In the dead of winter, with football as good as over for Northern California teams, think back to that glorious October night when an improbable guy named Travis Ishikawa hit a home run for the ages.
Ishikawa is, as they say in sports, a journeyman, if that. A few months earlier, he was toiling in the minor leagues. At age 31, old for a ballplayer, he was wondering whether he should give up his dreams and find a new line of work.
But on Oct. 16, with two runners on and the scored tied, he hit a home run that sent his team to the World Series and thrilled Giants fans.
Now, he is in the baseball lore with Kirk Gibson, the Dodger who brought tears to the A’s fans’ eyes in 1988, and Carlton Fisk, who willed his home run fair in 1975, and Bobby Thomson and his 1951 shot heard round the world, and Bill Mazeroski, with his World Series-winning blast in 1960.
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And the first big home run I remember, Giants second baseman Chuck Hiller’s grand slam against the Yankees in the 1962 World Series. I watched it while sitting in Mrs. Davis’ second-grade class at Horrall Elementary School in San Mateo. God bless Mrs. Davis, wherever she is, and Hiller, may he rest in peace.
Bee photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr. captured Ishikawa’s home run trot by placing a camera high above third base. While he was stationed down at the field level near first base, Kitagaki remotely triggered the camera, hoped for the best, and hit a shooter’s version of a home run.
The image, which ran on Page C4 of the Sports section, appeared in black and white, which gives it a timeless feel, all the more fitting for what Ishikawa had done. The photo looked as if it could have been taken in 1951, or 1960, or 1962.
The pitcher is walking off, hanging his head. You can imagine his pain without seeing his face. Giants’ first-base coach Roberto Kelley’s triumphant jump is frozen in time. So are the players who rush to greet the baseball hero of the moment.
You can see the ecstatic fans with their arms raised like champs. I’m struck by the guy with his eyes wide open looking toward the camera, and the one I relate to who jumps for joy and exposes his gut, which is a little too large. Who cares? The home team won.
No one would ever mistake Ishikawa for Mr. October, or the Babe, or Kirk Gibson. In his big league career, Ishikawa has hit 22 home runs, two more than Hiller. For those of us who love the game, that makes Ishikawa’s feat sweeter.
The notion that second-stringers and bench players can come up big lifts some of the chill from winter, and applies, we hope, to our lines of work, too.