Tuesday, November 2, 2010

52 seasons: A long and winding journey ...

The San Francisco Giants celebrated their first World Series title in the city's history Monday night.

"Wait 'til this year!," as someone suggested to San Francisco Chronicle Datebook columnist Leah Garchik, has a nice ring to it.

So does GIANTS WIN IT! as today's front page of the San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed.

San Francisco Chronicle front page, Nov. 2, 2010:
Big headline, "a lot of happy" on the field, says it all.

Although the Giants previously won five World Series titles in the team's long and glorious history, they were all as the New York Giants.  The team's most recent title came in 1954, during the Eisenhower administration, against the Cleveland Indians. Remember the grainy video and black-and-white pictures of Willie Mays' over-the-shoulder catch at the Polo Grounds?

However, until last night, they never had won a World Series title as the San Francisco Giants, a city that's been the Giants' home since 1958.  There have been a few close calls, though. The Giants came within one out in 1962 against the New York Yankees; got swept by the rival Oakland A's in the earthquake-interrupted Series of 1989; and lost a seven-game heart breaker to the Los Angeles Angels in 2002.

Through the years, the Giants' roster was well supplied.  Yet, they never won any titles despite the best efforts from Mays and fellow Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry, as well as other popular Giants through the years, including: Will Clark, Matt Willams, Kevin Mitchell, J.T. Snow, Jeff Kent and the Home Run King himself, Barry Bonds.

Buster Posey, the Giants' gifted, 23-year-old rookie catcher, nicely summed up the meaning of winning a championship for an organization and city that has been starved for 52 years. "It's crazy to think with all the great baseball players who have come through San Francisco, there hasn't been a World Series championship," Posey told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Over the past week, there's been so much to absorb about this current merry band of baseball misfits ~ "quirky dudes" writes The Hollywood Reporter chief TV critic Tim Goodman ~ these 2010 San Francisco Giants are.  One thing is clear, as Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain told the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman (and, maybe others, during the pandemonium of last night's victory celebration): "We're the World Series champions of 2010."

Nicely put, Matt, who earned the nickname "Texas Cain-saw" after his mastery of the Rangers in Game 2. Now, let's toast the town with a glass of Champagne and celebrate with a victory parade.

52 seasons:  It's time to celebrate with a victory parade.

The Giants' journey started during spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., back in February, which by now seems an eternity instead of just nine months ago.  It carried through the marathon of this season ~ baseball is a marathon, never a sprint ~ and took on a life of its own, earning the slogan of "Giants baseball: (dramatic pause) Torture!"  Finally, during the last weekend of the regular season, at home, the Giants caught the San Diego Padres to win the NL West.  The Giants lost their fair share of close games, but they won a lot of one-run nail biters.  Yes, they provided their fans with a lot of torture.

The Giants dugout on a Saturday afternoon in May:
Top of the 9th, a 1-run lead ~ it's torture time ~ and no thoughts
of playing in the World Series.

Then, national baseball critics ~ especially Fox and ESPN ~ didn't give the Giants much of a chance to go deep in baseball's second season. However, they ran the table during the post season, beating the Atlanta Braves in four games; the defending NL champion Philadelphia Phillies in six games and, finally, the Texas Rangers in what seemed like five quick games.   The Giants garnered great pitching and capitalized on some very timely hitting.

"The Freak": Tim Lincecum has won two Cy Young Awards.
He came up big in the final game of the World Series.

On the final night of the 2010 journey, a 3-1 victory over the Rangers at Arlington, Texas, the Giants' two-time Cy Young Award pitcher Tim ("The Freak") Lincecum shut down the AL champion Rangers, hurling eight masterful innings, which included 10 strike outs, and the game produced an unlikely hero in Edgar Renteria.  The soft-spoken, injury-plagued short stop, who earlier in his career played on championship teams with the Florida Marlins (1997) and St. Louis Cardinals (2006), and is considering retirement, hit a three-run home run off Rangers ace Cliff Lee in the top of the 7th that broke a 0-0 tie and gave the Giants all the runs they needed.  Closer Brian ("Fear the Beard") Wilson shut the door on Texas in the ninth by striking out Nelson Cruz for the final out of the World Series, and the celebration was on.

During the post-season playoffs and the World Series, fans got to see Giants pitchers like Lincecum beat Derek Lowe and Roy Halladay, not to mention besting Lee twice.  They saw Cain and Madison Bumgarner shine on a national stage ~ both pitched brilliantly in World Series Games 2 and 4 ~ and quirky players like Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff strutted their bats, too.  Ross was Ruthian at the plate, knocking out four post-season homers, and Huff ~ a true baseball journeyman ~ laid down the perfect bunt of his life in the 7th inning Monday night that set the table two batters later for Renteria's homer.

Taking time for paradise:
A view from the center field bleachers at AT&T Park.

I would've loved snatching a ticket to one of the two World Series games played in San Francisco at AT&T Park, our Ballpark by the Bay, as I prefer to call it.  After all, I've been to many Giants games since the park opened to great fanfare in 2000 and, before that, saw some memorably cold games at old Candlestick Park.  However, tickets to this year's World Series were scarce and extremely costly ~ three-figures-and-up costly.

Instead, I spent about half an hour last Sunday walking around the ballpark, bought a couple of souvenirs at the Giants Dugout store, and stepped inside the area around the outfield bleachers and kid's play area to soak up some sunshine and enjoy the atmosphere.  Then, I went home and watched that night's Game 4 from the comfort of my living room with the Fox TV sound muted in order to enjoy the play-by-play broadcast delivered by the Giants' announcers: Duane Kuiper, Mike Krukow and Dave Flemming, on the radio.  (Giants Hall of Fame announcer Jon Miller called the play-by-play for ESPN Radio, but was on hand for the post-game celebrations on Monday night with his colleagues.) That's right, baseball on the radio, a 20th century invention that's still relevant and enjoyable in the 21st century age of the Internet.

Speaking of the Internet, my wife and I participated in a live Internet chat (my moniker was "micdic") via San Jose Mercury News baseball writer Andrew Baggarly's "Extra Baggs" blog before, during and after Games 3, 4 and 5, that was highly entertaining and provided a forum for many Giants fans like us, near and far, to bond and unite, and share the "torture."  We would have logged in for all five games had I known about it sooner.

It's a beautiful day to reflect on a "torturous" but winning season:
Enjoying the Sunday afternoon sunshine and solitude of AT&T Park.

As I blog, it's time to step back and regroup, reflect, read the headlines and digest the many wonderful stories and blogs about the Giants' triumph.  Tomorrow, there's a victory parade in downtown San Francisco along Market Street. I suspect there will be hundreds of thousands of Giants fans like me from all around the Bay Area lining the parade route.  I know there will be lots and lots of orange and black (the team's colors) worn by fans of all ages, a lot of SF logos displayed, and a lot of congratulatory posters and banners like the one I saw on TV last night after the game ended: "The torture has ended." After the parade ends, we'll collectively sigh, and ask our baseball nines:  "Must you go?"

Fans across the country, including here, enjoy taking pride in supporting their city's winning athletic teams.  Especially ones that just won a World Series title.  Even if it took 52 years ~ more than a lifetime for many fans ~ for the moment to happen.  I've merely been along for the ride since moving to the Bay Area in 1995.

One of my favorite sports columnists, Bruce Jenkins, summed up his feelings ~ and, I imagine, those of many long-time, suffering Giants fans ~ in the front page of today's San Francisco Chronicle Sporting Green section.  Simply stated, he wrote:

"San Francisco Giants. Born, 1958. Blessed, 2010."

True that.

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