The Giants have won the World Series bringing the championship to San Francisco for the first time ever! When Buster Posey caught the third strike on Nelson Cruz, a journey which began with my mother dropping off me, my brother and our friend Charles, who back then was known as Tony, on the corner of Clay and Van Ness in San Francisco sometime in the mid 1970s, ended in a hotel room in Tbilisi, Georgia more than 30 years later. Those spring and summer mornings, my mother would give each of us seven dollars-three for a ticket in the upper reserved section of old Candlestick Park, the remainder was for bus fare and food. When the bus driver was in a good mood and only charged fifty cents for the ballpark express, there was plenty left over for hot dogs, soda, popcorn and ice cream, but if the driver charged two dollars or more, it made for a hungry day at the ‘Stick.
That didn’t matter. What mattered was the baseball and the Giants. For most of those first years the Giants were terrible with a few very exciting, but not quite good enough years like 1978 or 1982 sprinkled in, seemingly just to get our hopes up and dash them again. We had the mazel to become Giants fans as children a couple of years after Willie Mays had played his last game for San Francisco and to become adults by the time the Giants were contenders again beginning in the late 1990s. For my generation of San Franciscans, being a Giants fan meant rooting for a perennial loser, but one without the charm of the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs or the self-referential righteousness of the Boston Red Sox.
Candlestick Park, during the 1970s and 1980s, was one of the biggest, oldest and coldest ballparks around. It was poorly conceived and poorly built, much like the baseball teams that called Candlestick Park home for the years when my passion for the Giants was its most intense. Nonetheless, for many years, heading to the ‘Stick to see the Giants play was one of the great joys of my life. As I grew into adolescence, Candlestick Park and the Giants were something of a refuge. Ironically, during those years, the ‘Stick became a place where I could escape from a life that was increasingly characterized by other forms of escapism.
For me the ‘Stick was never simply about baseball, but the names, statistics and faces of players of that era are burned onto my memory. Some were great players like Darrell Evans who had a face that looked like he was an old teenager with acne and was rumored to believe he had once seen a UFO, Jack Clark who seemed to have a million dollar swing and a ten cent head, Vida Blue who came over from the A’s, wore a blue glove and “Vida” across the back of his uniform and, of course, the incomparable Willie McCovey who was in his prime before I was old enough to follow baseball, but then returned to San Francisco when I was already a fan to finish his career and drive in a few more clutch runs.
There were others such as Johnnie Lemaster, Rob Andrews or Marc Hill who were decidedly not great. In the case of LeMaster, they were downright terrible, but even “Johnny Disaster” as we called him had a sense of humor about himself, once coming out on the field with the word “Boo” written across the back of his jersey. To this day, more obscure names like Skip James, Bill Bordley or John Tamargo float in and out of my mind more frequently than is probably healthy. I still have strong memories of a handful of specific games I went to during those years-a pinch hit double by Willie McCovey to win the first game of a double header against the hated Dodgers; a sweep of the Cardinals by the Giants during a Sunday doubleheader; Jerry Reuss’s no hitter against the Giants in 1980; and the famous Mike Ivie game where Ivie’s pinch hit grand slam helped the Giants beat the Dodgers in that magical 1978 season. The Giants kept coming up short year after year as a World Series victory remained something we could only dream of, but nobody seemed to notice outside of the Bay Area.
Great stars came and went Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Jack Clark, Will Clark and Barry Bonds all gave their best years to the San Francisco Giants, but never won a championship. For me, it was not these players, but people like Milt May, Joe Pettini, Ed Halicki, Jerry Martin, Atlee Hammaker (who Tony, now known as Crazy Charlie, still curses), Rennie Stennett and Gary Lavelle who came to characterize the franchise as the 1970s turned into the 1980s.
My own journey with the Giants continued into adulthood when the Giants finally made it back to the World Series only to be swept in four games in a World Series that will always be more famous for an earthquake than anything that happened on the field. A few months after the Giants got swept in 1989, I moved to New York; and a decade later the Giants moved to a new stadium. Being a Giants fan in New York has meant two decades of saying “the baseball Giants” every time I mentioned the team, and constantly explaining to disbelieving New Yorkers that the Giants haven’t won a World Series since 1954. In the last twenty years, the journey has taken me to a few rides on the seven train every year to see the Giants play the Mets, often with tickets given to me by my friend Neil, a lifelong Mets fan who respected my loyalty to the Giants. There was also a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Mets in 2000 and the 2002 game six meltdown which I watched online from Georgia while emailing my friends in utter despair, but which is not quite as painful to remember on this day.
The journey has continued with another generation of Mitchell Brothers-true San Franciscans will not be able to suppress a laugh at those two words. Just as my brother and I bonded over baseball and the Giants, so have my own two sons. My younger son has worn his Giants cap to school every day for three years. For him, being a Giants fan and a San Franciscan are deep parts of his identity which make him stand out from the Yankees and Mets fans at school and elsewhere in his life. My older son, upon being told by his Little League coach that he wanted him to start playing catcher, showed up at the first practice of the fall season in a Buster Posey t-shirt he picked out during our annual trip to San Francisco and AT&T Park. At the first Little League practice this fall, none of the other players or parents even knew who Buster Posey was. I suspect they do now.
My sons’ memories of the Giants will be different than those of their father and uncle, but Tim Linecum and Buster Posey have done for them what Jack Clark and Vida Blue did for me and my brother, helped create a bond and a way to talk about anything that will last the rest of their lives. For both generations of Mitchell brothers, the 2010 Giants have brought this journey to an unlikely and extraordinary end.
As I sit alone in this hotel room with tears streaming down my face, cursing the timing of this business trip, my mind turns from Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Juan Uribe, Brian Wilson, Bruce Bochy and all the others who have made this World Series victory possible. Part of me is reliving the journey-the odd feeling of comfort, despite the cold, of settling into a cheap upper deck seat at Candlestick Park as problems with school, family, girls and life would fade away and my Giants would give me a respite for nine innings, the hours of conversation with people who I now consider among my closest friends in the world about the Giants and their chances that I have been having for 30 years and hope to have for at least another 30 more, all those mornings poring over the Sporting Green, when it was still green, and later various baseball websites to find out how the Giants did.
On some level, I never thought the Giants would do this. I feared there would always be an Atlee Hammaker disaster, a Troy Glaus double or a decade of mediocrity that would keep the Giants from winning it all, but tonight they proved me wrong. Fifty-six years after a a great play by a young Willie Mays, some clutch hitting by Dusty Rhodes and pitching by Johnny Antonelli led the team to its last Championship, 52 years after their first game in San Francisco, and about 33 years after my mother’s green Datsun station wagon pulled away and my brother, Crazy Charlie and I began waiting for that bus to take us on a journey that has lasted most of our lives, the Giants have finally won it all. Congratulations to the most exciting Giants team any of us have ever seen, to the city of San Francisco for showing the country how to play ball, throw a party and celebrate, but mostly to Uncle Dondi, Crazy Charlie, Johnnie Mash, Dave L., Zed, Uncle Robert, Jeff from the Sunset, Wappy, the Lowrie, Doron, Paul J, Sweet Melissa, Republican Charles and all the other Giants fans who have waited so long for this.