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Thursday, June 26, 2003
Camping among Giants

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

The worst part to spending the night at Pac Bell Park is forgetting to hang up the Do Not Disturb sign and receiving an early morning wakeup from someone shouting, "Excuse me, Groundskeeping. Groundskeeping."

Jim Caple
With tent pitched, our rugged reporter is ready for his night in Giant country.
Actually, I'm making that up. Nobody woke me up this morning, chiefly because I never went to sleep. Why would I? I spent Wednesday night at the Giants Slumber Party in Pac Bell Park, joining 325 fortunate fans who camped out on an insanely beautiful night beside McCovey Cove. I've pulled my share of all-nighters, but none in so glorious a location. We saw the Giants play the Dodgers, then spread our blankets under a nighttime sky spiked by constellations and pitched our tents over the outfield grass that is normally spiked by superstars.

There were men in pajamas and women in curlers and fuzzy slippers, a late movie and pepperoni pizza, a bedtime story from Kirk Rueter and a pancake breakfast with Orlando Cepeda. About the only thing missing from this slumber party was an exasperated parent shouting, "Shut up and go to bed, you kids! You know you don't want me to have to come down there!"

If you missed out, don't worry. Your local team will be offering its own slumber party next season. This is like the Turn Back the Clock promotion (the White Sox started both). Everyone will be doing this soon.

Be warned, though. It won't be cheap.

The cost for the Giants sleepover was $300, which is pretty steep, especially when you consider that it not only didn't include chocolates on the pillow, it didn't even include the pillow (the sleepover was a strictly BYOB affair -- bring your own blankets). Does anybody pay that much for a night and breakfast besides Mike Price? I mean, you can get a room at the SkyDome hotel with a view of the Blue Jays game for $240 -- and you can sleep on a kingsize bed instead of the damp ground.

Mark Williams
With a small piece of history, Mark Williams' night definitely didn't go up in smoke.
And if $300 sounds steep, bear in mind that the Giants originally wanted to charge $400.

"Insane," a veteran Giants player said of the sleepover. "Those people need to re-evaluate their lives."

I thought so, too, before the night began, but the fans here didn't see it that way. To them, paying $300 a night to sleep on the outfield grass was no more insane than paying Barry Bonds $300 a pitch to stand on it. "Can you believe that people actually get paid to be out here?" said Joe Kennedy, who brought his wife and two children to the sleepover.

That's what players (and reporters) forget. They play on these diamonds so often the fields quickly lose their magic. Hell, they even spit on them. But these fields are sacred to fans who spend their lives looking at them longingly from afar. Fans would no more spit on the grass at Pac Bell than they would on the altar at St. Patrick's.

Consider Mark Williams and his nephews, Ben, Peter and Paul McDill, who drove down from Portland, Oregon. They sat in the left-field bleachers during the game, watched Barry kick up a divot while diving for a ball in the second inning, carefully counted how many paces Barry was from their seats and memorized the exact spot on the field. They were among the first fans allowed onto the field when the sleepover began at 11 p.m., and they raced over to the exact spot. Williams found the divot and scooped it into a plastic storage bag as if the grass was as precious as a baggie of Humboldt Gold.

Watching him hold it up, I couldn't help wondering how much a baggie of such high-quality grass would be worth on the street.

"I should know this," Williams said with a grin. "That's about three-quarters of a gram. It's a little fluffy, so there's probably not as much there as it looks. It would go for about 25 bucks. But I'm never selling this."

Charlie, Terry Williams
When the only game in town is Pitino, you'd drive all the way to Pac Bell, too.
Williams picks up Giants radio broadcasts the same way I did as a kid while growing up about 50 miles north of Portland -- at night, when the signals from the powerful California stations become clear. Or relatively clear. Even on good nights, the broadcasts tend to be a mixture of play-by-play, static and whatever is airing on the competing frequencies. Barry and the Giants are forever being interrupted by a mix station playing Hootie and the Blowfish.

"And Mexican music," Williams said. "I always get Mexican music broadcasts in the middle of an inning."

