opening day #36

To a certain extent, this streak of opening days is as much bookkeeping as baseball. One year I won't make it, the streak will end, and it really won't make any difference. It's like being married for a long time (almost 42 years in our case) ... people ask how we do it, or just find it amazing that we've lasted so long. But when you get married, you intend for it to last. When I went to Opening Day in 1980, I had no idea I'd still be at it in 2015.

I don't have many memories of that first opener, although as usual, the Internet helps jog my memory. The Giants weren't very good in those days, and when the home opener arrived, they had already posted a record of 1 win and 6 losses. Their opponent was the San Diego Padres, who weren't any good, either. 51,123 people were in attendance ... Candlestick held a lot more people than where the Giants play nowadays. My main memory is that I had broken my foot, and our seats were pretty high, so I had to stumble my way to our place in the stands. The Giants won, 7-3, with most of the damage coming in the 5th inning, when they strung together six consecutive singles, plating four runs in the process. (For nostalgia buffs, the six hitters were: Darrell Evans, Jack Clark, Willie McCovey, Larry Herndon, Rennie Stennett, and Milt May.) Vida Blue carried a shutout into the 9th, before allowing a 3-run homer to Gene Tenace. Vida got the complete game, though ... things were different in 1980. As was also the norm in 1980, the attendance the next two games was 12,241 and 11,024. They never did top that Opening Day attendance in '80 ... in fact, before the season was over, they had home "crowds" of 2,164, 2,151, and 2,740. Their total attendance for the year was 1,096,115, which they surpass by the end of May in the modern era.

The one thing that we never could have predicted back in the day, of course, was that in 2015 we'd witness our third raising of the World Series Championship flag. I figured I'd die before they ever won it all ... now it's like a regular thing.

Here is a video recapping the 1980 season, narrated by Al Michaels. It includes the last great moment of Willie McCovey's career, when he came in as a pinch-hitter in his last weekend game and doubled off the wall to win it for the Giants against the Dodgers. Yes, I was there.


lon simmons

Every baseball fan understands how Giants and A's fans are feeling today. Because every team has announcers that not only become part of the team, but become our companions over the long six months of a season. 162 games a year, we hear the announcers, and they are as familiar to us as our next-door neighbor ... probably more so. So if you are a baseball fan, you have a special relationship with an announcer or two or three, and if you live long enough, some of those special people will pass away.

Lon Simmons died today at 91. He was a long-time announcer for the Giants ... he was a long-time announcer for the A's. Hell, he was a long-time announcer for the 49ers, and some of his most famous calls came with them, but you don't have the same relationship with football announcers, who are only with us once a week for fewer months than baseball.

Lon didn't just disappear when he retired. He came back and did some games for the Giants in his 80s, and if he wasn't quite as good at following the action, he always had his jokes. The Giants make a big deal of honoring their past, and Lon was always welcome at the park. He won the Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award for broadcasters, and there is a marker commemorating this at China Basin, alongside ones for Russ Hodges and Jon Miller. Lon looked older as the years progressed, although he never looked as old as he really was. And his mind never quit working, so it was a pleasure when he'd stop into the booth for an inning or two.

The Bay Area has long been blessed with great announcers. Bill King was tops in three different sports. Hank Greenwald was a favorite of Giants' fans. The current baseball announcers are all wonderful, with the unnoticed Ken Korach, and the Giants' well-known team of Kruk and Kuip, along with Jon Miller, possibly the best of his era. Kruk and Kuip are truly loved. Yet I don't think even Bill King's biggest fans would argue with my claim that Lon Simmons was the most-beloved sports announcer in the history of Bay Area sports.


throwback, hit back, catch back

April 2, 2001. Fourteen years ago today. My 22nd consecutive Opening Day (#36 coming in a eleven days), and second at the new ballpark, at that point still called Pacific Bell Park. The Giants, managed by Dusty Baker, hosted the Padres, managed by Bruce Bochy.

The Padres had one future Hall-of-Famer in their lineup, Tony Gwynn, who had two hits and an RBI on the day. Their starting pitcher was veteran Woody Williams, who between San Diego and St. Louis won 15 games that season. I'll go out on a limb and guess that Williams isn't remembered much these days. However, he pitched for 15 seasons in the big leagues, won 132 games, made an All-Star team, and started Game One of the 2004 World Series. He also made an estimated $50 million dollars as a player. 

