Perfect Day at the Ballpark (Minus a W)

If all goes well, this summer will be chock full of exclaiming “I haven’t done this in over a year!”

Our family will take our first flights in over a year. Hug our extended family members for the first time in over a year. At some point I hope to attend a live theater production for the first time in over a year.

This weekend, we enjoyed a big first: First sporting event in over a year.

My husband and I are Chicago Cubs fans, but we live in the San Francisco Bay Area. So when the Cubs play the Giants in San Francisco (or more rarely, the A’s in Oakland), we try to attend a game. This time, we attended Saturday’s 4:15 p.m. game, in which rookie pitcher Kohl Stewart faced off against the Giants’ Kevin Gausman.

Because it was going to be a beautiful day and we have a massive fun deficit to fill in, we planned to be in San Francisco three hours ahead of game time. In the past, we usually went to the ballpark by ferry from our home in Alameda, but neither the special Giants ferries nor regular weekend ferries from Alameda have resumed yet. Although we are both fully vaccinated, we didn’t feel ready to ride a BART train yet, so for the first time ever we decided to drive to a Giants game.

We were ready for some walking, and besides, I didn’t want to be stuck in a traffic jam after the game, so we planned to save money by parking outside the immediate ballpark area. On SpotHero, I reserved a spot in an indoor garage at Embarcadero Center, where we could park from 1 p.m. til 10 p.m. for a flat $10. Combined with the $6 bridge toll, that seemed like a decent transit cost to a game. It’s actually slightly less than we would have paid for round-trip BART tickets from our nearest station.

We cruised across the Bay Bridge with only mild traffic, making the trip from Alameda to our parking garage in a cool half hour. We actually got there about 3 minutes too early, which made things awkward since we pulled into the parking garage without realizing we were early, and a few cars backed up behind us while we unsuccessfully tried to get our SpotHero code to scan. And then after our reservation time began, the code still wouldn’t scan, so we ended up getting a ticket to enter the garage and had to call SpotHero customer service to work out what to do. More on that later.

From Embarcadero Center, it was an easy stroll to the Embarcadero, the gorgeous bayfront walkway that SF built after the Embarcadero Freeway was damaged in the 1989 earthquake. All San Francisco was out and about, biking, walking, scootering and soaking up the sun. Our first stop was the Ferry Building, where the biweekly farmer’s market was going on. Word to the wise: If you are out and about on the Embarcadero, the Ferry Building is the best place to use a clean restroom.

We enjoyed strolling the market for awhile, feeling only a little sad that it’s not safe to offer free samples yet, and bought lunch from hot food stands. I got bibimbap from a Korean food vendor (sadly I failed to get their name, maybe Stone Korean Kitchen?) I recently listened to the audiobook of Crying in H Mart so I was jonesing for some Korean food. Erik got a reuben sandwich, which was decadent and messy. We also grabbed an ice cold Crispy Grrl Pilsner from our fellow Alamedans, Almanac Beer Co.

There are a number of tables set up all around the Ferry Building, but they were full, so we snagged a bench facing the Bay, in between ferry docks. This was a pleasant place to eat, despite the fact that we were back to back with another couple, one of whom talked loudly into her phone throughout our meal about trying to read the book Klara and the Sun and not being able to get into it. Her friend on the phone assured her that she would be charmed by the book once she really got to know Klara, while the companion on the bench offered no opinion. Believe it or not, I didn’t mind being subjected to this unsolicited book review because I was thinking about reading that book myself.

After we ate, it was time for more strolling. We passed spots where we have enjoyed eating and drinking before, like Red’s Java House, and Erik reminisced about some fun things he did with coworkers when he used to work in the Financial District.

By the time we reached the ballpark, it was still only about 2:40 p.m., so we decided to stop for another beverage. We ordered a margarita at what is now called Frankie’s Java House. This place always used to be called just Java House, and it was the oldest restaurant on the Embarcadero until it closed last year. I’m glad someone stepped in to revitalize the old place and keep it looking the same, except a new coat of paint. The margarita was perfectly tart and delicious, and we shared it while watching a single kayaker paddle laps around the harbor.

