Right field: Why the San Francisco Giants mean so much to me
Love affair with the Giants goes back decades and their second World Series title in three years is icing on the cake
You tried to stand up but your knees could not move. They were frozen, locked in place by winter's chill. But this was not January, it was the middle of July. Of course, seasons have no logic when you are watching a baseball game at night in San Francisco's soulless icebox known as Candlestick Park.
It was 1985 and the Giants were the worst team in baseball, well on their way to losing 100 games for the first time. Most nights I would share the stadium with only five or six thousand people, the Giants were last in the league in attendance as well. But no matter, we were a hearty crew, bonding over our incomprehensible love for this forlorn team.
Despite growing up 4,800 kilometres from San Francisco, I was hooked as a child by the unrivalled charisma of ageing Giant icon Willie Mays, the greatest baseball player ever. Now that I was living the in the city, there was no way I was not going to turn up three or four times a week to watch this sad sack team led by the likes of light-hitting shortstop Johnnie LeMaster, who would get so much grief from the crowd that one game he had the equipment manager take "LeMaster" off the back of his jersey and replace it with "Boo". Man, I loved that team.
These days my knees still hurt, but it's more age than cold. Still I could not help feeling a chill in them when I got an e-mail from a reader. He was chastising me for writing about retiring NBA commissioner David Stern in last week's column. He accused me of not watching baseball, told me his home team were one game away from a World Series sweep.
Then he sent me another e-mail with a picture of a panda about to maul a tiger and wrote, "Pablo Sandoval's nickname is Panda!" He grew up in the Pittsburgh area before relocating some time ago to San Francisco. But he was still a huge Pittsburgh Steelers football fan so I assumed he liked the Pirates in baseball as well. Of course, the Pirates have been pitiful for over 20 years while the Giants, the suddenly all-conquering Giants, have won two of the past three World Series.
I watched about 140 of the Giants' 162 games this year as I do most every season. My friend may not have known it before but he does now. Yes, the Giants are champions again. In 2000, they left Candlestick for a stunning new waterfront baseball park that is the best in the world. The vistas are incomparable, the vibe contagious and every seat in the yard has been sold for the past three years.
You can't pump over 40,000 people into AT&T Park 82 times a year with just diehard fools like me because there are not nearly enough of us. You need thousands of fans who knew nothing about the Giants five years ago but now show up wearing panda hats and lecturing one and all on the MVP merits of all-world catcher Buster Posey. I get all that and am cool with trendoids masquerading as baseball fans. I mean who doesn't want their team to be relevant? From a baseball perspective, the Giants swept the Detroit Tigers in four games because they are a baseball team and the Tigers are a softball team. The Giants are a likeable crew with great chemistry who cling to age-old fundamentals: they pitch, they catch and they run.
The paunchy Tigers basically hit home runs and because of that the media in the United States had them as heavy favourites to win it all and are now left wondering how they could get it so wrong. I'll tell you how, because they are a bunch of fools and unrepentant charlatans indulging in conventional logic and overlooking the intangibles. But why do your homework when ignorance clearly pays?
In 1993, the Giants were sold and ready to move to Florida before a group of businessmen, including Hong Kong resident Philip Morais, stepped up to keep them in San Francisco. Today the no-longer slumbering US media are calling them baseball's model franchise. They have young talent, lots of money and are the darlings of the legions of affluent young hipsters in the Bay area.
They are also an extremely likeable and successful group of players who don't belong solely to me any more and have not awhile. But Johnnie "Boo" LeMaster and his crew from yesteryear? Most of today's fans never heard of them. Me, I can still feel them in my knees.