Review on Oracle Park

The home of the Giants recently reopened their ballpark to fans for the 2021 season


Steven Rissotto

Giants fans have returned to Oracle Park, and while capacity may be limited the spirit remains

It was Sept. 30, 2019 — the final game I attended as a fan and the final game of the 2019 season. Bruce Bochy was chauffeured around the perimeter of Oracle Park for the final time as manager of the San Francisco Giants, a team he led to more than 1,000 wins and three World Series championships. The ballpark was popping with energy as they honored their future Hall of Fame manager and looked forward to a new era of the Giants’ baseball.

Nobody knew it at the time, but it would be the last time a crowd would fill the beautiful waterfront ballpark for over 17 months.

In 2020, COVID-19 affected society in countless ways, and the most noticeable difference in the sports world happened to be the lack of fans in the stadiums. Living, breathing, and overjoyed fans in the bleachers and grandstands were replaced with motionless, boring, and quiet cardboard cutouts. Sports fans across the country were left to watch their favorite players from the comfort of their homes, which I personally didn’t mind much, because it had mostly been that way for me beforehand anyway.

But any sports fan will tell you that that handful of ball games you witness in person each year bring about a magical feeling of normalcy and significance. All the care in the world is eliminated for a few hours, the responsibility overshadowed by grown men playing a game. It’s a different feeling, being present at a game — a feeling you can’t experience while kicking back on a recliner at home.

So when the Giants announced their plans to allow fans into Oracle Park for the 2021 season, I jumped at the chance to smell that freshly-cut green grass again. I jumped at the chance to see a baseball game in person.

I jumped at the chance to feel some sense of normalcy.

I attended the third game of the opening homestand on April 11 with three members of my inner circle, as the Giants went for the three-game sweep against their NL West rivals, the Colorado Rockies. The weather at the afternoon games in San Francisco has been consistent ever since they made the move away from Candlestick Park in 2000. The expectation is always the same: blue skies, a slight breeze, and the possibility for a sweatshirt to be in play close to the end of the game.

The organization made a little less than 10,000 tickets available in order to ensure that social distancing was possible, and the San Francisco Public Health Department imposed the requirement that everyone enters the ballpark having tested negative for COVID-19 or with proof of vaccination. This may be an extra step that needs to be completed, but I personally had no issue booking a quick test at the Serramonte High School site, and my results were back in less than two days. If the mandatory testing or vaccinations mean that more people will be motivated to receive the vaccine or get tested regularly, then I’m in complete support of it.

As we approached the Willie Mays gate, a lot of the traditional fixtures remained on the perimeter of the ballpark — independent merchants laid out hats, shirts and bobbleheads for fans to buy. There were still a decent number of boats and kayaks hanging out in McCovey Cove, taking in the scenery.

The entrance process was fairly simple, as there was a location where the ballpark employees took note of the vaccination or testing proof. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the concourse so empty. I could literally count on my hands how many people were walking back and forth around the stadium. For the most part, fans were ushered straight to their seats, where they remained for the entire game.

We sat in the first row of section 312, and the closest family was two rows above us. The ushers around the ballpark made sure the mask mandate was adhered to, unless you were eating.

Food and beverages have always been a key factor at sports stadiums and that hasn’t changed with the pandemic version of Oracle Park. Instead of approaching the nearest Doggie Diner to order a hot dog, fans had the opportunity to order from their seats. The order was submitted to the nearest food stand in our section, and it was ready for pickup in just a few minutes.

I usually stack up on hot dogs during baseball games, but sometimes a college student living through a pandemic needs to sacrifice a few desires to remain sane financially, so I went the Subway route instead.

The atmosphere when nothing was happening during the game lacked electricity, but then again, what would you expect with 6,500 in attendance? That being said, when the ball was put in play or a big strikeout was recorded, it sounded like a packed house. But most of the time, we were hearing full conversations from 20 feet away, and even the umpire on the field shouting “Foul ball!”

The experience was clearly different from when there’s 40,000 people jumping up and down in their seats, but the atmosphere of simply being present at the ballpark was positive and refreshing. I never thought I’d be back so soon, and it was as enjoyable as I could have expected. The realization that spring is here, normalcy is approaching, and baseball is back was an exciting one.