Monday, October 25, 2010

A-Mays-Ing Grace

Two Teams/Two Cities
The last out of a team's season happens in an instant, but lingers for days, weeks, even years for some. Admitting that your team will play no more games is difficult,  especially if your team happens to be the NY Yankees. Success does indeed breed a bitter discontent in baseball. You wonder what in the world Jeter will do with himself!

Well, Jeter has a fiance named Minka Kelly; you should not worry about him.

It happens that I have two teams in my life: the other one being the San Francisco Giants, with whom I have a long history. Here it is:

1955: My father took me to my first-ever baseball game by subway to the Polo Grounds (right) to see the NY Giants play the Milwaukee Braves. It took me decades to figure out why he chose the Giants over the Yankees or Dodgers. He didn't.  He had been a Boston Braves fan until 1953, when the team had moved west. He went to see his team.

I instantly fell in love with the Giants, based on aesthetics as much as anything else: the orange and black team colors, the way they looked on the off-white Jerseys, the old stadium itself. My father bought me a baseball signed by all of the Giants, 1954 World Champs: Willie Mays, Johnny Antonelli, Dusty Rhodes, etc.

Sadly, I no longer have that ball, but I have the memory of that ball and that day. I'm eternally grateful to my father for taking me, even though the team-bond I formed has caused some heartache over the years

The Giants could not win another World Series in the next 56 years , and I have wondered more than once, if my attendance was far more meaningful to them in some catastrophic way, than it was to me. Perhaps 2010 will be different.

1962: The Giants left New York after the '57 season along with some other team whose name I forget. I use to listen to the distant games on my radio, a huge wooden thing with tubes that created more warmth than the radiator in my bedroom. Russ Hodges announced the games played at Seals' Stadium (left), the Giants temporary home.

I naturally assumed that Hodges was at the games, but he was in a NY studio reading a ticker-tape, while a sound technician created the crowd noises and the crack of the bat. Hodges was famous for once having to invent the game action for about 17 minutes,  when the ticker malfunctioned one day. He was so good, his fake game would surpass most of what passes for announcing of real games today.

I remember exactly where I was in October '62 for the 7th Game at Candlestick against the Yanks: Bobby McDonald's house (Forest hills Gardens NY), where we played basketball most afternoons. Willie McCovey (right) stepped to the plate at Candlestick in the bottom of the 9th, two-out, two-on, score 1-0 Yanks. He hit what he later called "the hardest ball of my life" into Bobby Richardson's glove at 2nd. Series over.

Talk about lingering! That ball is still headed into right field for a 3-1 win in my heart, if not my mind.

1976: That season, I lived in San Francisco near Alamo Square. I attended what was supposed to be a rare Candlestick double-header with the Mets. It turned out to be about six different games after factoring in the weather over 8 hours: bright sunshine, cool evening breeze, fog from the Bay, and finally finger-numbing cold. San Francisco summer at its best, and worst.

1989: Yes, we waited 27 years for another chance, against the cross-Bay rival Oakland (Phil/KC) Athletics, who quickly took the opening two games at their undistinguished  home field. On Oct. 17, I rushed home from work to see the 3rd game only to have my wife, the DG,  meet me at the door (naturally, at 54 Highland Road) to tell me about the huge earthquake hitting the Bay area at that very moment.

It took 10 days to finally play that game, but the Giants, their fans, and their city were not thinking about baseball, and they quickly lost both games at Candlestick.

2001: I purchased a ticket for a seat right behind home plate, before flying out to attend a business meeting on the peninsula. I took the train right to the new Pac-Bell Stadium (now AT&T). The Gilroy Garlic Fries' concession was located directly behind home; the catcher, batter, umpire and fans smelled those fries for the entire game: probably everyone in the whole place did.  Yes, I did have them, and they were real and they were great: so great, in fact, I don't remember the score or care.

2002: Hanging on the chair beside my right shoulder is a 2002 World Series commemorative Giants cap. Honestly, I do not have too much to say about 2002, when the Giants were ahead in games 3-2 and  5-0  against yet another California team, the Angels, in Game 6.

They lost the game and the Series.

I had mixed feelings about those Barry Bonds' Giants. Enough has been said and written about Bonds; he is a polarizing player. I can only say that, if we have to make a choice between an egotistical cheater and a system of eternal Grand Juries, which can hound and torment any citizen for as long as they please, while leaking information at will, I'll take that flawed individual every time. The season for that court case never ends.

2010: Any team needing to win one game out of two, going into Philadelphia, no matter what the sport, is up against history and the culture of a city with THE most rabid fans anywhere. But, the Giants did it, taking the NLCS game-six 3-2. I had to listen to the games on radio again, due to a little boy executive spat between Fox and Cablevision. Even those dim-wits can't ruin baseball.

I remain calm, loyal and will be at peace, no matter what happens in the Series against the Rangers

My father bought four tickets that changed my life. He took me to that Giants' game and he took me to my first tennis match at Forest Hills. Both decisions have made a richer life. I still have a young boy's enthusiasm for his team, do or die, and I enjoy my tennis games more than ever.  The artistry and the small details of the games still appeal to me as much as the outcomes; grown men competing and at play.

I do not know what Cubs' and Indians' fans do to keep their hopes alive. Those are the only two teams who have waited longer to win a Series than the Giants. I do know that Giants' fans sustain themselves by treating a few wonderful seconds which occurred in 1951 (Bobby Thomson's homer) and 1954 (Mays's Catch, left) as if they too are still happening, a kind of A-Mays-ing Grace.

That's a pretty good thing to have, but maybe one win every 56 years would not hurt either.

© 2010 TWMcDermott

Ed Note: We dedicate this piece to the memory of our great friend, teammate, and opponent, Kurt Sanger,  and to Bradley White. Kurt and I used to gather every "little kid"in the neighborhood and play baseball against them: just the two of us. He died in 1989 just outside Candlestick Park. Bradley and I specialized in stoop-ball and our own invention "cup-ball," for which we crumpled up a wax-paper cup ball and used a piece of fencing for a bat. We each made up all players' names. This game was brilliantly played underneath beach cabanas. Bradley's family moved to SFO in the Fifties.

1 comment:

Jay said...

Great blog. I started following the Giants in 1969 when it looked like they'd play the Mets in the playoffs--that season didn't end well. Then they had to 1971 team that hung on to win the division, and after taking the first game in the playoffs promptly lost the next few games--next season sold Willie Mays. When they first won the WS this year it was more RELIEF than anything else--now its a winter of yelling THE FN GIANTS ARE WORLD CHAMPS!!