Giant-size play equipment

Giant-size kids' play equipment is part of the fun at San Francisco's Pac Bell Park. (ROBERT DURELL / LAT)

It's time to nuke Dodger Stadium.

That thought struck me like a Louisville Slugger on a festive, sunbaked afternoon last month at Pacific Bell Park. One of the latest in a line of sparkling new diamonds around the country, Pac Bell Park is a treasure on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

Since April 2000, when Pac Bell became the first new major-league ballpark in California in nearly four decades, I had been eager to check out the place. The hang-up was tickets; nearly every game in the 41,467-seat venue continued to sell out.

But I found a convenient, albeit pricey, online ticket service. All it took was a few clicks of the mouse to snag two field-level seats for a Saturday game against the Colorado Rockies. Although my wife, Willow, does not share my passion for America's pastime (I'm a long-suffering Detroit Tigers fan), she was more than willing to join me.

We flew to Oakland on a Friday evening, hopped a 10-minute shuttle to BART and rode the train to within a couple of blocks of our hotel. (Air fare was high at the time, but prices have since dropped as low as $75 round trip.)

The city is still reeling from the dot-com collapse, and many hotels are struggling to fill rooms. We paid only $119 plus tax per night at the classy Argent Hotel, just south of Market Street and within walking distance of Pac Bell Park.

The Argent's 667 rooms have city views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Our 23rd-floor room looked toward the Bay. It was fitting that we could see the lights of the ballpark illuminate the evening sky.

We had dinner at Perry's on Union Street, a sports bar and grill with a lively mix of locals and out-of-towners. A light meal consisted of two glasses of Cabernet, a zesty calamari appetizer, bowls of tasty, piping-hot Manhattan clam chowder, and fruit sorbet for dessert.

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Early Saturday we caught a cab to the Golden Gate Bridge visitor center. The coffee shop had not opened, the gift shop was empty and hordes of tourists had yet to arrive. It was calm, cool and eerily overcast.

The Golden Gate, which attracts an estimated 9 million visitors annually, is an engineering marvel better appreciated on foot than by car. We spent an hour and 15 minutes walking leisurely to the Marin County side and back, stopping for sweeping views of Alcatraz Island and Fisherman's Wharf. We never did see the top half of the bridge, hidden in the thick marine layer.

I felt like a kid outside Disneyland when we arrived for the ballgame 90 minutes early to tour Pac Bell inside and out. Thousands of people poured in by light rail, train, bus and ferry. There was even a storage room where fans could check their bicycles. (Anyone trying these alternate modes of transportation to Dodger Stadium risks missing the first seven innings.)

Beyond the right-field wall, I struck up a conversation with a weathered fellow who carried a baseball glove and a fishing rod with a net at the end of the line. Joe Dirt, 40, a guitarist in the band Society Dog (he swore he wasn't making this up), stood near McCovey Cove, a part of the Bay named after Giants Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. Dirt was ready to pounce on baseballs swatted out of the stadium during batting practice.

On a good day, he will net two. As we chatted, Dirt's eyes darted skyward as a ball soared over the bleachers and bounced off a nearby railing.

A few steps away are three large screens for passersby to watch the game without tickets. The free section, which proved popular throughout the afternoon, abuts the warning track in right field. Beyond the center-field wall is picturesque picnicking territory: a grassy knoll overlooking a marina.

The pregame setting was far more enjoyable than the one at Dodger Stadium, where tailgating is prohibited and the only signs of life are cars stacked up at parking tollbooths and lines at the Taco Bell stand.

Willow and I entered Pac Bell about 30 minutes before the first pitch. Above the left-field seats are a gigantic green Coca-Cola bottle and baseball mitt—part of a playground that includes four slides and a miniature field where youngsters take turns hitting a foam ball and running the bases, all while watching themselves on a Jumbotron.

At the Beaming Station, a steel-box computer transmits season statistics, rosters, team schedules and feature stories on the Giants via infrared beam. It took less than a minute for my personal digital assistant to receive all the data, which included an electronic score sheet.

We settled into our seats, 23 rows behind the Giants' dugout. The first thing we noticed was the extraordinary legroom, width and comfort. I couldn't imagine a better location, high enough to get a full view of the field yet close enough to hear every fastball pop in the catcher's mitt. In fact, every section of Pac Bell, including the bleacher seats, felt like an intimate outdoor concert hall compared with a certain cavernous stadium off the Pasadena Freeway.