A reflection upon baseball and my twentieth year as a Giants fan.
I was raised in Oriole country on a diet of the Robinsons and Blair and Rettenmund, Ellie Hendricks, Boog Powell and some amazing pitching, I was crushed in '69, elated in '70, infuriated in '71 (but learned to be disquieted by Oakland then, too).
During this time I was captivated by the Giants on the Game of the Week with the exotic chain-link fence in their strange home park and the awesome Bobby Bonds and the semi-hushed reverence in which the announcers spoke of this strange player, McCovey, and the novelty of another team wearing orange and black.
Transplanted by the doings of grown-ups to Kansas City for two years, I got home games at both KC stadiums. I learned to love Amos Otis and Paul Splitorff, Pinella, Dick Drago, Cookie Rojas and Freddie Patek. Dreamt of a Royals-Orioles playoff series. And I learned to hate Oakland even more in '73 as I watched the Orioles falter in the ALCS from the living room of the son of the man who dropped the atom bomb.
Back to Baltimore after another move, and a long run of seasons that never yielded Real Ultimate Victory. Effing Oakland again in '74, although they did have the courtesy to beat that annoying blue-clad team from the West Coast. And the effing Pirates again in '79 and that stupid song. It was in the bag, what the hell happened?
Flash-forward to '83 and at long last another Whole Shebang trophy for the Orioles. And over those ridiculous Phillies no less. The temerity of some people to compare Schmidt to the sainted Brooks Robinson...
And here the Orioles begin an alarming drop into mediocrity, usually with pinstriped scorch marks, and here I am at the age where the wider concerns of the world begin to intrude on a young man's leisure time. 3 cars, 5 girlfriends, uncountable miles and beers and hours on phones and the great issues of life and the small details and a plane ticket to Oakland with my worldly possessions in a duffel bag and a job and a place to stay waiting and it's '86 and I'm fairly disconnected from baseball for the first time in my life.
All change... Between one forgettable East Bay month and another and another I cross paths with a Red Sox fan. We run in the same circles, the sort who look down on pro sports, but he has kept the faith. We talk a little ball. We can have that talk, there's no real grudge between Boston and Baltimore. And one day soon after, I pick up a paper on the way to the laundromat and check the box scores.
I wasn't going to be an Oakland fan. I'm all in favor of supporting the home team, don't get me wrong, and if some sad sack drove the wife and kids up from Anaheim for a series I'd point him to the Coliseum, but there was just too much history there. I never went to an A's game until I became a Giants fan, stayed six innings in their toilet of a stadium and got on BART. Never again.
I tried to keep up with the Orioles as they had their near miss in '89 before succumbing again to more lost seasons. As the '89 season drew to a close and the playoffs progressed my one thought was that Oakland must not win. It was that simple. Oakland must not win. Then Games One and Two. Then the earthquake (for which I am solely to blame as it was the only day I ever went barefoot in public in the East Bay). Then Games Three and Four. And it's Oakland. Again.
A few more life-changes in the months after the quake and I'm a San Francisco resident all of a sudden, and more seasons of poor play from both the Orioles and Giants would follow. But as with the lore of the city itself, the local baseball life crept into my consciousness and before long I'm suffering through the '91 Giants along with everyone else. There was no bandwagon to ride, just vacuumed up in the wake of the tremendous level of suck of that ball club. Then 1992 happened. Another awful year, so much talent wasted. I was really starting to understand...
What I miscalculated was the local sentiment towards the Braves, and I nearly got my ass kicked out of (or in) the Toronado Bar in Lower Haight at the end of the NLCS. I watched a much-admired power-hitting young left fielder with a mediocre arm fail to retire a very slow baserunner at the plate. The Pirates had lost and I was a bit too vocal in my appreciation, but with a quick re-cap of my baseball trajectory my rooting interest was understood, even appreciated.
'93, a horror. '94 even worse in some ways but at least I had someone to share that with who was a blood Gfan. More years of frustration and you know what the numbers are. You know the names. Above all else the mind numbing gack of 2002 blurring together in my subconscious with the disappointment of '79. Say it as one: it was in the bag, what the hell happened?
In many ways, the arc is complete for me now as the team I love stands once again at the brink, clad in orange and black, poised to redeem themselves of an embarrassing failure on the same stage not that many years ago. And for some reason, although both calculation and experience should tell me the proposition is tenuous, I'm willing to put aside fact and memory and just exercise simple faith that this is going to happen for us.
That, I think, is what being a fan really comes down to; putting on the shining armor of naive hope for a single year, a single series, a single game, inning or pitch and just wanting it and believing your team is going to get it done. Believing that this is going to be the year when the monsters aren't under the bed, and the fire-breathing dragon of doubt and disaster isn't going to swoop in and toast the dream yet again.
That's all I need. The simple faith of the crew cut kid in his Orioles cap sitting on his grandparent's sofa in October simply... suffices. I'm good with it all. I'm ready to party. I'm ready to shake the hand of any Rangers fan with sincere congratulations however it may go. I'm ready to say "We got this" without offering an explanation or apology. Because I believe and that -- suddenly, surprisingly, satisfyingly -- is enough.
Let's play some baseball. Let's slay the dragon. Let's go Giants.