, , , , ,

I heard that it was rainy and wet and nasty in SF all last week, but in Tokyo the sun was out, from what I understand–I wouldn’t know, my office doesn’t have a window, and I’m inside all freakin’ day long.  But I’m trying to get a little outdoors time; last weekend I went to the big park in Kichijoji and it was beautiful.  The plum blossoms are in bloom, which means the cherry blossoms will be coming in a week or two, and I won’t feel so bad about my tour of duty here being extended.  I no longer need my heavy coat, I think I heard a bird chirping the other day, and some of the Japanese girls have ditched their black tights and are now going bare-legged (which is too bad—I have a thing for girls in black tights).  The point is—Spring is just about here, and with Spring comes the beginning of my real favorite season of all, GIANTS SEASON!

I, for one, am super stoked.  Our pitching is still dominant, Buster is healthy, Barry Zito is still, uh, bringing us good luck…we simply can’t go wrong!  Although I do have to spend an extra month away from the city I love, I’m hoping to go to a lot of games this season, and can hardly wait to munch on some garlic fries on a cold summer night as I watch my boys in orange and black trounce some unworthy opponent (hopefully the Dodgers).

If I may speak for a moment about love (after all, this blog does have the word “love” in its title): when you fall in love with someone, your reasons for loving her often fall into two categories: the little things and the big things.  The little things are those tidbits that you discover months or even years into your relationship, things about her that only you know, that aren’t obvious to everybody else, that you find endearing: the way her nose wiggles when she laughs; the smell of her perfume at the end of the night, when it has faded and is no longer overpowering, but still alluring; the intensity with which she deliberates between going for the sweet or savory option on the brunch menu, before looking up at you and asking if it’s okay to share two things.  One might say that those are the “true” reasons you love her, because they’re the aspects that make her truly special to you, and it’s through these little nuggets of idiosyncratic affection that you discover true compatibility.

But then there are those big picture things that everybody can see: the fact that she’s brilliant, really feisty, really sweet, and has an amazing ass.  People will argue that this is just “what she looks like on paper”, and that you should truly love her for those special things I noted in the preceding paragraph.  We need not get into this conversation right now—we can save that for another blog post (or not).  I am only making this distinction to use in an analogy about my love for San Francisco.  SF and I have many “little picture” morsels we share that make me love her beyond all other places in the world: the way the waves sound when lying on my favorite sand dune in Ocean Beach, the pumpkin French toast at my favorite brunch place (as you see, brunch is a very important part of love), a remote and seemingly misplaced staircase in a quiet western corner of the city that leads to something truly magical.

Then there are the big picture reasons one loves SF, which everybody knows about: Golden Gate Park, Ghirardelli chocolate, the fact that it’s a super-liberal, vibrant, beautiful city full of unbridled awesomeness.  In re-constructing how I fell in love with San Francisco, the Giants would fall into this category.  In fact, you could say that the Giants are “the amazing ass” of San Francisco (especially that Nate Schierholtz—rowr!), and I am most decidedly an ass man.

The Giants are an integral part of my SF love, but that begs the question, how did I come to love the Giants so much?  It’s an interesting story (at least I hope it is, as I always aim to please you, my dear readership).  The truth is, although I would describe myself as a “die-hard” Giants fan, I would be lying if I said I was a “life long” Giants fan.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Giants long before 2010—from what I understand there are a poop-ton of “Giants fans” around the city who had never watched a single game before Cody Ross joined the team, and I am certainly not one of those.  But, unlike the Niners, whom I loved from infancy by virtue of being born in SF in 1981, it took me a while to see the black and orange light.

My earliest memory of the Giants is watching the 1987 NLCS against St. Louis with my dad.  My dad was (and still is) a Giants fan, but his love is not life-long either; he grew up in Youngstown, Ohio as an Indians fan.  As family legend goes, my dad and his two brothers had tickets to Game 5 of the 1954 World Series between the Indians and the NY Giants.  As we all know, the Giants swept that one in 4 games (featuring one of the most incredible catches in the history of the sport by arguably the best player to ever grace the field), and my dad and his brothers were completely heartbroken, so much so that they all renounced their love for the Indians then and there.  My dad’s older brother eventually moved to Kansas City and became a Royals fan, his younger brother eventually moved to Boston and became a Yankees fan (yes, you read that right), and my dad eventually moved to SF and became a Giants fan.

But I digress.  In 1987, I found watching the baseball games to be extremely boring.  The 1987 squad had a great roster—Mike Krukow pitching, Jeffery Leonard with his flop-armed home run trot, Will “The Thrill” Clark, but I couldn’t have cared less.  The only part of the NLCS that I liked was watching Ozzie Smith do his backflip.

