KingMidget's Ramblings

Pull up a chair. Let's talk.

Tag Archives: San Francisco Giants

My Rules of Being a Sports Fan

1. What Dad says goes.  If you grow up in a family where your father is a sports fan and follows certain teams, you have no choice. This is in the #1 slot for a reason. It trumps all other rules. My father grew up in Chicago and I believe he grew up a Cubs fan because that’s who his father followed. I think. (I need to go back and read Tuesday’s Child.) When he left home and joined the Air Force, he eventually met my mother, a Northern California native and, after a couple of relocations, returned to Northern California. My family has been rooting for the San Francisco Giants ever since. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 years. We went to Giants games on a semi-regular basis, but never the A’s. What Dad says goes.

Corollary: Apparently, if you are a girl and you get married, what the husband says goes. My sister, charming and talented though she is, has questionable allegiances now. Her husband is from Southern California. When they graduated from college, they moved to Southern California, where they spent the next 20 years or so. When the Anaheim Angels faced the Giants in the 2002 World Series, I believe she was rooting for the Angel since they were her husband’s team. The rest of the family has never really known what to do with this. I mean, my God, she even bet me when the Sacramento Kings were playing the Lakers in a post-season series — and she took the Lakers.

2.  Geography matters. If Dad doesn’t follow a team or a sport, you are free to follow your heart, but the first priority is the local team. There are more corollaries to this than there is space to cover them. But I’ll cover a few.

Corollary #1: First in matters. Here in Northern California, for the first 15 years or so of my interest in sports, the Golden State Warriors were the only NBA team in the area. As a result, I was a Warriors fan. This was a sport my dad didn’t care much about. As he frequently said way back when — all you have to do is watch the last two minutes of an NBA game to see what matters. As a result, Rule #1 never applied anyway. I went with geography and followed the Warriors through years of misery. Trust me, misery. In the late 1980s, the Kings came to Sacramento. Geographically speaking, in the heart of my hometown, you know. While I became a fan of the Kings, I continued to follow the Warriors and when they played each other, I always have rooted for the Warriors. Because … yes, first in matters

Corollary #2: You know your enemies by where you live. Growing up a Northern California sports fan has meant one simple thing. It is the 11th Commandment. It is as basic to me as needing air to breathe, food to live, and beer in a glass, not a can. Thou shalt never root for a Southern California team. Ever. Thou shalt wish that nothing good ever happens for any Southern California team or its fans. Hence, any team south of the Tehachapis might as well reside in Hell. The Dodgers, the Angels, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Los Angeles Kings and now the Rams and Chargers in the NFL. Truthfully, San Diego is south of the Tehachapis but the hate isn’t as strong with those teams because … let’s be honest, San Diego teams never actually win anything. So, we feel a little sorry for them.

But back to the hate. For a NoCal sports fan, it doesn’t even matter what the sport is and whether you care about the sport. Nothing good can happen for those teams. Nothing. Ever. Did I say that already? Nothing. Ever. It should be the same for Cubs fans and the  White Sox. Dallas Cowboys fans and the Houston Texans.

Corollary #3: There can be extenuating circumstances. I grew into being a sports fan in the 1970s. My dad didn’t much care about the NFL, so Rule #1 didn’t apply. The 49ers and Raiders were the local teams. But here’s the deal. The 49ers absolutely sucked back then and the Raiders were … well, the Raiders and I couldn’t be a fan of them. So, I looked around. The Steelers had characters and a run of success no team has ever had — winning four Super Bowls in six years. I started following the Steelers and have been with them ever since, even if they are 3,000 miles away. Yes, I chose to ignore Rule #2, but I have complied with Rule #4 ever since. I should get credit for that.

3.  You also know your enemies by who your team is. As a Steelers fan, I have teams I hate — all of the teams in their division (Bengals, Ravens, and Browns). Why? Because. That’s why. And then there are other teams — they are the teams that take away my team’s success. And for years, that team has been the New England Patriots. My dislike, my seething anger at the Patriots rivals the same feelings I have for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s strong. Similarly, the Anaheim Angels are not only a Southern California team, but they beat the San Francisco Giants in that 2002 World Series — they shall forever be on the no-fly list for me.

