Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall Classic means baseball, crisp weather

Late October is one of my favorite times of the year for many reasons.

Fall colors arrive
just in time for
baseball's Fall Classic.
For one, the fall Bay Area weather is crisp ~ cooler temperatures mixed with just the right amount of sunshine ~ which makes it ideal for taking brisk walks.  Plus, the beautiful autumn colors have started dotting the neighborhood landscapes.

Best of all, baseball's Fall Classic has arrived.  And this year, it holds an extra-special meaning for me since my local nines, the San Francisco Giants, have made it to the World Series for the first time since 2002.

The Ballpark by the Bay:
Home of the San Francisco Giants
and site of Games 1 and 2
of the 2010 World Series.
This year's World Series starts today in the Bay Area at AT&T Park, which I prefer to think of as the Ballpark by the Bay. Less commercial that way and, in its decade of existence, the ballpark has changed its name three times (from Pac Bell Park to SBC Park to AT&T Park).  Still, it's a wonderful setting for watching a game ~ regular season or World Series ~ with great upper-deck views of San Francisco Bay ~ and, it's not every park that has knothole area (located in right field) for walking in to sneak a peak of the game for free, or a McCovey Cove, the water inlet beyond right field, that's about a 350-foot shot from home plate (a tidy 309 feet to the foul pole).

Giants baseball ~ Torture:
Brian Wilson preserves a 2-1
Giants victory on May 15.
The team's theme this year was coined by Giants broadcaster (and former player) Duane Kuiper:  "Giants baseball (pause) ~ Torture." Dramatic emphasis is placed on the word "torture." Kuiper came up with the moniker on May 15 after the team's maniacal and tattooed closer, Brian Wilson, needed 39 pitches to save an early season, 2-1 home victory for Tim Lincecum over the Houston Astros.  I remember the game well because I was there at the ballpark that day to witness the "torture." The Giants had their fair share of one-run victories in 2010.  They also accumulated a lot of one-run losses, too. Folks, it's the same gut-wrenching feeling, win or lose.

The Ballpark by the Bay provides
parking for ferry boats and
great views of San Francisco Bay.
Plus,  it's only 309 feet to
the right field foul pole.
(Photo: 2009)
Still, it's hard to believe the Giants have emerged as the last team standing from the National League.  It's also improbable that the Texas Rangers, who have never been to the World Series before now, are the last team remaining from the American League.  And, the Giants have never won a World Series in three previous tries (1962, 1989, 2002) since moving from New York to San Francisco in 1958.  So, in the words of Giants infielder Juan Uribe, there's going to be "a lot of happy" for which ever team wins the World Series this year.

Win or lose, a walk along
the Embarcadero from
the ballpark is just one
of the many things for
Giants fans to appreciate.
When you follow a team like the Giants on a day-in, day-out basis as I have this season ~ watching on TV, listening on radio, reading in print and on the Internet ~ it's like a season-long soap opera filled with plenty of ups and downs, and it involves a lot of unusually interesting characters.  I've spent a lot of time since the beginning of the 2010 season watching Kuiper and Mike Krukow describe what I'm watching on TV; a lot of hours listening to Jon Miller and Dave Flemming paint word pictures on the radio and, along with Kuiper and Krukow, after the games during their often-hilarious Post Game Wrap segments; reading Henry Schulman and John Shea's game accounts and columns in the San Francisco Chronicle and Andy Baggarly's San Jose Mercury News "Extra Baggs" blog.

This year's Giants team includes the following cast of characters:

* A youthful, long-haired, two-time Cy Young Award pitcher (Tim Lincecum), who was the object of Philadelphia fans' affectionate whistling during the NLCS.  Perhaps, they thought he looked cute with long hair or had a cute butt.

* A journeyman, tattooed first baseman (Aubrey Huff), who had never been to the post season before now, and who likes to sport colorful "rally" thongs around the team's clubhouse to keep the players loose while providing the press good quotes.

* A switch-hitting outfielder (Andres Torres), who needed an emergency appendectomy last month, then returned to the club healed just in time for the final weekend of the regular season, and who was voted the team's winner of the Willie Mac Award (named for Giants great Willie McCovey), voted by the team's players and coaches as most inspirational player on the team.

* Another outfielder (Cody Ross), who was waived by the Florida Marlins in August and, then, was "accidentally" claimed by the Giants in order to block the San Diego Padres from claiming him.  Ross merely became the starting right fielder in the post season and hit three home runs against the Philadelphia Phillies ~ including two against Roy Halliday ~ and he won the NLCS MVP trophy.  He's been all smiles this week.

* Finally, there's the rookie catcher (Buster Posey), who was recalled to the big leagues in May and not only became a regular by July, but also became the team's cleanup hitter and best clutch performer ~ both at the plate (.305 batting average, 18 homers and 67 RBI) and behind it, guiding a very deep and talented pitching staff like a seasoned veteran. Posey has been the team's MVP and is a deserving candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.

On paper, it says the Giants should have lost to the Phillies in the NLCS and, with a different outcome, it could have been the New York Yankees ~ or even the Minnesota Twins, had they played up to their potential ~ winning the ALCS.  But, the Giants and Rangers have gutted it out with the right amount of clutch hitting, the right amount of clutch pitching, the right amount of dumb luck.  Never underestimate the importance of dumb luck during the post season.  However, to their credit, Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Rangers manager Ron Washington have pulled all the right levers, made all the right moves to get their teams this far.  Now, four more wins closes the deal for one manager and his team.

Little Timmy:
After winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009,
Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum went 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA this season.

So, the scene is set for Game 1:  It's Lincecum against Rangers lefty Cliff Lee, a mid-season acquisition, who has been unflappable and unbeatable in the post season.  Game 2 is Thursday in The City (as locals like to refer to San Francisco as) before the Series shifts to Arlington, Texas, for Games 3 and 4 over the weekend.  Maybe, Cody Ross continues hitting homers like Babe Ruth.  Maybe, Tim Lincecum  comes up big and tosses another 14-strike out gem like he did against the Atlanta Braves during the NL Division Series.  Perhaps, Bengie Molina comes back to haunt his former team.  After all, he was made redundant when it was time for Buster Posey to become the every-day catcher for the Giants and, then, was traded to the Rangers.  Molina knows what it's like to play against the Giants in the World Series.  He was the starting catcher for the victorious Los Angeles Angels against the Giants in the 2002 World Series.

An inspirational Giant:
The Willie McCovey statue is located across
McCovey Cove from the ballpark.
(Photo: 2008)

The Say Hey Kid:
The Willie Mays statue is the focal point of
Willie Mays Plaza in front of the ballpark.

I hope the Giants (finally) win a World Series title for San Francisco.   Do it for Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, all Giants Hall of Famers, who never experienced the thrill of winning a World Series for the San Francisco Giants.  Heck, do it for Will "The Thrill" Clark, who was the charismatic leader of the 1989 Giants that were swept in the Earthquake Series by the Oakland A's.

It would be a lot of fun to join in and be a part of The City's celebration if the Giants win the World Series.  I remember the euphoria of the Twins' 1987 World Series victory when I lived in St. Paul, Minn.  There was "a lot of happy" back then, and the memories of the victory parade carried us through the cold, snowy winter months. However, if the Giants come up short, like they did in 2002 when it was the Barry Bonds Giants, there's always next season to look forward to.  Spring training starts in just a few months.

For now, however, it's all upbeat and smiles around The City and pretty bunting spread around The Ballpark by the Bay. The Giants have the home-field advantage for the first two games. Dumb luck.

Game on. Play ball!

All photos copyright by Michael Dickens (2010, except where noted).

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