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Weep not, baseball fans, for doomed Candlestick Park

Are the winds of change sweeping away Candlestick Park? Quite possibly, for in November, San Francisco voters will be asked to approve construction of a 45,000-seat, $115 million ballpark for the Giants near downtown. The vagaries of San Francisco's fragmented electorate are legendary, but right now prospects look good for the new park.

Mayor Art Agnos, who as a candidate two years ago successfully opposed a much less specific ballpark proposal, is fighting for passage of this one. He has the support of a majority of the city-county board of supervisors. Giants owner Bob Lurie, who had threatened to move his team 40 miles south to Santa Clara County, is committed to the new park. And plans for the new stadium are backed by the chamber of commerce, a body that in the past has viewed anything proposed by the liberal Agnos as un-American and subversive. Opposition has already been expressed by various neighborhood factions, by environmentalists and by the city's hyperactive no-growth obstructionists, but they appear to be fighting a losing battle.

The stadium, as yet unnamed, would be built to look like an old one, on the Wrigley Field or Fenway Park model, but with all the latest amenities. The park would be only a mile from downtown in a waterfront area known as China Basin (not to be confused with Chinatown, which is on the other side of the city).

In every way, the new stadium would be a departure from Candlestick, which is old (it opened in 1960, and Wrigley is the only National League park that is its senior), looks as dull as all the new parks, has almost no amenities and sits on a windswept promontory on the outskirts of the city. As baseball parks go. Candlestick makes a pretty good football arena, which, if the ballot measure passes, it will be exclusively after the Giants' lease expires at the end of the 1994 season. In fact, the weather at Candlestick is better during football season than it is in the summer. You don't hear the Super Bowl champion 49ers cursing it.

The Giants' departure from their home of the past three decades will not be lamented in the baseball community. Candlestick is to ballplayers what the Bastille was to the citoyens of 1789—a structure to be reviled. Playing there, major leaguers say, is an experience comparable to exploring the Antarctic. Indeed, on some nights at Candlestick the winds seem every bit as cruel as those that assailed Amundsen and Scott. What would in other stadiums be mighty home runs become mere pop-ups in these unforgiving gales, and fair balls blow foul.

Yet while I, as a San Franciscan, hold no brief for the place, there are some all-too-common misconceptions about Candlestick. Baseball purists, for example, have long contended that Willie Mays would have hit perhaps another hundred homers had he not played most of his career there. Poppycock! Mays accommodated himself to his unfriendly surroundings, learning to go with the wind—which blows mostly to right center—and his long-ball hitting scarcely suffered. Don't forget, he hit 52 homers in 1965, while playing half his games at Candlestick.

Anyway, the weather isn't always bad out there. At midmorning, the climate is as temperate as sunny Napoli's. Even some afternoons at Candlestick are like a day at the beach. No, Candlestick's worst drawback is its inaccessibility. On days when games attract big crowds, getting to and from the park, with its primitive access roads, is as easy as exiting Manhattan at rush hour. Candlestick was opened at a time when conventional wisdom held that all new stadiums should be built out of town and near freeways. Ten miles from the city center, Candlestick is a monument to that now discredited theory. The new park would be built where Candlestick should have been, easily reached by public transportation or even by foot from downtown.

Still, as the Giants look forward to leaving their despised home, they are at last finding good things to say about it. Upon returning from a recent swing through the humid Midwest, several players, notably Will Clark and Brett Butler, remarked that they found Candlestick's infamous zephyrs refreshing. Since visiting players abhor the place, the Giants have finally recognized that they are blessed with a pronounced home-field advantage. Even with a crippled pitching staff, they have been winning about 60% of their home games. If the Giants limp to the pennant, they'll have Candlestick to thank.

At least one former Giant now looks back on the place with some fondness. "A lot of good things happened to me on the mound at Candlestick Park," said retired pitcher Vida Blue recently. On Sept. 24 another good thing will happen to him on that mound: He'll be married there to Peggy Shannon. Weather permitting.