4.  Once you pick a team, following these rules, there is no going back. You can’t change your mind because your team sucks. You can’t change your mind because that other team is so good or because your favorite player left for other parts. No, you follow your team through thick and thin. Except for one exception — when your team leaves you.

This all leads to the conundrum I have for today’s Super Bowl, and my final rule.

5.  Sometimes you just make this shit up. Based on geography, I can’t root for the Los Angeles Rams. Based on being a Steelers fan, I can’t root for the New England Patriots. But … the Steelers are the only NFL team to win six Super Bowls. It is a mark of distinction that has held them above all other NFL teams for decades. As a result, I root against any team that gets close. If the Patriots win today, they will have won their sixth Super Bowl. That is simply unfathomable. As a result, I will be rooting for the Rams. But I think the Patriots are going to win and that this is the year when somebody matches the Steelers in this hallowed category for the first time in forever.

Advertisements

A Good Man Gone

Bob Gibson, who was likely the most feared pitcher of his era, once described Willie McCovey as “the scariest hitter” in baseball. McCovey aka Willie Mac aka Stretch hit more home runs at Candlestick Park than any other hitter.  Candlestick Park, a stadium that was notorious for being a place where home runs went to die.

Growing up a Giants fan in the 1970s I don’t have much memory of his early years as a Giant — the years when he was in his prime as “the scariest hitter.” Although I did get his autograph on my glove when I was seven years old.

Instead, my memory picks up when he returned to the Giants in 1977, after a few years with the Padres and A’s. McCovey was a mountain of a man who lumbered around the diamond, playing first base and swinging a bat that looked like a small tree, while he played out his final few years as a major league baseball player.

At one point, McCovey held the record for most career grand slams. He ended his career with 521 home runs in an era that predated steroids, and was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

More important to me is the fact that McCovey was a quiet man who didn’t make a lot of noise about himself. He let his game speak for itself and for him. And he was such a good player and man that the San Francisco Giants organization created the Willie Mac award upon his retirement. The award is given each year, based on a vote of players, coaches and others within the organization, to the most inspirational player on the team. It says something about McCovey that this award is one of the biggest deals of every Giants season.

One of the best things the Giants organization has done over the last 20-25 years is to embrace their history. Players from years past, and decades ago, have been brought back into the organization, treated like royalty, and adored by fans and players alike. The stadium has statutes of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and others. The stadium is located at McCovey Cove in the San Francisco Bay.

What the Giants do with their history is one of the reasons why baseball is the best major sport in America. It continues to tell a story in which generations of players are linked with each other. No other sport is like baseball, with its 162 game schedule each season that tells one piece of its story every year and its historical ties that go back decades. Why? Because the game has not changed all that much. Unlike football and basketball, where the rules change every year, baseball is still following the same basic rules it always has. There are rarely changes that alter the fundamental dynamics of the game. And so the story continues from year to year, decade to decade, and on into the future. The Giants maintenance of their history keeps that story alive.

Willie McCovey passed away today. It was a day all Giants fans knew was coming. McCovey has been suffering for a long time with the physical ailments of an athlete who put it all out there at the major league level for two decades, and the inevitable other ailments that hit the old. But he will not be forgotten by Giants fans. He is an integral part of the story of the San Francisco Giants. I still have that glove and while I may not have much memory of that 1972 summer when he signed it, the autograph means something that no money could replace.

Willie McCovey, a man who deserves the title “Legend”.

willie mac

 

A Class Act

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.

With Regret

On a glorious sunny day, I took my boys to a Giants game.  They were 11 and 8 at the time.  It was Sunday, May 28, 2006.  A lifelong Giants fan, I tried to go to at least one game a year and I wanted to bring my boys up right.  As Giants fans.

That afternoon Barry Bonds hit a home run that marked him as a great.  He hit number 715, surpassing Babe Ruth.

