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By land or sea: McCovey Cove gives fans unique experience

SAN FRANCISCO -- It's often been said that there's nowhere better to watch a baseball game than inside AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants.

The festive atmosphere. The food. The gorgeous setting on the bay. The garlic fries. And, oh yeah, the world-class baseball team it houses that has made winning National League pennants an even-year habit.

But there's an argument to be made that the real party isn't so much inside the ballpark as it is just outside, and a few dozen feet down. McCovey Cove, the section of the San Francisco Bay beyond right field, is one happening place. That's a constant throughout a baseball season, but in the playoffs, the raucousness seems to be ramped up.

And during a World Series? Forget about it. It's jam-packed, a veritable floating rock concert, with kayaks, boats, canoes and paddle boats carrying vuvuzela-blowing fans who are soaking in the scene, sometimes in the literal sense. A few, invariably, lose their balance and go kerplunk into the water. Happens a couple times a night.

Most fans come equipped with the standard fare -- coolers filled with beverages, and a radio to listen to Giants radio announcer Jon Miller give the play-by-play. But a few select folks have taken the McCovey Cove experience one step further. All it takes is a portable grill, some charcoal and a lighter, and just like that, it's bon appétit.

On a somewhat drizzly but pleasant evening Saturday night, Berkeley resident Greg Milano was a popular figure in the cove. He owns a grill that was originally designed to fit into a sailboat. With some minor tweaks, Milano made it a perfect fit for a standard-sized canoe, and over the last few years, he's fed the masses with his mad skills as a hot dog griller.

This practice started around 2010.

"I do it several times a year," Milano said. "I'm pretty sure we were the first ones to do it. Everybody's heads turned and they got really excited that we had a barbecue in our small boat. Apparently it's caught on. Since then, we've been out and there are other people doing it."

For Game 4 of the World Series, Milano brought 60 hot dogs, grilling them in increments of six or seven. He throws the buns on top -- because, really, who doesn't like a warm bun? And then he simply floats from boat to boat, from canoe to canoe, from kayak to kayak, and offers them up.

Needless to say, he's been well received in this setting. Especially since the steamin' weenies are the right price -- free, free, free.

"Last week, we were out and people thought we were selling them," Milano said. "People are surprised when anything's free. I have a sharing problem. I just love to share a good thing."

Video: WS2014 Gm4: Fan has it made with grill in kayak

If Milano sounds like a big-hearted soul, it's because he is. He is the director of cycling for the Bay Area Outreach & Recreation Program (BORP), a nonprofit organization that works with people with physical disabilities through sports, fitness and recreation programs. Their adaptive cycling center can provide just about any cycle with any individual person based on physical needs.

Milano's crew at the Cove largely consisted of co-workers from BORP, along with a beneficiary of the organization's mission. Jorge Alvarado, a paraplegic who has competed competitively in hand cycling, kayaked down Mission Creek for his first visit to McCovey Cove.

"Greg asked me two days ago if I wanted to come," Alvarado said. "How would I not? This is the World Series. You can't miss the opportunity."

Nor could Bay Area teacher Kate Sherwood, a semi-regular McCovey Cove boater whose claim to fame arrived a couple of months ago when the Rockies were in town. Brandon Crawford hit a 10th-inning walk-off homer into the Cove, and the ball landed about two feet from where Sherwood was floating.

Naturally, she jumped in the water and retrieved the ball -- and made a little history doing so.

"I'm the first woman to get a splash hit home run in the 15 years the stadium's been around," Sherwood said. "I broke the glass ceiling that day. My father was so happy he cried. He might not cry when I get married, but he cried when his girl got a splash walk-off home run."

Video: [email protected]: Giants walk off on Crawford's solo shot

The Cove wasn't filled with just Giants fans. Several Royals caps could be spotted among the sea of orange. One belonged to Geoff Danker, a Los Angeles resident and Cal-Berkeley alum who was born and raised in Kansas City.

Since going to the game was a bit out of his price range, the McCovey Cove experience was the next best thing.

"When I looked at standing-room-only seats and they were going for $700, the economic decision was to rent a kayak and join the party out here," Danker said. "This is awesome. How unique is this? The World Series, and K.C.'s actually in it. This is the first time in my life they've made the playoffs, let alone won. It's unbelievable."

Same goes for Rufus Kerr, who grew up near Kansas City but has been living in California for the last six months. SRO tickets didn't fit the budget, but renting a kayak was totally doable.

"That's when we decided to take this route," Kerr said. "It's a better route. It's a better atmosphere out here. You don't really get to experience this in K.C. We don't have water surrounding Kauffman Stadium."

At AT&T Park, on the other hand, water is in no short supply. Nor are the hot dogs, thanks to fans like Milano.

"I just kind of enjoy the spectacle," Milano said of the grill-fest. "There have been years that I've rooted for the opposing team because I wanted a game the next day. I'm more concerned about having a fun event than the winning. But I'll root for the Giants tonight. We don't want the Royals to get too far ahead."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.
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