The truth is that when I was young, I hated baseball.  My parents made me do little league and, like most other sports, I found early on that I sucked.  My dad tried taking me to games at the ‘Stick but the only enjoyment I got from those outings was getting to eat the Polish dogs.  When the 1989 Giants/A’s Battle of the Bay took place, I didn’t watch any of the games (interesting side note: in 1989, Marin County was divided nearly 50-50 in terms of Giants and As fans, now, judging from Facebook, it appears that most of the As fans have converted to Giantism).

So what finally made me see the light and fall in love?  I am going to tell you all now something I have never told anybody in my life.  I am extremely embarrassed about this and fear you will all judge me, but also, now that I am older, I care less what people think and have become much more forthright in stating my beliefs and talking about dirty secrets from my past (as some of you may have noticed).  Without further ado, here it goes:

In 8th grade, I went to a baseball game with my Jewish youth group (yes, I was in a Jewish youth group growing up, very actively as a matter of fact—perhaps a blog post on this is in order in the future).  I think at that point I hadn’t been to a game in about 5 years, and I wasn’t looking forward to it much beyond the Polish dogs.  However, in the bottom of the first inning, one of the Giants hit a double to the warning track that, for whatever reason, got my heart racing as the stadium erupted in cheers.  In the fifth inning, that same player hit a home run that must have been at least 450 feet.  Our seats were in the nosebleeds (which in the ‘Stick, were absolutely awful), but a friend let me borrow binoculars to watch his next at-bat.  Although this player only got a single that time, to watch him in the batters’ box was amazing.  His poise, patience, timing and swing were absolute perfection.  In the top of the 8th, the other team had two outs and a man on second when the batter hit a liner deep into the outfield for a base hit.  This player who had been so brilliant on the plate ran back, grabbed the ball as it bounced off the back wall, and hurled it with laser speed and accuracy to the catcher to tag out the runner.  It was one of the most incredible throws I have ever seen and to this day, the outfield assist to home plate is still, in my opinion, the most amazing and beautiful play in baseball.   In short, with this one player’s sensational performance, a kid who had never been interested in baseball at all through the formative years when all little boys are supposed to love the game instantly became insanely passionate about the sport and that one special team.

I shouldn’t need to tell you who this player was, but for those of you who know nothing about baseball (assuming you’ve read this far, which is doubtful), it was a young star outfielder acquired a few years earlier from Pittsburgh named Barry Bonds.  So there you have it, dear readers, my die-hard fandom for the Giants began with the man who became one of the most hated characters in sports.  Don’t hate.

Barry Bonds planted the seed, but from then on, falling in love with the Giants just became easier and easier.  Although 2010’s rag-tag bunch of misfits and ruffians or whatever Bruce Bochy called them were easy to love because, well, the won the freakin’ World Series, the Giants of the late 1990s/early oughts were an amazingly fun group to watch.  After Bonds, Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow joined, then came Rich Aurillia at short and Bill Mueller at third, and old Ellis Burks in the outfield.  More impressive was our pitching—it was in those years that the Giants made pitching a priority, with Livan Hernandez (back when Livan Hernandez was Livan Hernandez, before he became Livan Hernandez), Russ Ortiz, Jason Schmidt (see comment about Livan Hernandez), and Shawn Estes, with the final inning being called the “Nenth Inning” for a damn good reason.  All led by the skipper Dusty Baker, who has got to the most beloved manager ever.  Heck, we all still love Dusty, don’t we?

I left home at 18 and promptly bought a Barry Bonds away jersey, as I knew I wouldn’t be returning to SF for a while.  Pac Bell Park opened, and I must say that it is worth going to a Giants game just to be in that ballpark.  In fact, I don’t think there’s any place on earth I would rather spend 3-4 hours of summer.  The Giants played well.  2000 should have been our year, and I was damn pissed when we lost the NLDS to the crappy-ass Mets.  Speaking of the Mets, during the years I lived in NY, I’d go to Shea whenever the Giants were in town.  My final trip to Shea remains one of the most embarrassingly drunk nights of my life.  How drunk was I?  Let’s put it this way: I had to throw away my jeans the next day because they were completely covered in mustard stains.  I know it’s been nearly ten years, but if anybody who was at that game with me is still my friend and reading this blog, I sincerely apologize for the way I acted that night.

I was living in NY in 2002 when the Giants faced the Angels in the World Series.  Game 6 remains one of the worst nights of my life.  Two of my old friends from back home were also living in NY, and the three of us went to a bar, expecting to emerge whooping it up for our city’s victory.  Leading 5-0 after 6 innings, we were ordering shot after shot of tequila and high-fiving strangers in the bar who really didn’t give a fuck about baseball if it didn’t involve the Yankees (typical New Yorkers, and yes, that was intentional diss of Mets fans or the lack thereof).  The bar was across the street from a tattoo parlor (as is every bar in NY), and we decided that when the Giants won, we would go across the street and get Giants tattoos.  Of course, we all know what happened.  I don’t want to go into details about the meltdown right now—it simply hurts too much—but after we lost game 7 as well I vowed that once the Giants won the World Series I would get my Giants tattoo, even if it didn’t happen until I was an old man and every patch of skin on my body was wrinkly like a prune.