 

It’s one of those memories etched in my brain.  The boys and I sat in the upper deck somewhere between home plate and third base.  The ball arced out to the seats just to the right of center field.  And the celebration was on.  Along with 41,000 of our fellow Giants fans, I screamed my head off.  My boys did, too.  I explained the significance to them and we were happy.  It was a moment to revel in being a Giants fan.

Between Bonds and history stood only Hank Aaron’s magical number of 755.

This was a time when Giants fans didn’t have much else to cheer or dream about.  Sure, a few years earlier they made the World Series — a series they lost because Dusty Baker thought it was okay to give the game ball to a starting pitcher before the game was actually won.  And they made the playoffs every now and then.  But seriously, for years, most of what Giants fans had to cheer about revolved around Barry Bonds.

His every at-bat was an event.  Something could happen that would cause your jaw to drop. That short, compact, yet powerful swing just might produce another home run.  He gave us something to watch.  He provided meaning to every game.  He gave us something to cheer in an otherwise empty chapter of Giants history — just like all of the other chapters in Giants history that stretched back to my childhood.

In May 2006, I was 41 years old.  Being a Giants fan since I first became aware of baseball — because that’s what our family was — I was used to misery and not having anything to cheer about.  I rode the Bonds train just like most every other Giants fan.  What else did we have?

A little over a year later — in fact, ten years ago to the day — Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s record with number 756.  I watched a video of the home run earlier today and still marvel at his swing.  At the sheer talent of what he could do.  But I wasn’t at that game and the reality is that the stink of his chase had finally sunk in for me.

Barry Bonds likely had one of the most beautiful, perfect swings of any hitter in the game of baseball.  He had an incredible eye and owned just about any mistake thrown by a pitcher.  He was pretty much a Hall of Fame player before any steroid taint entered the discussion.  He won three MVP awards in the early 1990s and put up numbers that were at the top of the game during that decade.

But it wasn’t enough.  In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa engaged in a home run duel for the ages, with both topping the long-standing single season record.  And, at the end of the day, it was all fueled by steroids.

What Bonds couldn’t stand apparently was all of the attention and accolades Sosa and McGwire received in 1998.  Shortly thereafter he began a run of performance unrivaled by any player in the history of the game.  A run that began when he was 35 years old, when most baseball players are winding down.

While I cheered and screamed wildly for all of his successes, just like the rest of us Giants fans, we knew.  We knew that what he was doing was toxic.  But what else did we have?

I look back now with ambivalence and with regret.  This article over at si.com describes better than I can the reasons for that.

The odd thing that happened while I thought about this tonight was that I compared it to what is going on in America today.  For almost a decade, the hundreds of thousands of us that call ourselves Giants fans overlooked Bonds toxicity, his cheating, his arrogance, all of it … because he was our guy.  Guess what all of those Trump supporters are saying today … it doesn’t matter what he does because he is our guy.

Yes, there is a huge degree of difference between something as ultimately meaningless as baseball (although baseball is life and art and poetry) and the honor and integrity of the Presidency, but I feel sick at the idea that I ignored his cheating because it felt good at the time and because he was a Giant.

What I am most grateful for is that it was only a couple of years after his last season with the Giants, after purging him from the organization and cleaning house, that the  Giants went on their first successful World Series run in more than 50 years. 2010 will always be the year the Giants wiped the slate clean.  2012 and 2014 were just icing and the cherry that none of us expected.  And each one of them put the tragedy of the Bonds years further behind.  For that I am thankful, but that success will never change how I will always feel about Bonds.

My hope is that he never makes the Hall of Fame, although I think he eventually will — likely in either his ninth or tenth year of eligibility.  I won’t care then and I won’t celebrate it.  He doesn’t deserve it.  He was the poster child of the poison that was Major League Baseball for about ten years.  He and several others, just like Pete Rose, should be forever banned from the Hall for what they did.

A Bit of a Memory

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.

Overview of Forbes Field

 

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.

glove-2

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.

%d bloggers like this: