Today I will attend my 38th consecutive home Opening Day for the Giants. I went to 20 at Candlestick Park ... if I make it to the 2019 opener, I’ll have 20 at China Basin, as well.
Honestly, I don’t even know how this happened. I love baseball, but I’m not a big fan of the endless nostalgia that accompanies it ... no Field of Dreams for me. I can’t remember what inspired us to go to the 1980 opener. The Giants had a good 1978 season, but went back in the crapper in 1979. While I wouldn’t have known this at the time I bought my tickets for 1980, the team opened with six losses in seven games on the road. Something else I couldn’t know in advance: I broke my foot. And our seats were nosebleeds.
But the game was fun. The visiting Padres had two future Hall of Famers in Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield. The Giants had one of their own in Willie McCovey. The Giants also had a few favorites: Darrell Evans, Jack Clark, Vida Blue. Vida went the distance, and the Giants won, 7-3. Like I say, it was fun, enough so that when the 1981 opener came around, I was there again. That game went 12 innings before the Giants lost, 4-1. 1981 was the awful year when the season was split in half. There was every reason to skip the 1982 opener. Yet for some reason, I made it to my third straight.
The Giants squeaked out a 3-2 win. More important was the rest of that season, for 1982 was a thriller that went down to the final weekend before the Giants finally fell. That season may have cemented my adult attachment to the game, and ensured I’d go to a lot more Opening Days.
But even then, I wasn’t thinking of a streak. Three times in a row is barely worth noticing. Truthfully, I can’t remember just when I realized I had something going. But eventually it happened, and Opening Day became a personal holiday. It’s hard to pick out the most memorable moments in the first 37 openers I’ve seen. There was 1999, the last opener at Candlestick, with homers by Marvin Benard, Barry Bonds, and Rich Aurilia. There was the flabbergasting first opener at the new park, when a journeyman named Kevin Elster, who had sat out the previous season, hit three home runs for the fucking Dodgers to lead the Giants to a loss. (They lost all five games on their first home stand, before rebounding and making the post-season.) There was 2002, when Barry Bonds sent us all home with a two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th. And 2004, when Barry hit the 660th home run of his career, tying him with Willie Mays. In 2012, Matt Cain carried a perfect game into the 6th inning, when the opposing pitcher pushed a weak grounder into the outfield. He was the only base runner Cain allowed that day.
And last year, when the Giants overcame a four-run deficit against the Dodgers on their way to a big 12-6 victory.
Who knows what to expect today for Opener #38. I’ll make one prediction: if new coach Barry Bonds shows up in uniform, he will get the biggest ovation of the pre-game introductions.
I wanted Cleveland to win, because an old friend of mine who died some years ago was a lifelong fan of the team. But as I watched Game Seven, one of the greatest baseball games of all time, I knew I didn’t really care who won, as long as the game never ended.
Wright Thompson wrote a great piece about the Cubs (“In Chicago, the final wait for a Cubs win mixes joy and sorrow”). Anything Wright Thompson writes is worth your time ... everything I’ve ever read of his resonates.
When the Giants won their first World Series in San Francisco in 2010, I kept saying over and over to myself, “I never thought it would happen”. I was five years old when the team came to San Francisco, and New York didn’t count for me, so I had been waiting 52 years for a championship. That was a long time. Because of that, I understand some of what Cubs fans are feeling today. Their wait was historically longer ... twice as long as the SF Giants, plus another four years. But while the news outlets managed to find a few who had been there for 60 or 70 or 80 years, most Cubs fans had been devoted to the team for something less than 52 years. Many of them weren’t born 52 years ago. Some of them only became Cubs fans a month ago (which is perfectly fine). I felt like our 52-year wait was the equal of the misery of Cubs fans, at least for people like me who had been around for all 52 years.
What Thompson’s piece reminds me, though, is that there is one crucial unique element that the Cubs bring to the table. Ancestors.
So many of the stories Thompson tells are about dead people. Tale after tale recounts how Grandpa waited his whole life for the Cubs to win, but he died eight years ago and never saw it happen. (The Onion understands this ... they ran a piece titled “Millions of Drunk Cubs Fans Rioting in Heaven Following World Series Win”.) It’s wonderful, how many Cubs fans are taking the time to remember their ancestors who are no longer here, who missed the moment.
And ancestors is what Giants fans didn’t have in 2010. Basically, I was my own ancestor. My 52-year wait marked me as someone who was there from the beginning ... you couldn’t go back any farther than me. When the Giants finally won, I thought of my fellow, living, Giants fans who had suffered for so long.
But when the final relief of your suffering must allow for dead parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts ... well, that’s why 2010 is important for Giants fans, but 2016 is important for people who rooted for the Cubs in 1909.
So I can pretend to understand how Cubs fans feel, but ultimately I don’t think anyone but Cubs fans know what today feels like.
