It’s Friday, October 1st, and it’s tough to concentrate on work today. Those who are not baseball fans, please indulge me a moment to blog about what’s going on with the San Francisco Giants.
Tonight could be the night. At 7:15 Pacific at Third and King, Matt Cain, the Giants pitcher who subdued the Colorado Rockies in Denver last Sunday, is going to lead his teammates onto the field, on his 26th birthday, to face the only team left in the way of a National League West title: The San Diego Padres. The Chicago Cubs did the Giants a favor yesterday, shutting out the Padres in San Diego to reduce the “magic number” to one. With a victory, the Giants clinch the division outright, and head into October baseball. You can bet that beyond just normal fans, the ballclub’s entire ownership group and assembled San Francisco notables will be on hand.
“Baseball is a crazy game,” players always say, so nothing is done until it’s done. The Padres cast a spell on the Giants earlier this season, so the Friars can’t be taken for granted. However, it’s going to be an amazing night at AT&T Park. This is 30th anniversary of the Willie Mac Award; the players and coaches award a player who “best exemplifies the spirit and leadership” of Willie McCovey, the Giants legendary first baseman. McCovey, though still recovering from major back surgery, will be there. The Giants have invited all of the previous winners of the award, including Jack Clark, the Ripper from the late 1970s and early 1980s; Bob Brenly, the popular catcher from the mid-1980s team; plus Jeff Kent, Robbie Thompson, Mike Krukow, Darrell Evans and the others.
The San Francisco Giants have never won a World Series and have only been there three times, in 1962, 1989 and 2002. The Franchise has not won one since 1954, which I think outside of the Cubs is the longest stretch for any Major League Baseball team. Around the stadium and out on McCovey Cove, where Barry Bonds landed so many splash hits (Pablo Sandoval got one yesterday), there are plaques and monuments everywhere. I love how the Giants management embraces the storied history of this team, increasingly to include its New York era. Monte Irvin had his number retired this season in a very emotional ceremony.
But that means that there a lot of ghosts out there, living and dead, 50-plus years’ worth, who are watching this particular combination of players to see if it is the one that can push the Giants over the top. I’m one of those who became a Giants fan during the great summer of 1978, while a student at UC Berkeley. After years in the doldrums the Giants put together an exciting team at Candlestick Park that included Clark, Evans, McCovey, Bill Madlock, Johnnie LeMaster and very good pitching staff led by Vida Blue. That team faded, as alas many have, but I got hooked on this passionate but ultimately frustrating team. There were the Roger Craig teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s, with Thompson, Matt Williams, Will Clark and Kevin Mitchell. And then there were the Dusty Baker-managed Barry Bonds teams, culminating in the bitter 2002 loss to the Angels. Could this current team end the frustration?
Yesterday, I played hooky and went out to the ballpark on a gorgeous, warm afternoon to see Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Andres Torres and the rest take on the Diamondbacks. Even now, I still see the bowed back of the 21-year old Bumgarner, looking no more than his age, his eyes peering over his glove as Posey flashed the signs. I could feel the intensity of Bumgarner’s concentration even from where I was in the stands. Then he would whip his body in motion and deal – getting himself out of jam after jam and enabling his suddenly “Bye, Bye Baby!” home-run happy teammates to take control.
Tonight, it’ll be Matt Cain’s turn. If he’s successful, San Francisco is going to go full throttle, spilling over with exultant baseball fans. It’ll be wild, noisy and crazy. This is a hungry town. But, as the great Yogi said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” and so I make no plans. We live in the moment tonight.