At least he's on the same coast and in the same time zone as San Francisco. Charles Williams (no relation) grew up in a small town in Kentucky, rooting passionately for the Giants because his favorite player was Willie Mays (who the Giants, interestingly, traded for a terrible pitcher named Charlie Williams ... "I know that," Charles Williams moaned. "And he was mediocre. At best."). He listens to their games on MLB.com now, but it was a much different story when he was a kid in the '60s.

"I could listen to them when they were on the road," Williams said. "I could pick up the station in New Orleans and get the Houston broadcasts when they played the Colt 45s. And I could get KDKA in Pittsburgh when they played the Pirates. And the Cincinnati station when they played the Reds. And KMOX in St. Louis. I could get the Braves games when they were still in Milwaukee, and then when they moved to Atlanta, a Nashville station carried their games so I could get those, too.

"I would go to bed with my transistor radio listening to those games."

Wednesday night, he went to bed in left field, right where Barry positions himself, and he could practically hear the voices of Giants baseball past as clearly as if they were playing on a 50,000-watt station across town. And he didn't even have a transistor radio.

Or maybe those were the voices of Giants future. Even at $300, there were so many kids on the field, you would have thought Dusty Baker was still managing. Just think. Perhaps some day one of them will crack the majors, lose track of the outs during an inning and be able to tell reporters that it was the second time he fell asleep in this outfield.

Nic Amanno, Crystal Keith
Dude, ask her to marry you. Don't give us that "eventually" crap.
As Giants fan Rick Wittrock said, while surveying the tents spread across the outfield, "I think there could be the conception of several children tonight."

I don't doubt it, although San Francisco police patrolled the outfield throughout the night. The most amorous public display of affection I came across was Nic Amanno and his girlfriend, Crystal Keith, sharing a kiss in center field.

The two met at Chico State, where Amanno pitched for the school team. A right-handed reliever whose best pitches are a changeup and knuckleball, he went undrafted but hasn't given up his dream of pitching in the majors.

"I'm trying to get a tryout with a major league club," he said. "And I'm trying the independent leagues. I wrote letters to all the teams in the Northern League and the Atlantic League and the Frontier League and another league, too. I think I'm going to start calling the coaches and managers directly."

Crystal bought Amanno the sleepover tickets as a 24th birthday present, explaining that, "This is the closest I could get him to playing on a major league field."

The most amazing thing about that story to me is that Nic hasn't had the good sense to propose to her. A woman pays $600 to spend the night with you in a major league outfield -- what the heck is he waiting for? He should get on his knees and beg this woman to marry him. She's a keeper.

"I know, I know."

The weather was absolutely perfect for a sleepover. The temperature at midnight still was 77. A thin sliver of the moon rose above the giant glove in left field. It was so wonderful, I felt like running barefoot in the park, but thought better of it when I considered the environmental hazards of tobacco juice.

Brooke Wells, Larissa Lustrom
The Giants didn't beat L.A., but nothing beats camping out with your friends at Pac Bell.
Sure, there were problems. For starters, the Giants lost to the Dodgers. Then the line to get in was too long. The pizza was cold by the time many people got to it. The dialogue was difficult to hear from parts of the outfield during the showing of "Field of Dreams" on the video board. The stadium cleaning crew noisily started work about 2 a.m., and sunlight started peeking over the horizon about 4:45, making sleep even more difficult than it already was.

But so what?

Walking around the outfield during "Field of Dreams," I saw fathers holding their daughters in their arms, mothers holding their sons, and boyfriends and girlfriends holding each other. One father tossed baseballs just beyond his son so the boy could practice diving catches. Another tossed them over his son's head so he could practice leaping catches against the wall. Others simply played catch.

And up on the video board, James Earl Jones was delivering his soliloquy on the glories of baseball. "The one constant is baseball, Ray. It reminds us of all that was good and could be again."

Three hundred dollars? Yeah, that's a boatload of money. But it's all relative. The Lincoln bedroom goes for, what, $50,000 a night? And Honest Abe never hit 73 bombs in a season.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.