I deleted this accidently months ago, in the wake if this weekend, I found it and repost here.
It was a hot summer day in August of 1968. I was fourteen years old and had only attended one major league baseball game and it involved the only team I disliked- the Los Angeles Dodgers. The graves of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were still adorned with the now wilted flowers freshly placed just four and two months prior. My father was reading a book on a chaise lounge in the backyard of the family home in Plainfield, New Jersey. I was riding my bicycle home from a doing yard work for Mrs. Birkenstock, a widow living on Central Avenue near the fire station, my $1.00 an hour pay burning a hole in my pocket and the possibility of approaching my unapproachable father weighing heavily on my mind. “Dad, ummmm the Giants and Mets are playing an afternoon game Wednesday, ummm if I buy the tickets will you take me?” My father was an intellect, well read, a college English professor, a scholar’s scholar and a former diehard Brooklyn Dodger fan, later to become somewhat attached to the Mets and to retire to Philadelphia where this year he rooted for the Braves against the Giants, fearful of what our pitching staff could do to his Phillies, the pitching staff I revere so much. I have a hard time approaching the man about anything even to this day but my teenaged soul burned with one desire that hot summer day and it centered around my one true hero, William Howard Mays, The Say Hey kid.
I am not sure that I paid for the tickets, but I remember it that way. My younger brother and his friend Cory came along. Juan Marichal was pitching, his record was 22-3, before the game! Willie McCovey and Jim Ray Hart were there. Willie Mays was awarded the MVP in the All Star Game trophy in a pregame ceremony. But he was not in the opening lineup. I despaired. My head hung down, I could not watch. A marvelous rookie named Bobbie Bonds doubled, Ron Hunt did something. My head stayed down, tears filled my eyes. My father said something like, “Norman, your favorite pitcher is on the mound, you can’t have everything son.” My brother said “hey Willie Mays is coming up to the plate.” I wanted to punch him for teasing me (god he had the right to after all the abuse I heaped on him). But then the crowd began to stir and chant, applaud as they do for one, and only one, visiting ballplayer. I looked up in amazement and wonder. I had fallen for the old change the lineup at the last minute Herman Franks trick (McCovey never batted third, I shoulda known!). The Man singled in his first at bat, threw Ed Kranepool out trying to score on a bottom of the first fly ball and the Giants took an early lead against Mets starter Jim McAndrews. Jim Ray Hart went deep. The Giants wound up winning 13-3. But it was what occurred in the top of the fourth inning I will never forget.
There were runners on first and third and McAndrews was clearly struggling. Willie Mays stepped into the batter’s box. Every baseball fan knows that if a pitcher waits long enough a batter will call time, step out of the box and readjust, take a few more practice swings and then get ready for the pitch that eventually must come. Not this time. McAndrew stalled and stalled and Willie waited, not even waving that magic wand, simply poised bat back waiting, knowing somehow more than anyone else what was coming. Time seemed to stand still until the awkward young man with the ball in his hand did the only thing he could do and hurl it meekly toward the plate and Willie swung his mighty bat and struck the ball with force. It soared toward deep left center field majestically and landed over the 396 foot sign to every single fan’s delight. It was one home run in game of at least two others, and it was only one of Willie’s 660 lifetime home runs, but that one was for me. It was baseball loving me back.
Until 2010, that was the highlight of my lifelong love of the San Francisco Giants. My children now root for them, my wife has defaulted her Mets rooting interest for the family good. My biggest fear used to be dying with the taste of defeat I had last lived through in the sixth game in 2002 (there never should have been a 6th game that year the giants should have one the 2nd game in Anaheim) or the two shutout loses in games 6 and 7 in 1987 to the Cardinals in the NLCS, or the earthquake of ’89, or a myriad of other disappointments. I painfully recall the phone calls flooding in as game 6 went to 5-0 Giants, 9 outs to go and how silent the aftermath was….
My desk lamp in my law office, the framed wall hangings that are not degrees, all reveal my love of the Giants. I remember Roger Craig acknowledging that he and his team knew how long so many had waited for the national league pennant and I felt like he was talking directly to me. I cringed every day recalling Dusty Baker’s premature handshake with Willie Mays and giving the ball to Russ Ortiz as he lifted him in the first of two 3 run innings I thought I would take to my grave. And I remember some pundent ex-ballplayer explaining he urged Dusty Baker to go with “the talent” in game 162 in Chaves Ravine in ’93, a scant week after Matt Williams drilled a 3-1 (after what should have been a four pitch base loaded walk against the inept Rockie team that lost a entire season series to the Braves) into an inning ending double play and a loss that cost us dearly….
The fact is I never wavered. Never once did I think that I should get smart and root for a team that wins all the time. I never faced the challenge of Toronto or Fort Lauderdale, saved by Bob Lurie and Peter McGowan. I cared so much, I wanted it so badly I misbehaved and watched my sons grow to young men and handle the inherited love so much more maturely than I did. I stressed with every pitch, every ball, every bad call spelling disaster. I spent the better part of my rooting life expecting loss and receiving it.
Something changed beginning in August, 2010 although I didn’t recognize what was going on. Tired of misbehavior and anger I sought help from a professional. Simply deciding to deal with anger issues quelled my temper and therapy truly helped me calm my nerves and enjoy life a bit more. I started to sense the blessings bestowed upon me. Amidst my wife being detected with early stage breast cancer and the process of a double mastectomy and reconstruction and my new found perspective the Giants started winning and the Padres kept losing. An insurmountable deficit became manageable and then doable, then a lead became wonderous. To the poetic strains of Krup and Kuip on extra innings I saw true torture become torture never felt so good. Jonathan Sanchez tripled then Tiny Tim hurled a gem, Travis and Freddie and Aubrey kept hope alive and Brooks earned a key to the city (in my humble opinion). Mad Bum and Javier and BrianWilson did the rest. Pablo doubled twice in one at bat, Cody and Pat the Bat and UUUUribe and Beautiful Buster won the day. After the new 126 million dollar man hit a sacrifice fly on what should have been a 3 run homer and gave us hope lefty lefty lefty and BW shut them down as we scratched out a pennant for the ages. Then it was Timmy and Matt and two incredible rallies in the fourth then the eighth and never really a doubt as the sweetest place to be in all the world went absolutely bananas (all those people in orange and black expressing the inner joy coursing through my soul). Texas got its one little taste of joy and then as it should have been the youngest giant and the youngest looking giant slayed the battling Texas beast and the world was ours and mine. That so many felt the same as me became a great comfort and that one could stand so firm on the top of a mountain made perfect sense for the first time. The ghosts of 1962 and 1989 and 1971 and 2002 and 1993 were forever buried, released from their curse to eternal rest.
At work the day of game 5 a friend asked, “don’t you want to see them win it at home?” I replied, “next time larry they can win it at home, I need this to end tonight, one time and for all time.” When I called my father he congratulated me, expressed how happy he was that I had finally experienced what I had so long wanted, that he knew how much it meant to me. I didn’t cry when The Beard struck out Cruz. I just kissed my wife and tried to remember to breath, while I fielded the flood of phone calls. But those words from my father brought tears to my eyes. As my darling daughter put, “all the alberts can die happy now.” Amen.