As I type this I watch the San Francisco Giants take on the New York Mets in a wild card playoff game. The fourth time in seven years the Giants have made the playoffs. An embarrassment of riches after about 40 years in the wilderness forced on Giants fans by the baseball gods.
I grew up in a family in which being a Giants fan was somewhat of a given. I’m not sure why. My mom was born in Northern California and, other than about six or seven years, has spent her life here. My dad was born in Chicago, but came to Northern California via the Air Force. Most of us have now been here for 50 years.
I don’t know if we came to our Giants fandom via my mother or through some other natural progression. My older brother might have led the way as he started little league and became a rabid sports fan. Maybe it was my dad who started taking us to Giants games when we were young and the thing just followed from there.
All I know is that as a child growing up in my family, being a Giants fan was a given. It was a part of who we were. Except for one of my sisters who cried at the idea of having to go to baseball games. We went to games at Candlestick — one of the most god-forsaken places to see a baseball game because of the wind and the cold and the unforgiving nature of the concrete bowl that was Candlestick. We never went to see that other team across the bay — the Oakland A’s. And we developed a healthy loathing — a hate — for the Los Angeles Dodgers. No self-respecting fan of the Giants would want anything good to happen to that team or their fans.
But being a Giants fan was tough. As the days of Mays and McCovey and Marichal devolved to the days of Lemaster and Stennett and worse, we spent decades in the baseball wilderness. There were a few bright spots. 1989 and the Earthquake series. 2002 and the curse of Dusty Baker. But the ultimate prize continued to escape the team and its fans. There were a whole hell of a lot of low spots.
Until 2010 and the magic of the even years began. World Series victories in 2010 and 2012 and 2014. A thing no Giants fan could have ever thought possible. And now it happens again. After missing the post season entirely in 2011 and 2013 and 2015, they are back in with the summer of 2016. The odds are stacked against them. They won’t be favored in any series that they get into. We’ll see what happens.
Which is a long way to explain the memory this post is about.
When I was seven years old, my ever-so-brave parents took their brood of four kids, aged between 7 and 12 years, on a 10 week vacation across the country. Via a 21-foot trailer towed behind the family car. I was the seven-year-old in that brood and many of my memories seem to be fuzzy and vague and maybe made up of images created by the family stories that have been told in the 45 years since that trip.
But there is one memory that remains. We stopped here to see a baseball game.
That there is Jerry Park where the Montreal Expos played until 1976 after Olympic Stadium was built and the 1976 Summer Olympics ended their run. We sent to see the Giants play Les Expos. And a little seven-year-old boy had his glove with him because you know that we had our gloves and a ball or two with us for that long summer vacation to play catch every now and then.
I remember these things. Sitting in the seats somewhere along the right field line. I can see that field and the players on the field from that angle. The lights shining on the field, the green of the grass, and the darkness that filled the sky behind those lights. And I can see beyond the right field fence and the community pool that was right there. I can see that and I marveled at that when I was seven years old. A pool right there. And I feel like somebody may have hit a home run into the pool that night, but I’m not sure.
What is fuzzier to me is a memory of having the opportunity to get autographs from some of that little boy’s heroes. At a time when he didn’t really understand any of this. Of baseball. And heroes. And the poetry of this sport that has spanned so much of our national history. But I got those autographs.
Jim Johnson, a pitcher. Willie McCovey, their quiet, masterful first baseman who would become a Hall of Famer. Fran Healy, their catcher. Charlie Fox, their manager. An autograph I simply cannot decipher. And elsewhere on the glove the autographs of Dirty Al Gallagher, their second baseman, and Tito Fuentes, their second baseman.
I don’t know that I ever caught another baseball in that glove. What I do know is that ever since the summer of 1972, the glove has resided in a plastic bag buried in a box. I wonder what it may be worth, but I don’t know why. I’ll never get rid of it. Even if it stays in the box. It marks something. It means something. It’s about my childhood. It’s about the summer of ’72 and the wonderful trip my parents took us on. It’s about baseball. It’s about the Giants and a lifetime of dreaming and caring and living and dying by what they do every summer. Every day from the beginning of April, when hope springs eternal, until the colors turn, the leaves fall, and baseball winds down in the cooling days of October.