The baseball season is over for Giants fans, but I can still drag out a happy memory from 2002, a season that didn’t end well. It was the third year I had full season tickets, which meant I went to every home post-season game, including Game 4 of the NLCS against the Cardinals, which was played 14 years ago today, October 13, 2002. The Giants were up 2 games to 1 in the best-of-seven series. The Cards’ SS was a future Giants’ post-season hero, Edgar Renteria. The starting pitchers were Andy Benes for the Cardinals, in what was to be his final game as a major-leaguer, and Livan Hernandez for the Giants.
The Cardinals jumped on Livan for two runs in the first, and Benes held off the Giants until the sixth, when two straight walks sent him to the showers. J.T. Snow doubled off of reliever Rick White to tie the game, which is how it stood until the bottom of the 8th. White was still pitching, and in fact had retired six straight after Snow’s hit. There were two outs, with the dangerous Barry Bonds at the plate. You youngsters out there might find it hard to believe, but those of us who there during the latter part of Barry’s career won’t be surprised by what followed. Bonds had been walked 198 times during the regular season. He had been walked four times in five games in the NLDS against Atlanta. The Cardinals walked him seven times in the first three games of this series, and they walked him again in the 6th inning, when he scored after Snow doubled. So here in the bottom of the 8th of a tie game, two outs, no one on base, pitcher has retired six in a row ... and St. Louis manager Tony “The Genius” LaRussa walked Bonds intentionally.
Up came Benito Santiago. Benito had three hits including a homer in Game One, and two more hits in Game Three.
This happened next:
The Giants went on to win, 4-3, and won the series the next day, setting up the ill-fated World Series against the Angels. Benito Santiago was named Most Valuable Player of the NLCS.
This starts out being about sports, but it wanders, so here’s a spoiler warning for Penny Dreadful.
The Warriors lost their title to the Cavs. I didn’t like it while it was happening ... as I said at one point on Facebook, I didn’t want a good game, I wanted a Warrior victory, the bigger the better. And so it was a good game, even a great game, and LeBron James is the best player of his era, and his team accomplished something great. I am happy for the fans in Cleveland who have waited so long. Actually, I’m not happy, but one day I will be. It helps that 1) we got to celebrate just last year, and 2) the entire season up until these last games was such a joy.
Another thing that helps is being a fan of more than one sport. So while the Warriors lost, the Giants have won 8 in a row, and 27 of their last 35 (a record for the San Francisco team). They are for the moment comfortably in first place.
And the U.S. men’s national soccer team has made it to the semi-finals of the Copa América Centenario, where Argentina awaits them on Tuesday. That gives us 40+ hours to imagine what it might be like for the USA to beat Messi and company.
So it’s not bad being a Bay Area sports fan right now, even if the Warriors game hurts.
The NBA season is over, but it will return. And tonight, after the sadness of the basketball game, there was the Season Three finale of Penny Dreadful. Showtime claimed it was two hours long, but it was just two episodes shown back to back. While the first episode, and half of the second, featured interesting stories about the show’s many characters, along with the usual excellent acting, Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives was noticeable by her absence. And since we knew everything was headed for a showdown with Vanessa, Dracula, and our intrepid heroes, it felt like a bit of stalling ... come on, I kept thinking, get down to it. When Green finally showed up, we were reminded why Penny Dreadful has, above all, always been her series. There were all the great fictional characters thrown together: Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, and the Bride ... Dorian Gray ... Dr. Jekyll ... The Wolfman ... Dracula and Dr. Seward and Mina Harker and Van Helsing and Renfield ... I half expected Abbott and Costello to show up. But in all of this, Eva Green rose above the rest. She was the best thing about a very good show.
And yes, here come the spoilers, and yes, I was speaking in the past tense in that last sentence. For Vanessa Ives died to save the world from evil, rather like Buffy in “The Gift”. Buffy was resurrected, of course, and hey, Penny Dreadful features Dr. Frankenstein, so I suppose Vanessa could come back. But it was her death that finally ended Dracula’s reign of darkness, and it was explicitly Christian ... her last words were that she could see “our Lord”, whose battle she had fought her entire life.
Much has been made of late about how frequently television series use “surprise” deaths of important characters these days, but even in that context, Vanessa’s death snuck up on us, even as it seemed inevitable. More surprising were the words that appeared on the screen at the end of the episode, after we’d spent a few minutes trying to imagine Penny Dreadful without Eva Green. “The End”. Surprise, surprise. Showtime managed to keep that under wraps. I hadn’t even noticed that Penny Dreadful had yet to be extended for a fourth season. I just assumed it would happen, given that Showtime has a well-deserved reputation for letting their best shows run long past their sell-by date. But it turns out that Penny Dreadful is expensive, and it doesn’t get many viewers in the right demographics. I love Eva Green, but she’s 35 years old, and the other main characters included the likes of Timothy Dalton (in his 70s), and Patti LuPone and Wes Studi (both in their late-60s). It felt like Josh Hartnett was there to appeal to the younger crowd, but heck, he’s older than Eva Green. Add the fact that most of the characters came from turn-of-the-last-century literature, and I suppose it would be asking too much for young people to take a shine to it.
