My San Francisco Giants
I couldn’t remember the last time I went to a Giants game, but we definitely had a different president. That ain’t good, for a kid raised on Will Clark, Robbie Thompson, and (my personal favorite, the player whose cards I collected as a grubby-fingered youngling) Brett Butler.
So, back in the Bay Area after a few years among the baseball-deprived, the footie-fanatics, the soccer-seeking-savages, who think ERA is a brand name and OBP a medical disorder, going to a game was on deck. When I heard two of my dearest San Franciscans were going to marry each other, I looked at that beautiful union and thought “There’s an excuse to go to a Giants game.”
The park of my childhood was Candlestick, dug into the edge of San Francisco’s worst neighborhood, a fortress of cement so ominous it looked more like a Soviet mining camp than a stadium. We always peered down at the field from the nosebleed seats, even before I quite understood what that joke meant, but nachos never tasted as good as they did with those fog-chilled fingertips, and a paper cup of sickly sweet hot chocolate was too good for the gods.
Now we sat in a much nicer ballpark, where the fries come soaked in garlic, and beer has moved from an odor to a flavor. So close to the action, I could see the extent of the season’s beards, as well as the ubiquitous advertising, and paused a nostalgic moment to remember the days before branding conquered professional sports, and when prices were less punitive. Then the national anthem finished and my San Francisco Giants took the field.
The uniforms and the energy were the same, and musical queues still provoked their clap-response without my conscious action. The four note “up-down-up-down/Let’s Go Giants” plays and my hands smack out clap, clap, clapclapclap of their own volition. Pavlov’s palms.
A baseball game is the perfect place to hang out. It’s dull enough to allow time and space to sit back and focus on the company of friends, but irascible enough that at any moment you might have to jump up and scream yourself hoarse as that long fly ball decides whether or not to stay fair, or your leadoff hitter digs for two.
And in a world that seems increasingly contrived, political campaigns and international debacles seemingly orchestrated months in advance, baseball remains reliably unpredictable, where the worst team sweeps the best and the rookie strikes out the All Star. And in this Twitter-headed age that requires constant tension, you never know if you’re going to sit through a 0-1 sleeper, or a 9-10 festival of offense. The drama is so much more poignant when it’s real, unpredictable, out of anyone’s control. And this year’s last couple weeks to play have drama to spare, as both my Bay Area teams juggle the Wild Card.
Our game was…beautiful. The first third was a pitching battle, with moments of teasing promise, then clenching danger, and sighs of release when both came to naught. Bottom of the fourth and good solid baseball put the Giants up by 1. High fives until your hands tingle, and the throat needs a drink to cool it down again.
But top of the fifth, they tied it up with a solo shot to right; at least they earned it. More tension, pitches slapping into the catcher’s glove and cracks of the bat that open the eyes, but the side is retired. The seventh inning stretch must have relaxed the dugout too, because the bottom of the inning put us on top by one, again… But top of the ninth, they tied it up.
So. Here we were, in the sort of scenario imagined on playgrounds and vacant lots throughout the ages. Bottom of the ninth. Tie game. Two outs, one on, our star kid (I’m old now, I can call a 27-year old a ‘kid’, especially when he’s as fresh-faced as Buster Posey) walks up to the plate. He settles in. The sold out crowd stands. Fouls and balls, close calls and tricky takes, and it’s a full count. One more strike and we go to extra innings…
But instead it’s a high fly ball, going, going…veering towards the line…hard to tell from where we are…is it going to stay fair? The noise is already crashing when it lands in the seats, and the wave breaks. Beer is undoubtedly flying, somewhere, and no one cares. He rounds the bases while the bass vibrates our seats, and 41,503 people have both arms in the air, and a city is shouting.
We file out in the jubilant crowd, and I walk to the BART station in a steady flow of Giants jerseys, drifts of pot smoke, and the glitter and dance of the Bay Bridge’s nightly light show. Friends, my hometown, and a win for my team: it’s a mighty fine summer night in San Francisco.