When people ask me, “Where’d you grow up?” the response typically expected is the name of some city or town in some state or another. My reply almost always merits a double-take. I pause, grin – simply because I cannot help it – and say I grew up at Candlestick Park.
My playground was indeed special. As the younger son of Major League All-Star catcher Tom Haller, I was blessed with an experience unlike anything imaginable. I was an appendage of my father’s at the ’Stick when he played for the San Francisco Giants from 1961 to 1967, worked as Giants bullpen coach, then as director of player development and later as general manager.
My better half often asks me if I realized at the time how unusual and marvelous it was to not only hang out with my best friend and hero – my father – but also to have been able to head over to the ’Stick after school to loosen up Jack Clark and Johnny Lee, fetch a bat for Bill Madlock, or shag balls during batting practice with Willie McCovey. It was what I knew: Dad, the Giants, the ’Stick and the Fog.
My memories of Candlestick Park and my dad fill me with great joy and gratitude. One of my earliest Candlestick memories occurred when Dad was still catching for the Giants in 1966. It was after a game and Dad was in the clubhouse, way in the back corner where his locker was located.
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Now, even though I was just a tiny guy of three-plus years, I knew exactly where I was going once I broke loose from the wives waiting in their quarters. I ran into the clubhouse with one mission in mind: find Dad. He was seated on his stool in front of his locker, surrounded by reporters. I maneuvered through the sea of polyester pant legs, inching ever nearer my goal. When Dad glanced down and spotted me straining to reach him, he stopped mid-sentence, grinned a mile wide and held his massive hands out to pluck me from the leg forest and prop me on his knee. Then, he continued the interviews. My chest still bursts with warmth at the memory of Dad’s love and the pride I felt in him right there in that Candlestick Park clubhouse.
Lightning struck in 1968. As my big brother, Tom Jr., and I walked home to our San Mateo Park home after school one day, I noticed the front door was wide open and held a dozen or more reporters surrounding Dad, who dwarfed them all with his 6’5” frame. My mother, Joan, hustled us up the stairs where I sat on the landing and watched. Dad was being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the only trade of its kind between the two organizations. With a wail of agony reserved for 5-year-olds, I jumped up and yelled, “You got traded to the bad guys?!” He, of course, did go play for the Dodgers and quite brilliantly for four years, shortly after which we thankfully returned home to the ’Stick and the Giants in the mid-1970s.
During those years, I spent as much time as I possibly could with Dad at the ’Stick, watching and learning. Dad taught me a great deal by his example. He lived his life guided by respect: for family, for fellow man, for the Giants and for Candlestick Park. The memories of my time with him roll over me constantly, just as the fog rolled over Candlestick Point nightly (sorry, couldn’t resist).
One of the most memorable jobs I ever had at Candlestick was working down the right-field line as a ball boy. It was 1977, and Gary Lavelle was pitching for the save in the bottom of the ninth. I sat atop my stool, simply freezing in the Candlestick summer night wind as Lavelle tried to wrap it up at 10:30 p.m. Beautifully and as if on cue, the fog began to roll in over the western wall of the ’Stick, doing a slow dance with the lights and casting a spiritual glow over the park. I rocked myself, smiled and began to sing, “Father, I Adore You,” to the rhythm of the fog’s crawl. It was surreal. Lavelle got the save (extra sweet as it was v. Dodgers), and I bolted for the clubhouse and Dad.
After things were buttoned up and Dad and I were about to head home, we quietly watched the fog continue its creep. Eventually it blanketed the entire park as the lights created a deceptively warm glow. It was a scene that belonged only to Candlestick Park.
Farewell, my lady, and thank you for the memories. It was good to know you and love you well.