My father took me to my first baseball game at Candlestick Park in 1962. The Giants played the St. Louis Cardinals, and Willie Mays won the game in the 10th inning with a home run. I was 9 years old. I was hooked on Giants baseball for life.
This season I did something that has always been on my bucket list: follow the Giants season game by game, and not just occasionally. This season, I would follow every game. That’s 162 regular season games and, as it turned out, 17 postseason games.
I started by watching the televised spring training games on MLB.TV. By the end of the season, I had watched, or listened to, 105 regular season games, including 10 playoffs and seven World Series games. If I didn’t watch or listen, I read the wrap the next morning in the Northern California newspapers.
My wife, Lori, was a saint for putting up with what became my obsession. She watched many games, and we went to a few. At a family wedding in Wisconsin, I had a game playing on my smartphone.
In an odd way, it helped that we no longer live in California. We live in Virginia, which, as it happens, is the market territory of the Washington Nationals. There were no blackouts for Giants games here except when the Giants played the Nats, in which case the tickets were about one-third the price of a seat in San Francisco.
At our first Nats game, we found ourselves sitting in a sea of orange and black that stretched from home plate into the left field stands. It seemed we were seated with thousands of diaspora Californians rooting for our ancestral team. Pitcher Jake Peavy signed a baseball for me.
For most games, I could webstream Bay Area TV coverage. But for some games, I listened to the KNBR radio webstream, and that took me back to my boyhood when that is how we “saw” most Giants games.
Hearing it on the radio tapped my imagination in ways I’ve not experienced in years. No slow motion, no replays – just the artistry of a voice in a booth finding just the right words to describe an enormously complex series of movements on a field. My favorite line, as Marco Scutaro was plodding around third base: “He’s leaking oil.”
I learned a lot about baseball, how grueling it is and how Bruce Bochy had to manage through slumps, injuries and “buzzard’s luck” as he calls it. We saw new players emerge, in particular Joe Panik, but also saw many veteran players struggle with season-ending injuries – Matt Cain, Angel Pagan, Hector Sanchez, Scutaro. I grew to understand that the baseball season is as much about stamina as it is skill. So is watching.
We saw Tim Lincecum pitch a no-hitter, and then fall into the doldrums. We suffered through the Dan Uggla experiment at second base (batting average with the Giants: .000) and admired Brandon Belt as he came back twice from injuries.
We were awestruck by Hunter Pence at full throttle every single game he played. My favorite Pence sign, appropriately at a Nationals game, was “Hunter Pence wrote the Declaration of Independence.” I suppose that only in Washington, D.C., would that be meant as an insult.
And, yes, Madison Bumgarner is an extraordinary pitcher – and an extraordinary hitter with four home runs, two of them grand slams. Yet this team was not about a superhero, but about a bunch of guys who did things very well when it counted.
But it was more than just about pitching, hitting and scores. Baseball is also about relentless hype and promotion, and endless prognostication by baseball “experts.” Like political writers (of which I once was one), getting it wrong doesn’t stop the experts from churning out more authoritative opinions, usually discarded a few days later.
Mostly, I learned how a bunch of basically humble guys figured out how to play together under enormous pressure and win when by all the odds they should have lost. They looked like they were having fun. Many of the teams they played did not (read Dodgers). Sometimes the Giants lost, and lost badly. Other games they just barely won (like that last game of the World Series). If there is any sport that mirrors daily life, this is it.
To have this season conclude in a 3-2 nail-biter in the seventh game of the World Series is nothing I remotely could have predicted when I started this adventure in March.
Ski season approaches. The television will be off most of the time in my house. If the 49ers make it to the Super Bowl, I’ll check it out. Mostly, I will be awaiting the words: “Pitchers and catchers report.”
James Richardson, a former senior
writer with The Bee, is an Episcopal priest and the rector of St. Paul’s
Memorial Church in Charlottesville, Va.