I’m lucky enough to be on the very end of the generation that loved baseball, collectively. Folks my age, we all seem to have connections to a team, our childhood teams. The team whose cards we would set aside when we opened a pack of Topps cards. Guys from your team didn’t go into the bike spokes or get chucked up against the wall against when you played pennies or chicken or what ever we called it. You took care of your guys. In my case, my guys.. were always San Francisco Giants.
Baseball games were, by and large, the first professional games kids my age went too, and why not; summer, tickets were cheap and it was fun. We had football and basketball growing up, they were there, but on the sports radar, at least in the early 70’s the NFL hadn’t quite taken over the national conscious yet and basketball was something else all together, games were rarely even on TV and when they were, it was on those UHF Channels, with Roller Derby and Bob Wilkins Creature Features.
But baseball.. baseball resonated, for one thing, it was a game that we kids actually played, or in my case watched other kids play, I was told for years that I was a horrible athlete. Probably a ruse by the parents to keep them from driving to games on Saturday. But on the ball field, whether you were in the stands chomping fire stix and jolly ranchers or playing for Sundown Little league, In our little minds there was direct line of ascension from the ball field behind the pool on Belmont Ave in Stockton, right to left field in Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Given: Some of us, we were gonna make the bigs. As it turned out, only one of the kids from my school ever did make the bigs. Mike MacFarlane, who played across town, managed a 13 year career, mostly with the Kansas City Royals. The rest of us, we graduated from Little League spectators to Giants and A’s fans.
Growing up in Stockton it the 70’s allegiances to baseball teams was a little complicated. The Giants were the home team, I din’t care who ya ask. The A’s were the new comers. However, in the early 70’s the A’s were winning World Series and picking up fans while the Giants were mired in mediocrity. Personally, didn’t help that the only Jewish baseball player I’d ever heard of, Mike Epstein. Matter of fact he wore a black armband in the 1972 playoffs in memory of the Israeli Olympic athletes. Rumor at the time was he even lived in Stockton and commuted to Oakland.. Well even having SuperJew on the team didn’t sway my affections.
We liked the A’s… but we loved the Giants. The Giants had Willie Mays and Willie McCovey… That meant every thing to a 10 year old kid.
The Giants have been for me that childhood team that I’ve followed my entire life. I actually remember my first Giants game was in 1974 when, on the way home from summer camp, my Dad decided to swing through San Francisco and take me to my first big league game. We sat in the outfield bleachers. You couldn’t hardly see the plate because of a gentle rise in the field behind the pitchers mound. But we were there. And for our trouble we got a free Giants rain jacket, I still remember it because it had the old cursive Giants script across the front.
Growing up, I would attend many more Giants games, my first job out of school was about 3 miles from the ball park. Back in the day I’d make it to 10 to 15 games a year at Candlestick. With the exception of one Warrior game where Sleepy Floyd lit up the Lakers for 51 points, all of my best sports memories are from Giants games. I have amazing clarity around some of these goofy memories. The time a foul tip of Jeffery Leonard’s bat hit the seat next me, sending my wife diving under my chair covering her mouth and screaming “By BRIDGEWORK”.
Andre Dawson hitting two homeruns, identical line drive shots over the right field wall. I remember watching Atlee Hammaker warming up against the Cardinals on game one of a Saturday double header, we had a 2 run lead and I knew when “the Hammer” came in, we were screwed. And we were. I remember a sore ass about the 6 inning of Game 2 of that same double header. By that time, the crowd was as out of it I was, baseball fatigue.
I remember catching every series when the Braves were in town. At the time, Braves and Giants were two of the worst teams in baseball, we’d go because Ken Oberkfell once talked to my wife at a Cardinals game when she was a kid. Later in his career Obie was traded to the Giants, and we were inundated with calls of congratulations as if we’d pulled the trigger on the deal ourselves. Seems that Mrs S has similar baseball experiences, if Berine Carbo and Obie are “experiences”.
I was lucky enough to see Willie McCovy’s return to the Giants in the late 70’s and have memories of him at first. I used to like to try to get on the first base side of the field, under the overhang and not behind a post. And I remember when he retired and we thought.. we’ll never have another First Baseman like that.. until Will Clark.
I froze my ass off at week night games, watching the fog come pouring over the top of the stadium. Easily the coldest July nights I’ve ever experienced. I earned a couple Croix de Candlestick pins for sticking around to see extra innings at some of those night games, I’d like to find those now.
I hum’ babied with Roger Craig, and I was heard to say on numerous occasions “doesn’t Will Clark have the sweetest swing you’ve ever seen” and I told folks “Rueschal’s pitching today, we’ll be out of there in two hours.” And I was usually right. I saw Dave Dravecky’s arm break, twice, and I remember the big one in 1989. The Quake that rattled theDream Series, The Bay Bridge Series, Will the Thrill vs. Big Mac. Only in the Bay Area would the biggest sports spectacle in the history of Bay Area Sports would we be reminded that in the end, forces bigger than us are at work.
Last night the Giants, my Giants, won the World Series for the first time in my life, and uh.. I’m not that young. Until last night, World Series and Giants really didn’t go together. The Fall Classic was reserved for the hated Dodgers, the Yankees or the cross bay guys in the green and yellow.
Now, the Giants have always avoided the World Series with some semblance of pride. We were never like the poor Cubs fans, a team who developed a brand around being losers, or the Indians who for years played to an empty field with pathetic performance. The Giants were almost always pretty good, not great, but pretty good. They were respectable in their record, but never could put it over the top. For 54 years they couldn’t put it over the top.
There’s been a lot of publicity about Giants Torture. With their great pitching and so so hitting, their games are often nail biters. I never considered myself tortured by the G-Men, but I never started a season thinking, this could be the year. I always knew better.
This year, when the boys made the playoffs, I was right there with the “experts”, if they’re lucky, they might squeak by the Braves, but they they’re gonna get killed by the Phillies. The Phillies after all have great pitching AND great hitting. But hey, it’s the Giants and they did their best, pass me another Anchor Steam would ya.
Then I watched in awe as the pitching took over and dominated every series they were in. I breathed into a paper bag a couple times, got up and walked around the room, looked way, and clenched fists and jaw, and when it became really tense, it was.. as they say.. torture.
And it was great.
So for the first time in my life, my team has won the World Series. Over the winter I’ll watch some hoops, take in my new adopted sport, college hockey, and wait. And when Spring rolls around, and the pitchers and catchers report for duty in Scottsdale, it’s going to be all different. I think, for the first time, all of us fans of the Orange and Black will have the same thing on our minds.
This IS the year.
And, BTW, I still a Giants milestone to achieve.. I’ve never been to the new ball park. Moved to Minnesota before that could happen. Gotta have something left to achieve.