Remembering Candlestick Park, part I

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Monday night is the last game at Candlestick Park. It's a football game, sure, but it's still the end of an era. No more competitive sports, no more anything, at Candlestick. Soon, engineers will implement an intricate, delicate plan to break through a six-foot wall of dried urine rock, a miracle of modern architecture and public health. Once that's done, the whole park is coming down.

Goodbye, childhood. Goodbye, young adulthood. Goodbye, place I learned to love baseball. Goodbye, place with urine troughs that still appear in some of my more confusing dreams.

You can see how this is bittersweet.

Still, the default setting of my Candlestick memories is positive. It was cold and gross, but only when it wasn't colder and grosser. It was baseball, though. It was the urine-shaped Rorschach test with only one answer. I saw Barry Bonds hit walkoffs there. I saw a World Series game there. I got Brad Wellman's autograph there. Manny Trillo's, too. I played catch in the premium, fancy parking lot. I was told that I watched Dwight Gooden strike out the side in the All-Star Game, but my eyelids were frozen shut, so I couldn't tell you. It was July, so I had it coming.

I promise to stop with the urine references. Next paragraph, for sure.

This is the beginning of what might be a series. It might be a standalone piece, but I'm hoping the memories keep coming. And that's all the series will be: Candlestick memories, big and small. I'll spare you the 4,000-word essay about The Catch II against the Packers. Why write about about that when I can write about the time I saw Damon Berryhill win a game in extra innings?

I was an adult the first time I learned not to take Candlestick for granted. Well, a man-child, at least. I was 17 or 18, and I was home from college for the summer. That's a weird time in a man-child's life, enjoying unhealthy gobs of newfound freedom for nine months of the year, and coming home to the same watchful parents I left. When I was 18, I couldn't just grab a beer from the fridge and hunker down next to my dad, yet from September through June, I could put beer in a glass bong for the purposes of science*. A return to those freedoms was my primary focus for those three months.

Candlestick welcomed me and my degenerate friends with frigid, urine-tinged tentacles. Every Friday or Saturday night when the Giants were in town, we'd grab a few sausages from the market, get some of those fancypants beers that I pretended didn't taste like tree bark, and head out to the park. We knew it would be freezing. We knew the Giants would probably lose. Didn't matter. Here's what the itinerary was:

  1. Grill unhealthy meats
  2. Hang out with old friends
  3. Drink beers we shouldn't be drinking
  4. Hang out with old friends
  5. Walk up to the ticket window
  6. Buy a ticket for $8 or $10, unless there was someone giving a bunch away at the door, which there often was
  7. Watch baseball with the same white lines, same rules, same grass that every other park had

Barry Bonds would do stuff. There was the rise of Shawn Estes, and I can't explain just how thrilling that was. There was that time when Mark Leiter was the best pitcher on the team. And while I learned to love baseball because of what happened on the field, the elegance of the game, the complex simplicities that went into every nine innings, I'm not sure if I get all of that if I'm not looking for a place to hang out during my summers away from college.

Could that have happened at any other ballpark? Yes and no. I don't doubt that my love for the game would have been rekindled with similar tailgating escapades at Jack Murphy or Veterans Stadium, so it's not like Candlestick had a trademarked, definitive experience. But braving the cold did make you a badass. So that was one part that other people can't imagine. There's something about standing around a barbecue for heat at 4:00 p.m. on July 1 that has a horrible romance to it.

The other way it couldn't happen at the new park was the availability and price of tickets. Don't get me wrong, the Giants are better off. The baseball experience is much better. I wouldn't trade a paid minute at AT&T Park for 60 free hours at Candlestick. But there's no way I would have had the same experience today. Parking would have killed us alone, and that's before a) having to plan in advance if you wanted to avoid scalpers and b) paying a lot more for tickets. This isn't a populist's screed -- just a nod toward the obvious. Things are different.

That's why my memories of Candlestick start with the outside. I stopped following baseball in high school. When I reconnected with my first college roommate and told him I was a baseball writer, he responded with, "You liked baseball?" Moving from that to full-fledged baseball nerd took a lot of work. And if that was work, Candlestick was a cruel boss with a heart of gold.

And a bladder full of urine. Good god, that place stunk. Also, I'm not sure if anyone has really dove into the part where it was colder than hoped, but that's an underrated part of the Candlestick experience, too. Still, if I had to list the 10-most influential buildings in my life, I'm not sure that Candlestick wouldn't be #2, right behind my parents' house. I've been thinking for a half-hour, making sure I'm not being too hyperbolic. No, I think that's right. I just want to hug the stupid place. Just hug it until the cops drag me away.

Man, I'll miss that place.

* Dont.

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