," points out one control-room worker. "The emphasis is on baseball, not show and glitz."
YOU CAN ALWAYS WATCH A BASEBALL GAME AT PACIFIC BELL...BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO.
The stadium is almost more amusement park than ballpark. Start the evening by strolling over to the kid's play area tucked behind the left-field bleachers. It's easy to get there: Just head for the gigantic Coca-Cola bottle. Then get in line to slither down any one of four curvy slides hidden within the soda's superstructure. After that, it's on to the mini-Pac Bell park, an exact replica down to a real live-action scoreboard. Kids can take swings and race through the bases to their hearts' content.
Even the mini-park may be too much baseball for some. For those jaded souls who want to pretend they're not even at a ball game, there's always the video arcade under the center field bleachers. You can even play video hockey if that's what lights up your strike zone.
The Giants have also scattered four sleek little kiosks around the park, where attendees can cruise a few selected websites and check e-mail.
THERE'S NO E-MAIL AT FENWAY.
In fact, from some seats there isn't even a view. But still, the Sox sell out game after game, and it's certainly not because it's the winningest team in baseball. It's the park.
Author John Updike called Fenway a "lyric little bandbox," and the stadium's age and intimacy make it truly a place that's all about the game. Then there's the atmosphere, a rich brew concocted from generations of cheers, beers and tears.
Going to a Sox game is equal parts sporting event and history lesson. Fans can search out the red seat that marks Ted Williams's 502-foot home run, the longest recorded in-the-park blast. They can gaze at Pesky's pole, named for former infielder Johnny Pesky.
Probably the most recognizable Fenway icon, however, is the Green Monster, 37 feet high and 240 feet long. The Monster houses the manual scoreboard, which sports the initials of Thomas Yawkey and his wife, Jean, in Morse code.
And what's an old-time stadium without an organist? Richard Giglio, the park's resident music man, perches on a plywood platform in the control room. "It's the highest seat in the park," he notes proudly. garlic fries vs. sausage The Giants have had only six months to start building traditions, although they did haul some memorabilia from their former digs at wind-blown Candlestick Park. There's a cable car out in right field that dings out the number of runs the Giants score after each inning. A foghorn honks when the Giants hit a tater, rather fitting in a park where the scent of garlic fries hangs in the air heavy as the San Francisco fog. Pac Bell, you see, must cater to the culinary vagaries of the trendy West coast. There's sushi, Latin American food and gourmet coffee, just to name a few of the choices. Sure, you can get a dog, but that might ruin the taste of the Gordon Biersch microbrew.
The food at Fenway matches the infrastructure: in need of improvement. From the flotilla of sausage wagons that surround the park on game days to the watery Bud Lite, those in search of vittles will mostly find the same fare that's been on ball park menus for decades. Oh sure, there's always the Legal Seafood clam chowder, but that's a mere s.o.p. to yuppie tastes. Mostly, it's dogs, peanuts and beer. The fare is as traditional as the peeling paint on The Wall.
While there's no such wear and tear at Pac Bell, there is a manual scoreboard, as befits a retro park. It's a little different from Fenway's, however: The guys manning it have a lovely view of the water, and they don't have to worry about rats.
Pacific Bell Park
The giant Coca-Cola bottle that looms over left field is 80 feet (or 12.9 Barry Bonds) tall.
Each luxury suite has six data lines and six voice lines.
The privately funded park opened this March at a cost of $319 million.
Pacific Bell paid $2.1 million a year for 24 years for naming rights.
Signature fragrance: the ever-popular garlic fries Beer on tap: Budweiser, Miller, Anchor Steam, Gordon Biersch ($4.75 reg., $6.00 vat) Fenway Park The Green Monster is 37 feet (that's 6.2 Nomar Garciaparras) high.
Each luxury suite has one phone line.
The privately funded park opened in 1912 and cost $650,000 to build.
Fenway Park was so named to promote Fenway Realty Co., a holding company of the Taylor family, who also built the park.
Signature fragrance: sausage with fried peppers and onions Beer on tap: Bud, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Michelob Lite, Coors Light ($4.25), Amstel Light ($4.75)