I mean, I went to Twitter to find fellow fans to mourn with, and everyone was talking about Game of Thrones. Truth is, I barely know anyone who watched Penny Dreadful.
So it’s gone, an A- series that flirted with an A. And the Warriors are gone, at least until next season, an A+ team that slipped to a B+ at just the wrong time. But there are still the Giants, and the U.S. national team. And Game of Thrones, and Outlander. And hey, Orange Is the New Black is back! Mourn for a day, but then see what joys await us.
Here are some of the songs used as walk-up music for Giants players. I’ll use the starting lineup on Opening Day, at least the guys whose songs are listed on the team website (to be honest, I think it’s a little outdated).
Denard Span: Fabolous, “Ball Drop”
Buster Posey: Brantley Gilbert, “Hell on Wheels”
Hunter Pence: White Zombie, “More Human Than Human”
Brandon Belt: Jay-Z, “99 Problems”
Brandon Crawford: Elle Goulding, “Burn”
Jake Peavy: Bruce Springsteen, “Badlands”
Angel Pagan: Calle 13, “Baile de los Pobres”
Let’s toss in pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco: Nova y Jory, “Aprovecha”
A favorite at our house, the music that is played when pitcher Sergio Romo enters the game: Banda MS, “El Mechon”
And finally, this is played after every Giants home win:
I have no idea what I can say at this point that adds anything to what I’ve said before. I went to my first Giants Opening Day in 1980, and I haven’t missed an opener since. Today will be my 37th consecutive such game. At times, I kinda wish I’d missed a game in there, just so I could just enjoy the game for what it is, and not for the record I am continuing.
Oh, who am I kidding? It’s fun running up such a silly streak.
As I have often done, here are a few of the highlights of the past 36 years.
April 17, 1980. My first opening day. I had a broken foot. The Giants beat the Padres, Vida Blue pitched a complete game.
April 5, 1983. Still probably the most exciting opener I’ve seen. Mike Krukow couldn’t get out of the second inning, the Padres put up 8 runs in the fifth, and when the Giants responded with 3 runs in the bottom of the inning, the Padres got them right back in the top of the 6th to take a 16-6 lead. Yet by the bottom of the 8th, the Giants had the tying run at the plate, Tom O’Malley. That’s when the dream ended, as O’Malley flied out and the Giants were retired in order in the ninth for a 16-13 loss.
April 6, 1987. Chili Davis singled off of Dave Dravecky, scoring Jeffrey Leonard to give the Giants a 12-inning walk-off victory over, yes, the Padres.
April 12, 1993. Barry Bonds’ first home opener as a Giant. Of course he hit a homer. Darren Lewis knocked a walk-off single in the 11th to beat ... the Marlins. The Grateful Dead sang the anthem.
April 7, 1998. Rey Sanchez had a walk-off pinch-hit single in the bottom of the 10th to beat the Astros.
April 8, 1999. The last opener at Candlestick. The Giants rolled over the Padres, 12-4. Barry homered.
April 11, 2000. The first game at the new ballpark. In his first at-bat at China Basin, Barry smacked a run-scoring double. His next time up, he homered. But the story of the game was Dodgers shortstop Kevin Elster, who hadn’t played a single game at any level in 1999. He hit three homers and the Dodgers won.
April 5, 2002. Fourth game of the season. Barry hit his fifth homer of the season, this one a 2-run shot in the bottom of the 10th to send us home.
April 9, 2010. We didn’t know it yet, but this was the year the Giants finally won the World Series. In the opener, Aaron Rowand singled in the bottom of the 13th to win it.
April 8, 2011. The first-ever World Series championship banner raising in San Francisco history. Aaron Rowand singled in the bottom of the 12th to win it.
April 13, 2012. In the top of the 6th, Pirates’ pitcher James McDonald rolled a squeaker past third base into left field off of Matt Cain. He was Pittsburgh’s only base runner. Cain struck out 11.
Dave Henderson died.
Seems like everyone liked Hendu. He was only a Giant for a few weeks, but we liked him, even when, as a member of the Oakland A's, he helped beat the Giants in the 1989 World Series. He played six seasons for the A's, back when I liked them and went to lots of their games. He was irrepressible, always with a smile, always seemed to love playing the game. I was very sorry to hear he had died.
And then I looked at the major websites to see what they had to say about Hendu. I'm sure this will be fixed ... may already be fixed ... but I looked at the MLB website, and there was nothing about Henderson. I looked at the ESPN MLB website, and there was nothing about Henderson. OK, he wasn't a Hall of Famer, but he was apparently universally beloved, he was an All-Star, he played in four post-seasons, hitting seven homers in 36 games, including one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. I am puzzled why it is taking so long for those big websites to acknowledge the sad news.
Here he is in the first World Series game I ever attended, beating up on the Giants:
Here's a blast from the past: an archive of articles I wrote or co-wrote for the Baseball Prospectus website from 1997-2000. Perhaps the most interesting is a piece I wrote after the first home series at the Giants' new ball park at China Basin.