Giants 'knothole gang' lining up for free viewing

Published Oct. 25, 2012 2:29 a.m. ET

They're teens skipping school and adults driving through the night to line up before dawn in soggy San Francisco - all for a chance to watch a few innings of the World Series for free.

The die-hard fans are known as the ''knothole gang,'' a group prepared to endure all sorts of discomfort for their Giants, just as they did at AT&T Park in 2010 when the team battled the Texas Rangers, and again in September and through the playoffs.

Early Wednesday, the fans began lining up again, and the queue kept on growing as game time approached.

When the gate finally opened to admit the first wave, a little later than usual after the first pitch, they ran to vantage points like the first kids allowed into Disneyland when it opens, smiles plastered on their faces and high fives all around.

''The wait was worth it,'' said Gene Sennett, 19, who skipped college classes in San Luis Obispo about 200 miles south to wait in line for eight hours for a chance to watch the game for free. ''I'm a royally broke college student and this is the right price.''

From the park's ''knothole,'' the lucky ones share the same views as Giants right fielder Hunter Pence, peering through a chain-link fence enclosing four viewing portals stretching about 100 feet under the right-field stands. They'll shake the fence and scream insults at the opposing right fielder. He stands just a few feet from them.

Cussing isn't tolerated and security is quick to eject the vulgar.


So they yell ''you stink.'' And Detroit rookie right fielder Avisail Garcia stands motionless with his back to the knothole gang, but close enough to hear the taunts.

Other Major League Baseball parks offer free views from nearby buildings, including Detroit's Comerica Park. Comerica , which sits on the northern edge of downtown, is surrounded by high-rises, including the Detroit Athletic Club and the Detroit City Apartments that offer free views to a select few.

''The view in its entirety is really something,'' said Andy Olesko, 38, who lives in the Detroit City Apartments. ''It's really been good to me over the years.''

But for free access afforded purposely, there is no other place like San Francisco's free viewing area in the Major Leagues. The Giants' ballpark is the only stadium in the country with the feature, but there are rules: No chairs, dogs or drinking. And every three innings, stadium security rotates people in and out. Security guards allow about 125 fans into the area for each shift.

''I'm a working man, one of the 47 percent,'' said San Francisco resident Hal Leggett, 54, who has lined up for a free look during the Giants 2002 and 2010 World Series appearances plus numerous regular season games.

Leggett was amid the growing number of fans crowding the promenade between the right field wall and McCovey Cove, where water craft of all sizes and propulsion were gathering Wednesday afternoon.

''I could afford maybe one ticket, but not a ticket for everyone,'' said Tony Bryson, 44, who traveled from Sacramento with his two sons and three of their friends to secure a guaranteed spot in the viewing area. They arrived around 7 a.m. and bundled up against the morning cold and rain.

Bryson and his group also viewed the 2010 World Series from the ''knothole'' area and they and the other regulars wouldn't have it any other way.

''The energy of the crowd is fantastic,'' said Alex Busch, 27, of Reedley, Calif. who said he spends the other six innings outside the viewing area with hundreds of other fans gathered on the walkway between the right-field-wall and McCovey Cove, which attracts kayaks and boaters awaiting ''splash hits.''

Some brave sailors even attempted to view the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals from atop their boat's masts, the tallest of which peak over the right-field wall.

During the regular season, the competition for a knothole viewing spot isn't as fierce and fans can watch entire regular season games for free. But the lines grow longer and tempers get shorter the closer the San Francisco Giants get to the post season.

Calhoun and the other regulars abide by a few hard and fast rules, the biggest of which is no saving a spot for others. Regulars like Calhoun police the line and keep track of who showed up when.

''Only those who wait are rewarded,'' Calhoun said.

The line continued to grow outside the part throughout Wednesday morning as the public address announcer practiced reading the San Francisco Giants lineup and the grounds crew scurried about the field with mowers, rakes and wheel barrows.

Calhoun said once his three-inning shift ends, he will join the rowdy crowd gathered on the Promenade who count on those inside the viewing area to shout out big plays while still catching snippets of the action by looking over the shoulders of those inside.

''This is much better than going to school,'' said Nick Bryson, 13, of Sacramento. ''I feel sorry for my friends who are in school right now.''


AP staff writer Mike Householder in Detroit contributed to this report.