Before entering the stadium, we had to stop by the playground at South Beach Park, where we used to take our now-17-year-old when she was a baby and toddler. It was brand new then, and I remember the blue rubberized surface staining her little yellow sneakers as she crawled around on it.

Then we finally made our appearance at Oracle Park. I had purchased our tickets from a third party via Vivid Seats, and then downloaded them using the MLB Ballpark app, which made entry very easy. There was very little waiting that early, and the security folks barely glanced at my bag and didn’t even care that I had a large metal water bottle with me (which was a relief because I love that bottle and would have been sad to lose it).

We were sitting in an all-vaccinated section, so we were required to show our vaccine cards to enter. This is the first time anyone has asked to see my vaccine card, anywhere. I wish we would be asked for them everywhere, so that more people would be encouraged to get the shots!

SeeSe

Once we got to our seats, I was thrilled with the view. Our tickets were $234 total with fees, which may seem like a lot, but I have easily paid more than that for seats that were not nearly as good at this park in the past. Soon after sitting down, we saw the Cubs’ manager near the dugout, and we had a great time watching the field preparations in detail. For instance, I never knew before that the batters’ on-deck circles were actually rugs that the crew carried on in a wheelbarrow. Even though our section could have been sold to capacity, since all adults there were supposed to be vaccinated, it was actually pretty sparsely filled. We enjoyed stretching out with no one sitting next to us, and no one for a few rows in front.

It was so great to be able to tell so easily which player was which. I screamed out my favorite players names as they approached the plate, and we joked that at least one of them, Javy Baez, appeared to turn his head when I called his name. I think he was actually just crossing himself though. He does that a lot.

We were hoping that we might appear on TV, sitting so close to home plate. Unfortunately our family back home didn’t see us, but my dad swore he had heard me yelling “Javy!” And I didn’t even tell him I had yelled! So I bet he really did hear me. Our seats were also just a stone’s throw from the press box and not far below the broadcasters’ boxes.

Since we had just eaten, we didn’t indulge in any ballpark food, although I would have felt totally safe taking off my mask to eat. We were outdoors, the section was not crowded, and a nice breeze moved throughout. I did get a little jealous when the folks around us went to concessions and came back with pizza, poke, hot dogs and nachos. We even saw someone get bubble tea, which I’m guessing you can only buy in California baseball parks. And probably the poke too. The onions from the hot dog stand near us smelled amazing. But we got a couple of beers and left it at that.

Another moment of semi excitement came when I received a callback from SpotHero customer service to work out how we were supposed to avoid paying the walk-up rate to parking garage where our code hadn’t scanned. In the middle of the conversation, a pop-up foul ball started hurtling down at us from above.

“Shit!” I yelled, and then quickly apologized to the customer service rep as the ball ended up in the deck above us. “Sorry, I’m just … at a baseball game right now?” He helped me with the problem and wrapped the call up before I could swear at him again.

Sadly, our team didn’t win, although we did get to enjoy a few exciting moments, like seeing pitcher Kohl Stewart’s first major league hit, and seeing another newcomer, Patrick Wisdom, hit a home run. We loved being able to joke with Cubs fans near us, like when Anthony Rizzo hit a ball that fell at his own feet and the Giants’ backup catcher (not Buster Posey, to my sorrow) picked it up and tagged him right there.

“Javy would have made it to first base,” I said to Erik. A pair of young women a couple of rows ahead turned back to look at us.

“Only facts!” one of them yelled. Then we compared how many times we had watched the replay of Javy Baez and Willson Contreras collaborating to steal a run from the Pirates last week.

Then there was this crazy-throwing closer. I’ve never seen a pitch like that. I picked up my phone to video his delivery, and inadvertently captured a Cubs hit that led to a run moments later in the ninth inning.