During the early-to-mid 2000s my love for the Giants remained strong and continued to grow, but as with all true romances, it was not without its problems.  And sure, like most people in love, I chose to ignore what was so obvious to those who weren’t so hopelessly enamored: Barry Bonds, the man who had single-handedly turned me into a Giants fan, without whom I would probably have never developed any sort of appreciation for the beautiful game of baseball, was pumping himself up with steroids.  It was impossible for me not to be a Bonds fan—he was the most exciting man in the sports world.  During the year he set the home run record I’d sit in my dorm room, doing my homework while keeping mlb.com’s Gamecast on so that I could run to the common room every 40 minutes or so to watch Bonds’ at bat.  For a while, I was a denier—I actually even used to say “no way, his head as always been that size” or “it’s just flaxseed oil.”  After a while, I stopped denying, but just kind of pretended not to notice or care—a sort of “la la la I can’t hear you” approach to knowing that somebody I loved was cheating on me.

When Barry didn’t come back after 2007, I was silently relieved.  No longer did I have to feel guilty about being a Giants fan.  I continued to wear my Bonds jersey to games, but now it was to be ironic (you know how we love our irony in SF).  I think we were all a little relieved, but on the other hand, we were devastated.  When somebody you love so much leaves your life, how can you ever fill that gap?  The 2008 and 2009 seasons were both shitty, and attendance was abysmal.  On the other hand, tickets were dirt cheap!  I think I went to 5 games in 6 weeks in 2009, all of which the Giants lost (Zito pitched 3 of them).

In July of 2010, the Giants were hovering around .500, and I was lamenting with a buddy in my bar exam class about how we’d never see our team win a World Series.  When I left for my bar trip at the beginning of September, things were looking a bit better, although I still didn’t think the Giants would catch the Padres.  But then…well, if I may use a G-d-awful cliché, the rest, they say, is history.  As I traveled from country to country, I would read the game recaps every day with more and more excitement.  The NLCS began when I was in Italy.  I was staying with a friend from Marin in Pompeii, and we stayed up all night to watch the first few games.

I’ve now heard everybody’s stories about where they were when the Giants won the World Series.  How the streets were painted orange and the entire city got wasted and sang “Don’t Stop Believin’” together.  On the one hand, I was extremely jealous that I wasn’t back home.  On the other hand, it didn’t matter where I was—watching the team I loved become world champions was enough to put me into a state of indescribable ecstasy in any location.  But since you asked (didn’t you?), I was in the “Hotel Arafat” in Istanbul.  I had paid $20 to watch the postseason live on mlb.com (best $20 I ever spent), but the wireless in my room didn’t work very well, so I watched in the lobby of the hotel, as the old man at the front desk fought to stay awake while playing solitaire on his PC running Windows 95 while other patrons brought home ladies of the night.  The game started at 2 AM, with the last pitch just a little after 5.  I wasn’t sleepy at all, in fact I was so hopped up with adrenaline when Brian Wilson notched the final out that I grabbed the girl sitting nearest to me and kissed her right on the mouth!  The amazing feeling of the Giants winning the World Series didn’t even begin to fade until well into the 2011 season, and it still comes back when I watch this clip:

I hate to say it, but I’m glad we did it without Barry.  I wouldn’t want the Giants’ first World Series victory in 56 years and first ever in San Francisco to be marred by allegations that we were cheating, like, say, a certain team that used chemical enhancements to end its 86-year World Series drought.  Oh, and to answer your next question, yes, I stood by my vow.

On Friday, the Giants’ 2012 season will begin in Arizona.  A week later, it’ll be Opening Day at AT&T Park.  I was hoping to somehow finagle a ticket to that game, but it looks like I won’t even be in the correct hemisphere.  No problem, I’ll follow my boys online until I’m back in a place where they’re on TV every night.  I said it before and I’ll say it again: I, for one, am super stoked.  Our injuries have healed, we were looking sharp in Spring Training, and I think Melky Cabrera has a great name.  I’m finally trading in my Bonds visiting jersey for a Posey home one—I guess it’s time to move on.

But then again, I can leave Barry behind but my love for the G-men will never die.  Everybody, lift up your fancy, pretentious microbrew (perhaps a sour beer from Toronado?  Those are damn good) and clink glasses for the San Francisco Giants, the nicest ass a city could ever hope to have.  When I’m back, let’s catch a game together, okay?