These are not fickle fans or even bandwagon jumpers.
Harlan and Sidney Tougaw – married 47 years – soak in all things baseball. Season-ticket holders with the River Cats since 2001, the Tougaws embraced the A’s when their Triple-A feeder was rooted in Sacramento, and then they switched allegiances when the Giants became affiliated with the River Cats in 2015. Harlan watched the Sacramento Solons play in the 1940s when that Pacific Coast League team resided on Broadway.
The couple arrived to Raley Field on Friday afternoon nearly two hours before the first pitch to set up shop not too far behind the plate, all the better to watch every movement of the evening’s headliner.
Madison Bumgarner started for Sacramento against the Fresno Grizzlies; the anchor piece to the Giants’ three World Series championship teams is working his way back to San Francisco.
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“Had to get here early,” Harlan said with a laugh, peering at his wife, who was wearing Giants colors. Both are retired state employees. “We started off as A’s fans, then back to the Giants, and it was easy to be a Giants fan. You root for guys like Bumgarner.”
Bumgarner departed with two outs in the fourth inning with a 5-4 lead after 62 pitches, 41 for strikes. He wasn’t sharp, allowing seven hits, four earned runs and walking one, but he still received a standing ovation.
“I actually felt pretty good, getting closer,” Bumgarner said. “It was a good atmosphere, pretty fun.”
Raley Field was awash in orange and black, including dozens of Bumgarner No. 40 jerseys. But a lot of fans had mixed emotions. The big 6-foot-5 left-hander wasn’t even supposed to be here. He was supposed to be good medicine for an otherwise sickly Giants campaign, but the 27-year-old MVP of the 2014 World Series is recovering from a sprained AC joint in his pitching shoulder suffered in a dirt-biking accident in April.
But Giants fans are a forgiving lot. Bumgarner, it appears, is too likable to loathe.
“He’s a person just like us, and for him to get injured in a bike accident was human, even if it was a mistake,” said Robert Jasso, who brought his 6-year-old son, Alex, from their Vallejo home. “He’s an every-day guy. That’s why people like Madison, and I’m not a fan to bash someone. We’re here to appreciate and watch him.”
Alex wore a Bumgarner jersey that went to his knees, and the bright orange matched his grin and his Joe Panik backpack.
“Oh, we had to be here,” Jasso said. “My son insisted on it.”
A rehab assignment for a Giants player is a big deal here. When Hunter Pence was in town in 2015, he gladly signed autographs before taking the field. But it’s different for pitchers. They are creatures of habit, and fans generally understood that this was work duty for Bumgarner, not an autograph show.
“Pitchers need to be in the right mental state,” River Cats general manager Chip Maxson said. “I think fans understand that it’s a treat just to watch this guy pitch.”
Maxson caught wind of Bumgarner’s impending Raley visit some 15 days earlier via text from Giants general manager Bobby Evans. Giants executive vice president Brian Sabean watched Bumgarner’s start from the press box.
“There’s been a buzz here all week,” Maxson said.
The buzz included jam-packed concourses. Beer and food lines were long. Raley Field’s team store was bustling with business, selling Bumgarner shirts, jerseys and rally towels.
River Cats play-by-play radio announcer Johnny Doscow felt the vibe, and he fed it, too, on his broadcast.
“Definitely a buzz,” he said before the game. “My sister Emily called: ‘I need 10 tickets!’ You want a sellout. It’s a great atmosphere here. You can let the game breathe. It’s wonderful.”