The Giants' lineup looked like this:

  1. Marvin Benard, cf
  2. Rich Aurilia, ss
  3. Barry Bonds, lf
  4. Jeff Kent, 2b
  5. J.T. Snow, 1b
  6. Russ Davis, 3b
  7. Armando Rios, rf
  8. Bobby Estalella, c
  9. Livan Hernandez, p

Livan was doing well, shutting down the Padres and picking up an RBI to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. Barry made it 2-0 with the first of his 73 homers that year. The Giants ended up winning, 3-2, with Robb Nen striking out the side in the ninth.

Here are some of the opening ceremonies from that day:


the 2015 rubio begonias

Tonight was our fantasy draft. I promise not to talk about it much, if at all, during the season. But here is my team (10-team league, AL+NL players, 5x5):

  • C: Carlos Santana, Russell Martin
  • 1B: Jose Abreu, Chris Carter
  • 2B: Mookie Betts, Ben Zobrist, Josh Harrison
  • 3B: Kyle Seager
  • SS: Jhonny Peralta
  • OF: Mike Trout, Starling Marte, Matt Kemp
  • SP: Chris Sale, Alex Wood, Michael Pineda, Jose Quintana, Brandon McCarthy
  • RP: Kenley Jansen, Jonathan Papelbon, Sean Doolittle, Brad Boxberger, Ken Giles, Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson, Sergio Romo

by request: the sandlot (david m. evans, 1993)

I’ll get the basics out of the way, because the experience of watching this movie was more interesting than the movie itself. The Sandlot is a family-friendly story about a group of almost-teenaged boys who love to play baseball. It’s not quite a coming-of-age story, since during the course of the movie, the boys only age from the beginning of summer until the end. Director Evans keeps things moving, and gets decent performances from the young actors. I can imagine if you saw this when you were 12, you’d have a soft spot in your heart for it.

Evans seems to be trying for a Stand by Me feel, but it is nowhere near as good as that film. As is appropriate for a movie that takes on the perspective of a young boy remembering a good summer, everything is a bit exaggerated. But the primary subplot, about a monstrous dog they call The Beast, goes way over the top. It’s one thing to make the pretty girl lifeguard into the most desirable girl these boys have ever known. It’s another to make The Beast into a variety of sizes, some of which are gargantuan. In the first case, the exaggeration suits the memories of the boy. In the latter case, Evans is likely trying for the same thing, but The Beast has no connection to reality, even the reality a grown man keeps in his memories of childhood.

I wanted to watch The Sandlot because it was requested, and it’s one of those movies that are always showing up on TV. But the purist in me didn’t want to watch it on a commercial station, so I kept postponing, until finally I threw in the towel and recorded it off of what I think was the Discovery Family channel. Talk about old school … I was thrown back 20+ years. First, there were the commercials. Sure, I fast-forwarded through them, but there were so many. I know, people always say that, but The Sandlot runs 101 minutes, and was placed into a 2 1/2 hour timeslot. For every two minutes of movie, there was one minute of advertising.

Then came the old Aspect Ratio trick. The Sandlot is 2.35:1, which on most TVs today means it will be letterboxed. And the credits were the right ratio. But when the actual movie began, the screen filled. Much as movies in the olden days were butchered to fit into the then-standard 4:3 ration, The Sandlot was cropped to fit today’s standard 16:9.

I can hear people saying I should mellow out, that it doesn’t matter, that this happens lots of times on TV, even today. But then I noticed what I call the Ernie Hudson Effect. Ghostbusters was shot in 2.20:1, and when it was shown in a pan-and-scan version in 4:3, the problem of framing four actors into one shot was often solved by cropping Hudson’s character, making it look like a three-shot. Well, when The Sandlot begins, the narrator is a new kid in town with no baseball skills. He’s accepted into the group mainly because he will be the ninth member, meaning they’d have enough kids to make an entire baseball team. Then the Hudson Effect strikes … there are many shots of eight boys in a line, shot from the perspective of the ninth boy, and they fit the boys into the picture by cropping one from the edge. The need for a baseball nine is what created the basis for the story … the need to cater to anti-letterbox viewers is what created a need for one fewer boy.

