Twenty years ago today, a new era of baseball began by the Bay.
Since 1960, soon after their move from New York to San Francisco, the Giants had played at blustery, inhospitable Candlestick Park. The stadium was home to Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Barry Bonds and many other great players, plus two pennant-winning teams. But the Giants never won a championship there, conditions were subpar and San Francisco was in danger of losing its club to another market.
That all changed when the Giants built their gorgeous new stadium. What was originally called Pacific Bell Park and is now known as Oracle Park -- following two previous changes -- remains one of the jewels of the sport, by any name.
This prosperous period has featured three World Series championships and the tenures of numerous Giants legends. And it all began on April 11, 2000, against the hated Dodgers, no less.
The atmosphere was joyous. A fan held up a sign reading, “Is this heaven?” There was a pregame celebration that, according to the Los Angeles Times, “included balloons, fireworks and actor Danny Glover reading from 'Field of Dreams.'" After all the pomp and circumstance, an unlikely Dodger ruined the party, handing the Giants a 6-5 loss, in what is our box score of the day.
Player of the game: Kevin Elster, SS, Dodgers
Elster had won a World Series ring as a rookie with the 1986 Mets, the start of a sporadic big league career that also included time with the Yankees, Phillies, Rangers and Pirates. In 1999, he did not play at all. "I had in my mind I was retired,” he said. But then, Elster decided to give baseball one more shot. The 35-year-old signed a non-roster deal with the Dodgers, made the team and wound up as the regular starting shortstop early in what would end up as his final season.
It just so happened that this celebratory occasion in San Francisco turned out to be the game of Elster’s career. He slugged three of his 88 home runs and drove in four to propel the Dodgers to victory. Was it a sign that this new ballpark would be a hitter’s haven? Uh, no. Twenty years later, no player on the Giants or a visiting club has repeated Elster’s three-homer feat there during the regular season, although Pablo Sandoval did so in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series.
Remember him? J.T. Snow, 1B, Giants
If Snow is remembered for one moment, it has nothing to do with his hitting or fielding. Rather, it was a quick-thinking move he made in Game 5 of the 2002 World Series, to pull manager Dusty Baker’s young son, Darren, out of harm’s way, preventing a potentially dangerous collision at home plate.
But Snow also put together a solid big league career, playing 16 seasons, including 10 for the Giants. He hit 189 home runs, including a ninth-inning solo shot in this one, off Dodgers closer Jeff Shaw, that drew San Francisco back within a run. And Snow was recognized most for his defense at first base, where he is one of seven players to win at least six Gold Glove Awards.
He wore THAT uniform? Devon White, CF, Dodgers
In the very first plate appearance at the Giants’ new ballpark, White slapped a single to right field off left-hander Kirk Rueter, and the 37-year-old finished the game 3-for-5 with a double, a stolen base and two runs scored.
By this point, White was nearing the end of a 17-year career that featured three All-Star selections, seven Gold Gloves and more than 200 home runs and 300 steals. He had made his name in stints with the Angels (1985-90), Blue Jays (1991-95, winning two World Series rings) and Marlins (1996-97, another ring). After two seasons and 181 games in Dodger Blue, White was traded for another veteran center fielder (Marquis Grissom) and spent one final year in Milwaukee.
Before he was big: Adrián Beltré, 3B, Dodgers
A 19-year-old Beltré had debuted on June 24, 1998, and nobody could have guessed that by the time he retired 20 years later, he would have more than 3,000 hits, nearly 500 home runs and a certain place in the Hall of Fame. Of course, the fact that Beltré had hit .275/.352/.428 (an above-average 102 OPS+) with strong defense at the hot corner over a full season at age 20 in 1999 was a great sign. But the best was still far in the future.
After some ups and downs in Los Angeles, Beltré put together his best season in 2004, featuring a 1.017 OPS, 48 homers, 121 RBIs and an NL MVP runner-up finish behind Bonds. Still, it wasn’t until after emerging from a disappointing but underrated five-year stint in Seattle in 2010 that Beltré sealed his status as an all-time great, with only 15 position players in baseball history producing more WAR in their 30s.
Last call: Gerónimo Berroa, 1B, Dodgers
Berroa’s professional baseball journey, which began when the Blue Jays signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 1983, already had taken him to nine organizations (two for multiple stints) by the time the Dodgers signed him before the 2000 season.
A formidable right-handed slugger, Berroa had slashed .288/.359/.485 (120 OPS+) with 97 home runs between 1994-97, mostly with Oakland. But his Dodgers tenure consisted of just 35 plate appearances, and he made only two starts, including this one, which featured two of his eight hits with the club, plus a key seventh-inning RBI. Berroa was sidelined with a foot injury in early June and never played another big league game, although he later suited up in Mexico and South Korea.