Sadly the Cubs run came at the same time that the Giants’ Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford collided in the infield. Evan lay on the ground so long I thought he would be taken off in a stretcher. Fortunately he was able to get up, but I later read he’s out for a few weeks with a shoulder injury. It was a scary moment.

And then we lost, even though we’d had the bases loaded.

“Raise the L!” the Giants fan behind us yelled. Even though that was kind of rude, I did appreciate that he knew about the Cubs fan tradition of raising a W flag when we win.

We filed out with the rest of the crowd and walked toward North Beach. As is normal, the evening was cool and breezy, so we were glad we’d packed hoodies.

We passed this plaque. I totally forgot that Jack London was born in South of Market! Since we lived in this area when Nutmeg was born, she is basically Jack London’s homie.

On the way to North Beach, we saw a store that hadn’t been here when we lived and worked in the area: Cask. It was near SF MOMA. Since I love Irish whiskey and scotch, I told Erik I just wanted to pop in and browse. He laughed at me because he knew we’d end up toting a bottle home. Sure enough, after a few minutes of browsing, I found a bottle I wanted to try. It took all my self-restraint to select one with a price in the double digits.

We walked a few more blocks, past SF tourist favorite House of Nanking, which we were happy to see was jumping, with a large sheltered outdoor seating area as well as indoor seating. We weren’t ready to deal with that type of crowd or a wait, but I’d like to revisit there sometimes, since we haven’t been there in oh, 20 years.

Tonight, we were on a quest for Brandy Ho’s Hunan Food, just around the corner from Nanking, where Chinatown turns to North Beach. We’ve had good times there over the years, usually with large parties, and Erik loves their smoked meats. We were a little concerned when we arrived around 8 p.m. and found a totally empty dining room. There were people eating outside, but no available tables out there, so the hostess/waitress sat us indoors. This would be our first indoor dining experience since getting vaccinated, and although we hadn’t exactly planned to go for it tonight, it seemed quite safe since we were the only people in the dining room. Besides, as I keep reminding myself, we’re fully vaccinated.

Besides the unsettling quiet, the place was dingier than I had remembered — to be honest I have probably only been here in the past after having a few drinks at Vesuvio Cafe down the block so I may have overlooked a lot. It didn’t smell great in there. But, we had walked a million blocks for Hunan, and Hunan we would eat.

We scanned the QR code on the table to pull up the menu on our phones, and ordered an onion cake, a plate of smoked ham with carrots and bamboo shoots, a plate of string beans with lamb, one serving of brown rice, and a Tsingtao. She asked us how spicy we wanted it, and we said medium. I wanted a glass of water, but the waitress told us they don’t serve tap water, only bottled. I still had a few sips in my metal water bottle, so I made do with that and some sips from Erik’s beer.

The food was just as good as it always was. The smoky meats are more Erik’s thing, so I mostly concentrated on the vegetables. There were plenty of red pepper flakes in every bite, and I tried to order another beer to wash it down, but the place suddenly started filling up so our waitress/hostess was too busy seating people and taking orders. No matter! She brought us our check in a timely manner, and flattered me by commenting loudly that I had left a good tip on the credit card slip.

From North Beach it was just a few blocks past the Transamerica Pyramid back to Embarcadero Center. It was fun, walking around this part of the city, remembering all the times we’ve run through here during the Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt.

On the way home, we “oohed” at the pretty lights on the Bay Bridge, and then laughed at ourselves. It’s been a long time since we’ve been out of Alameda after dark!

I’m so glad we had this kid-free day in San Francisco. We need to plan more of these, stat! One thing I’d love to do is walk part of the SF Crosstown Trail. Hopefully typing it here will keep me accountable to make that happen!

P.S. Re: SpotHero. We ended up having to pay full price, which was $27, to get our car out of that garage. However SpotHero says if we email them an image of our receipt, they will refund the difference. Despite this little hassle, I still think SpotHero is a great way to save on parking in cities, especially event parking. Not a paid endorsement, just my experience!

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