And yes, I know this is much ado about nothing. Maybe I’m the only person on Earth to even notice this. But there wasn’t enough going on in The Sandlot to distract me from such concerns. 6/10. For a companion, watch Stand by Me.

throw it and they'll hit it

It was June 21, 2011, a little over three years ago. The defending world champion San Francisco Giants were hosting the Minnesota Twins, and I was at the park with two friends who were visiting from the East Coast. They admitted they would be rooting for the Twins, although if I remember correctly, they promised to be mellow about it.

One thing you notice when looking at box scores from even such a short time ago as 2011 is that teams change over time. Of the eight field players in the Giants lineup for that game, only one is still with the team, Pablo Sandoval. (Jeremey Affeldt appeared in relief.) I’d forgotten that Miguel Tejada had been a Giant. Bill Hall only played 16 games with the team … this was one of them. The starting pitcher was a young guy who had started the season slow, but over his last ten starts he had posted a 2.03 ERA, although his record in that time was only 3-5. The Giants had been swept across the Bay in Oakland, but they held a half-game lead at the start of play on June 21.

We settled into our seats. Minnesota leadoff hitter Ben Revere grounded a 1-1 pitch in the hole into left field for a single. Alexi Casilla doubled into left on an 0-2 pitch, with Revere going to third. Joe Mauer had a 1-2 count when he scratched out an infield hit, giving the Twins a 1-0 lead. Cleanup hitter Michael Cuddyer went to 0-2 and then doubled home Casilla for 2-0. Delmon Young hit the first pitch up the middle for a single … 3-0. Danny Valencia actually hit the ball hard, an 0-1 pitch to deep left-center … 4-0. Luke Hughes hit an 0-1 pitch for a line drive single, scoring two more … 6-0. Tsuyoshi Nishioka doubled to deep center, putting runners at 2nd and 3rd. Finally, an out was recorded, as Twins’ pitcher Carl Pavano struck out on three pitches. But then Ben Revere, who had started it all off, doubled home two runs, at which point it was Minnesota 8, San Francisco 0. Bruce Bochy came out and called to the bullpen for Guillermo Mota. The starting pitcher had lasted only 1/3 inning, allowing 8 runs on 9 hits, only retiring the opposing pitcher. It was the worst start of his major-league career.

You know where this is going. That pitcher’s name was Madison Bumgarner.

John Shea, writing in the Chronicle, noted that “the Twins opened with eight straight hits, the first time it happened to the Giants in their 128-year history” and that Bumgarner was “the first pitcher in the live-ball era (since 1900) to surrender nine hits without getting at least two outs.”

the post-game, twitter style

Some of the posts I retweeted in the minutes after the game was over:

Tim Goodman: All day long I said "I can't take a 3-2 game." I'll take this one. #Giants fans, we are truly blessed. Savor it.

Curt Schilling: Best post season performance ever #amazing

Awful Announcing: Verducci on Bumgarner: “We’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like it again."


Tim Goodman: So, we're gonna let Panda eat whatever the fuck he wants, right?

San Francisco Giants: Congratulations to the Kansas City #Royals organization, players, coaches & fans on a spectacular season. What an incredible series it was.

it doesn't get worse than this

For all of my disagreements with Bruce Jenkins over the years, there’s no denying that he is a fine writer, with an excellent feel for the aesthetic side of sports, and a love of sports’ history. And he does not write as a partisan, nor should he. He may write for the San Francisco Chronicle, but that doesn’t oblige him to praise the local teams just because geography and his employer suggest he should.

His column today is titled, “It simply doesn’t get better than Game 7”, and in it, he expresses what seems to be a common feeling among neutrals: “Game 7 is the greatest spectacle in sports.”

Not just neutrals … Jenkins quotes players like Buster Posey (“Not a lot of people get to play in a Game 7 of the World Series. It’s a cool opportunity — for the Giants and the Royals. For fans, it doesn’t get much better”) and Hunter Pence (“This is the dream — I don’t think you could ask for anything more”). And, of course, Royals manager Ned Yost surprisingly admitted a few days ago that he secretly wanted the Series to go seven games.

What is missing from Jenkins’ column, what Buster Posey gets wrong, is that fans with a rooting interest in the Series do not think this is a good thing. OK, after tonight, one team’s fans will be ecstatic, and then, after the fact, they’ll pretend that they loved the seven-game angle. But the fans of the losing team will be able to list all number of things that are better than this.

