I regularly have these conversations with other sports fans.
“Whose your favorite baseball player?
“I don’t have favorite players. I follow teams.”
“But Posey? Pence? Curry? Lebron?”
“No. I follow teams. With all of the movement of players from team to team and all of the things you learn about their human weaknesses at some point, I don’t fall in love with the players. I follow the teams.”
As long as I can recall being a fan of sports, when it comes to the team games in America, I have been a fan of the San Francisco Giants, the Golden State Warriors, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’ve spent my life in Northern California. As a result, that last favorite team — the Steelers — frequently results in raised eyebrows. The thing is, I grew up in the 70s. The decade when the Steelers were winning four Super Bowls, the 49ers sucked, and the Raiders were the root of all evil. I’ve been a Steelers fan ever since.
The reality is, however, that my first, last, and only love when it comes to real and true sports fandom is the San Francisco Giants. I have struggled with remaining interested in the NBA as the game has grown more and more boring as the years go by. It’s only the recent success of the Warriors that has brought be back into the fold. And the NFL? Bah. I detest them. Their dominance. Their arrogance. The fact that as the baseball season turns its late summer attention to heated pennant races, the sports pages turn their attention to the NFL preseason — as in, practice and games that don’t count. I have hated that for years. If I had my way, although I follow the NFL because I am an inveterate sports fan, the league would cease to exist. Tomorrow.
But the Giants. The baseball San Francisco Giants. It’s been a love affair ever since I was a child. Listening to them on the radio on KNBR as I went to sleep. Reading the box scores in the paper every morning for years. Decades. Living through years and years and years of suffering.
Followed by a magical five year run with three World Series championships. I believe I can speak for many Giants fans when I say, I didn’t know how to act.
The thing is that their success didn’t change things for me. I remained a fan of the team. The players were another story. I never attached myself to any of them or considered the players to be my heroes or role models or anything like that.
As the 2017 season winds towards its hideous, horrible end for us Giants fans, however, I’m beginning to realize that I missed something in my being a fan of a team and trying to resist the significance of the individuals.
This will be the last season for Matt Cain. He first made an appearance for the San Francisco Giants in 2005, at the tender age of 20. From that point on, he became a mainstay in the Giants rotation for the next ten years. At the end of this season, he will have spent his entire professional career in the Giants organization.
Matt Cain was class. For the first few years of his life as a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, he pitched remarkably well, but recorded more losses than wins because the Giants offense absolutely sucked. He never complained.
Matt Cain was class. He went out and did his job. He pitched every five days. He gave his team a chance to win almost every one of those games. And when the offense failed, he never complained. He never whined. He just went out five days later and did it again.
Matt Cain was class. In 2010 and 2012, he was a fundamental piece of the San Francisco Giants first two World Series Championships. He was 4-2 in the postseason, with an ERA below 3.00. In the World Series, he pitched twice, with one victory to his credit and an ERA below 2.00. Things changed by 2014 and the third and final run to the World Series. He didn’t pitch an inning in the postseason. And he never complained. He never griped.
Matt Cain was class. He persevered. Did his job. Earned three World Series rings. He pitched a perfect game in 2012. He ends his career now with more losses than wins, but it wasn’t his fault. And he has never complained.
A few years ago, after a season of struggle, Matt Cain went under the surgeon’s knife to remove bone spurs from the elbow of his pitching arm. He has never been the same since. Imminently hittable and remarkably unsuccessful after almost ten years of incredible success.
The thing that always baffled me about Matt Cain was that he didn’t seem to have any awesome gifts as a pitcher. His fastball was routine — not up in the high 90’s, not a lot of movement. It always seemed so flat and hittable. He didn’t have a huge, sweeping curve. Or something else that would baffle batters. Except for the only thing that is left. Pinpoint location. When he threw a pitch, it went where he meant it to go. And he could mix things up just enough to keep batters off balance.
Maybe somebody else who knows more about pitching can explain it, but what was so great about Matt Cain was his success without any apparent strength.
A few years ago, Matt Cain signed a contract extension that paid him over $20 per year for a few years. The contract runs out this year. Unlike some athletes who try to hang on, convinced that they have one more year and if they could only get that one year, things could turn around and maybe they would have another year, and another, Matt Cain has announced his retirement at the end of the season.
Tomorrow he will have his last start as a Giants pitcher. As a major league pitcher. I plan on watching the game. I want to watch a baseball hero. A man who did his job. He never whined. He never complained. No drama. Absolutely nothing other than that he went out and pitched every time his manager gave him the ball. He achieved success beyond anybody’s wildest dreams. And he recognized when his time was over.
Matt Cain was … and is … class. He will be missed by this Giants fan and by many others as well.