KC’s Populous hit a home run with Giants’ quirky, bayside AT&T Park

A panoramic photo, stitched together from 27 still images, shows the scene at AT&T Park in San Francisco before game three of the World Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif.
A panoramic photo, stitched together from 27 still images, shows the scene at AT&T Park in San Francisco before game three of the World Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. The Kansas City Star

The first thing you notice here at AT&T Park — besides the giant Coke bottle and gargantuan mitt in left field — is the jutting, angular brick wall in right. Look out beyond the now famous wall, and you can see the San Francisco Bay.

Look down for a moment, and that’s McCovey Cove. If you are here in San Francisco, that’s where the party will be. Tugboats, fishing boats, kayakers … anybody with something that will float.

If a baseball flies off a bat and into McCovey Cove, the locals here call it a Splash Hit. Those balls are among the most coveted keepsakes in Bay Area sports. If a ball flies into the bay during Friday night’s World Series game between the Royals and Giants, it will become an instant treasure.

When a Kansas City man named Joe Spear came to AT&T Park — then named Pac-Bell Park — for the ballpark’s opening day in 2000, he remembers seeing a man who had constructed a floating device with two surfboards, affixed together, with a ramshackle lawn chair on top.

Spear has more stories like this. When the idea of a new downtown ballpark for the Giants was proposed close to 20 years ago, he became the park’s chief designer after Kansas City-based firm Populous — then called HOK Sport — won the design bid.

Before Friday night’s game three in San Francisco, The Star caught up with Spear back in Kansas City, taking a remote tour of the park that is set to play host to its third World Series in five seasons.

Here’s what to look for:

1. The view of San Francisco Bay. Specifically, you’re looking at the China Basin Channel. When the park was in the planning stages, Spear says, the Giants’ brass considered flipping the park the other way, so the city’s skyline would provide the backdrop for baseball. In the end, Spear says, the bay backdrop concept won out.

2. The Brick Wall in Right. “The quirkiness,” Spear says. The wall is more than just a 25-foot high barrier that protects the bay from flying baseballs. It’s also the edge of the entire ballpark, which sits tightly on just 13 acres of land. If a ball flies over the seats in right, it’s just 27 feet of sidewalk between ballpark and bay. And about those weird angles: It’s 309 feet to the right-field foul pole and 421-feet to deep right-center. In between is an assortment of strange angles and odd nooks. If a fly ball hits brick, there’s no telling how far it might rebound off.

3. The Portwalk. When the park was being built, the city was adamant that the idyllic Portwalk here in San Francisco be open to pedestrians at all hours — even during Giants games. So Spear and his team came up with this idea: The wall features arched openings, so that fans walking by on the Portwalk (without a ticket) can see into the ballpark.

4. The Intimate Feel. When the Giants were planning the park, they told Spear they wanted the venue to feel like a combination of Camden Yards in Baltimore and Wrigley Field in Chicago. It needed to feel modern and be big enough to hold more than 40,000 fans. But it also needed to feel intimate, tucked into a small patch of expensive waterfront real estate.

“If we do it well,” Spear told the Giants then, “your fans will fall in love with the place.”

To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

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