When I watch the Giants play, I always admit from the start my desire that the game is a blowout in the Giants’ favor. I was at the “Travis Ishikawa Game”, and that will go down as one of my great sports fan memories. But that’s after the fact. When we sat down to watch the first pitch, I wanted to see an easy win for the Giants. The overriding desire of Kansas City fans last night was that their team win Game Six in order to get a Game Seven. But I am pretty sure they were delighted that the game quickly got out of hand … the majority of the game was greatly enjoyed by the Royals’ fans precisely because it wasn’t a close game, wasn’t a classic.

The players are proud to be part of the moment, as is right. They will carry that pride with them forever, win or lose. (I’m not saying they don’t want to win, only that, knowing how hard it is to get to this point, they have accomplishments that can’t be taken away from them.)

But it’s a different story for fans of the two teams in question. The Giants have played in the seventh game of the World Series twice in their San Francisco tenure. They lost both times, and I don’t know any Giants fans who think back on those two Series as the greatest thing in their sporting lives. The 1962 loss to the Yankees gave Giants’ fan Charles Schulz material for Peanuts strips; more importantly, as the years went on and the Giants didn’t return to the Series, fans looked back to ‘62 with dismay. People who hadn’t even been born in 1962 knew the legend of Willie McCovey’s line drive and Bobby Richardson’s catch, not in the way an impartial observer knows of an important event, but as partisans who wish that “great spectacle” had never happened. It was Game Six that hurt the most in 2002, but Game Seven wasn’t an improvement, and when, as often happens, the 2002 Series is upheld as a “classic”, Giants’ fans just turn their heads in sorrow and shame.

As McCovey has often said, when the Giants lost in ‘62, he thought they’d get ‘em next year. At the end of his long Hall of Fame career, McCovey had never returned to the World Series. More to the point, McCovey noted that he felt for the fans. The players, even on the losing team, could know that they’d done their best, and they could tip their caps to their rivals. But fans … we can’t do anything, we just watch and hope. It’s one thing to try and fail … it’s quite another to see an important moment arise, and be unable to affect the outcome.

Neutral fans agree that it’s a good thing the Series has gone to a seventh game. But Giants fans and Royals fans can be excused for wishing their team had already won it all. Sweeping the Tigers in 2012 was the ultimate fan experience. It simply doesn’t get better than that for a fan of a winning team.

I hate that there is still baseball to be played. I wish the Giants had already enjoyed their victory parade. And that point needs to be made now, before Game Seven is played, because it speaks to a truth specific to partisan fans. I will always treasure being there for Ishikawa’s homer, as I was for many other great moments in Giants’ history. But if the Giants lose tonight, I won’t remember 2014 for that homer, any more than I think of J.T. Snow’s home run against the Mets in the 2000 playoffs, other than as a footnote to the Giants losing that series. Bruce Jenkins, and Buster Posey, and neutral fans across the globe, know that it doesn’t get any better than Game 7. But, speaking for ourselves, Giants’ fans know that the 2012 sweep was far better.

bobby richardson 1962

just around the corner

On October 24, 2002, my son and I attended Game Five of the 2002 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Anaheim Angels. We took this picture that night:


One reason we look so happy … one reason we were so happy … is that the Giants were on their way to a 16-4 victory that gave them a 3 games to 2 advantage over the Angels. All the Giants had to do was win one of the two games in Anaheim, and they would have their first World Series championship in San Francisco.

Jason Schmidt started that game, and you’d think 16 runs would have been enough to ensure he got the win. But Schmidt couldn’t get out of the fifth inning … two doubles, two singles, a wild pitch and a walk led to 3 Anaheim runs, bringing the tying run to the plate. The immortal Chad Zerbe came in and cleaned up the mess, picking up the only post-season win of his career. Jeff Kent hit two homers, Rich Aurilia added another, Barry Bonds had three hits, two runs scored, an RBI, and the inevitable intentional walk.

They used to play a song to get the fans pumped up back then, the Vengaboys’ “We Like to Party”. If things had gone differently, I might have fond memories of that song, the way “Don’t Stop Believin’” has bored its way into my heart despite my strenuous efforts to keep it out.

I don’t think I need to continue this story. I guarantee you, Brandon Crawford knows what happened.