BY MATT LaWELL
SAN JOSE, California | Some seasons, back before budgets increased and the San Jose Giants started to win California League championships in bunches, a small group of good people in windowless offices under the bleachers at Municipal Stadium managed to hold together the old park with little more than paint. The ones who are still around say that now as a sort of joke, the kind of punchline common in baseball stories.
Well, it might be a joke. Or it might not be.
“No,” Mark Wilson says with a straight face. “There really were times paint was our only capital expense.” Wilson would know. He has worked for the San Jose Giants since before they were the San Jose Giants. He started almost 30 years ago and has jumped from the bottom of the front office to the top. He is the general manager and chief operating officer now. He knows this team. He knows it history. He smiles.
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When Wilson arrived at Municipal Stadium back in 1984, it was already more than four decades old, cramped and outdated and in line with so many other stadiums back then. Before the boom of the 1990s and early 2000s that churned out hundreds of new parks around the country, most front office staffers promoted their teams by handing out pocket schedules — if they even printed them — and propping open a sandwich board out at the corner. “GAME TONIGHT,” those boards often read. “7 P.M.” There never was much more to sell than cold hot dogs, warm beer and nine innings. San Jose seldom lured more than a couple hundred fans.
Municipal Stadium is 70 years old today, one of the last minor league baseball stadiums still standing that was built as part of the Works Progress Administration. A video board hovers over the wall in right and the aromas of an open air barbecue famous around the league waft from behind third base. Wireless Internet courses out of a renovated press box. The seats fill up with a couple thousand fans even for windy weekday night games. The place manages to be old and feel somewhat new. It does not feel 70.
“Over the last 10 to 15 years, we have just reinvested in the building,” Wilson says. “It has some of the modern amenities, but we always wanted to keep the older feel. Certainly is hard to make a 70-year-old ballpark look new.”
Murals cover the walls from one end of the concourse to the other, Juan Marichal here, George Brett there, Superman and Lois Lane somewhere in the middle. There are painted pennants of old teams like the Salt Lake Gulls and the Salinas Spurs that call back to a simpler time, before the minors were cool. Logos are everywhere.
One way Wilson and the rest of the Giants front office tries to make it look new is to use paint — buckets and gallons, all in a rainbow of colors. Murals cover the walls from one end of the concourse to the other, Juan Marichal here, George Brett there, Superman and Lois Lane somewhere in the middle. There are painted pennants of old teams like the Salt Lake Gulls and the Salinas Spurs that call back to a simpler time, before the minors were cool. A full list of all the San Jose Giants to play in the Majors — 150 in all, including 109 for San Francisco — is painted on the backs of the bleachers near third. Logos are everywhere.
The menus are painted.
The ads are painted.
The bathrooms are painted.
The humble signature almost everywhere is the same. Tony Lima.
A sign painter in San Jose, Lima started to paint Municipal Stadium about 20 years ago. He picked up his brushes every week, sometimes every day. Wilson and the rest of the front office always found some work for him. “We just lost him,” Wilson says. “We lost him to cancer in the offseason.”
His death affected everybody in the front office. Four months after the Giants learned Lima was gone, Juliana Paoli, the chief marketing officer, lost her voice when she talked about him and his work. Her office is on the other side of Superman and Lois Lane. She says it’s her favorite mural in the park.
Not long after the end of the 2011 season, Lima recommended another painter to pick up the tradition. The Giants listened to him and hired Mark Huddleston. His signature is not nearly as prevalent around the park, not yet. The two painters have slightly different styles, slightly different brush strokes. There are differences, but not many. The Giants are, very literally, in good hands.
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Lima is gone now, mourned and missed. His work remains everywhere.
Huddleston will keep the tradition alive, try to continue what Lima carried for 20 years. Wilson has plans to introduce new murals, touch up older ones, add little touches here and there. At one end of the covered concourse, a wall of painted league championship pennants shines even after night games. There are 11 now, with room for more.
“I’ll always leave room for another year,” Wilson says. “It could happen this year.” He smiles again.
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