“Barry Bonds sits right on that bench,” Joe Barnes was saying to his friend's 4-year-old son, Jacob, last Thursday at 2 a.m., almost three hours into the first-ever Pacific Bell Park slumber party. “And you remember Dusty Baker? He stayed right there in that corner, all the time.” It was dark, and here on the steps of the dugout, you could see small tents rising like goose bumps from the outfield grass. Field of Dreams played on the video screen, and the sound came bouncing into the dugout, each word trailed by two echoes: “Ease-ease-ease his-his-his pain-pain-pain.” Jacob, barefooted and wearing a too-big Giants cap and jersey, waddled down the steps into the dugout — “Grab some pine!” Barnes said — and then waddled back out.
“How'd it feel?” Barnes asked sweetly. This was, after all, heady stuff for a boy of any age: Pac Bell, Barry Bonds, the ballplayers' spat-out sunflower seeds underfoot.
“I gotta pee,” Jacob said.
And so went the Giants' first overnighter — a lot like any other slumber party, but with a ballpark for a bedroom. The promotion drew more than 300 people, who paid $300 each (kids 4 and younger got in free) for a ticket to that night's game (a 6-0 loss to the Dodgers), a spot in the outfield grass, a movie on the video screen, and a pancake breakfast served by former pitcher Vida Blue. The fans got to spend 10 hours on a big-league field — which is to say, they got to spend 10 happy hours acting like 9-year-olds.
The gates in right-center field opened around 11 p.m., an hour after the Giants' Andres Galarraga struck out swinging to end the game, and into the park stumbled hundreds of enthusiasts — maybe two-thirds adults — with tents, sleeping bags, rolled-up mattresses, Power Ranger pillows, lawn chairs, and baseball mitts. They crossed the dirt warning track to get to the edge of the outfield grass, and from there everyone more or less followed the same routine: a pause, a smile, a light step on the wet turf, and then a short benediction:
People have always liked Pac Bell — it was postcard-ready when it opened in 2000. But this past year, it's become something of an icon, maybe the best of the new generation of retro-modern ballparks. “[The] surest way to search joy out might begin at the corner of Second and Market Streets,” wrote The New Yorker's Roger Angell in May, “where you can catch a glimpse of Pacific Bell Park's low bricky façade, there by the edge of the Bay, an easy downhill fifteen minutes away.” Along the first-base line, next to the roped-off infield, Lori Elder, who runs an art gallery in Cole Valley, ate a cookie and marveled at the ballpark. “This grass is awesome,” she said, a smear of chocolate on her cheek. “What a view. I mean, it's just beautiful.”
By 12:30 a.m., everyone had filed into the stadium. Dads wrestled with tents. Some played catch with their kids, skimming grounders on the turf or lofting fly balls at the outfield wall. On the right-center warning track, boys crowded around a PlayStation 2 machine, which was running a baseball game (one of several arcade diversions in the outfield). “Look familiar?” one boy said to his opponent as they started another game, this one at a virtual Pac Bell Park. He ran his hand along the screen and said, “We're right here.” Fans snapped pictures near home plate and lined up outside the dugout bathrooms. “Is it cool?” one teenage girl asked a friend on her way out. “No,” was the reply, “just dirty.”
And that was it for the night. The movie ended at around 3 a.m., and the ballpark went quiet. The whole thing, at that point, seemed closer to a church lock-in: You don't really do anything special; the fun is in feeling like a trespasser for a few hours — in playing tag behind the pulpit, as it were. But here, we got something more: the simple, rare pleasure of seeing a ballpark near dawn, from the inside.
Dog Bites slept in left field (just like Barry!), and by 5:30 a.m. we were awake again, under low-flying sea gulls. The sun crept through the big, stupid Coke bottle above left field. The Giants' custodial staff clattered around the bleachers. Kids jumped in the inflatable bounce houses. And Charles Williams, a 53-year-old corrections administrator from Louisville, Ky., talked on a cell phone: “I'm in left field, yeah.”
Over on the right-center warning track, a small group of boys still ringed the PlayStation machine. A few had apparently spent the entire night there, like Randon, an 11-year-old who at 6:15 a.m. was still chipper. “Me and him” — he nodded at a chirpy kid next to him — “we went into 14 innings! I was the Yankees! He was the Orioles!” Another boy, Jesse, age 10, didn't look so good. He was wearing a Giants T-shirt, dirty jeans, and scuffed shoes. His eyes were a deep red. From all the video games? Jesse said no. “I think,” he said, delivering maybe the saddest statement of the past 10 hours, “I'm allergic to grass.”