opening day? not this time

For 40 consecutive years, starting back on April 17, 1980, I have attended the San Francisco Giants home opener.

I had tickets for #41 on April 3. That game never happened. COVID-19 caused the season to be postponed until less than a week ago, when the Giants met the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Today is (as I write this) the home opener for the Giants, who will host the Padres tonight. I won't be there ... the 40-year streak is over ... no fans will be there, since one of the differences of baseball post-COVID is that no fans are allowed in stadiums for the foreseeable future.

I admit it was fun watching baseball again when the Giants and Dodgers met last Thursday, and if tonight's game is played, I'll be checking it out. But the idea of a baseball season during a pandemic is a dumb one, as Major League Baseball is finding out. One team, the Miami Marlins, had to postpone games after at least 11 players and 2 coaches tested positive for the virus. This has already had an effect on other teams ... yesterday, two games were postponed for COVID/Marlins reasons, at least one is postponed today.

Some players have opted out of returning to the field this season, including Giants icon Buster Posey. Five-time all-star and former Cy Young award winner David Price also stepped back, and when the Marlins outbreak occurred, Price went to Twitter. "Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first. Remember when [baseball commissioner Rob] Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed."

Thus far, in the few games that have been played, we've seen seats filled with cardboard cutouts of people (you can get in on the action in San Francisco for $99). Hunter Pence of the Giants, when announced before the opening game in LA, doffed his cap to the "fans". Star first-baseman Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs had hand sanitizer in his back pocket, and the first time the opposing Brewers got a man on first, Rizzo offered the runner some of the sanitizer.

Perhaps my favorite moment came during the Oakland A's home opener. MLB has decided to change the rules ("temporarily") to keep games from going too long. If a game goes to extra innings, the batting team gets to automatically have a runner on second. It's really stupid. The A's and Angels were the first teams to meet this new rule, when they were tied 3-3 after 9 innings. Before hand, there had been a lot of discussion about possible strategies teams might use in these situations. Put a fast guy on second, play small ball to get that runner across the plate, all sorts of possibilities. Well, the Angels couldn't score in their half of the 10th (their automatic runner was promptly removed from the bases on a rundown). Things went differently for the A's. Their first batter was hit by a pitch. A wild pitch moved runners to 2nd and 3rd. Another batter was walked to load the bases. The Angels brought in a new pitcher. On the first pitch, Matt Olson hit the ball 427 feet over the fence for a game-ending, walk-off grand slam. So much for small ball.

The A's players reacted like, well, like humans (who could predict that?). They stormed the field to greet Olson as he crossed the plate. You couldn't blame them, but it was a sight you'd rather not see during a pandemic:

So tonight, the Giants will finally play the home opener that was supposed to happen in April. I don't have tickets ... at least I got my money back. I've been perhaps too paranoid during the quarantine ... I'm someone with a lot of those existing medical conditions that are warning signs (it doesn't help that I turned 67 last month), so when I went to do some blood tests last week, it marked the first time I'd gone anywhere in more than four months.

How will I pass the time on my first Opening Day at home in 41 years? It makes a certain circular sense ... the last time I went out before those blood tests was on a Tuesday in March, when we saw our last "Geezer Cinema" movie in a theater (it was Emma.). Today being Tuesday, we'll be at home, watching the 20th at-home edition of Geezer Cinema. Here's the previews for today's movie (it's my turn to pick). It has the legendary Brian Dennehy, who died last April.

Finally ... why not? Perhaps the best Opening Day moment of those 40 years, in 2002, when Barry Bonds came up in extra innings against the Padres:


out of the coma again

In 2003, I had a blog post ("Out of the Coma") about ... well, here's how it began:

There's a news story about a guy who has just awoken from a coma that began on July 13, 1984. Apparently, the guy is talking a blue streak, and he still thinks Ronald Reagan is president. This made me decide to play a game, "What If I Was In A Coma?" The idea here is that everything is still 1984 to me ... the Reagan thingie is the example of what I mean. What needs to be explained to me, to get me up to speed?

I thought to do this again. In this case, I went into a coma in July of 2003, and woke up today. What needs to be explained?

When I went into a coma, George W was president. Since then, we elected our first African-American president. After him, we elected a real-estate mogul who by that time was known in part for his reality TV show, The Apprentice.

Harvey Pekar is dead. But Betty White and Olivia de Havilland are still alive.

When I went into a coma, the Giants had lost the World Series the previous season. Among the team leaders were Barry Bonds, Ray Durham, Marquis Grissom, and Jerome Williams, all African-Americans. While I was in a coma, the Giants miraculously won three World Series. There were no African-Americans on the list of top players on those teams. When I woke up from a coma, I was informed that there was no baseball yet, because of a virus.

Ah yes, the virus. For almost a year, now, the world is living through a pandemic. Lives have changed. When/if I go outside, I'll find that I have to wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from people. Many things will be closed ... shopping is a dangerous thing to do.

The most important political movement is now Black Lives Matter, which covers a lot of ground but which focuses on police brutality against African-Americans. In June of 2020 alone there were several dozen killings by law enforcement officials, including Rayshard Brooks, an African-American murdered in a Wendy's parking lot in Atlanta.

In football, the 49ers were mostly awful for nearly a decade, but they returned to the Super Bowl behind QB Colin Kaepernick. During the 2016 season, Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem as a protest against treatment of black people and people of color. After the season, he was released by the 49ers. He has never been given a job in the NFL since.

You know that American soccer league, MLS? It had 10 teams when I went into a coma. Soon afterwards, the Earthquakes won their second MLS Cup. A couple of years after that, they moved to Houston. A couple of years after that, San Jose was awarded an expansion team. A couple of years ago, the Earthquakes opened their new, soccer-only stadium. You'll notice that MLS is still around, now with 26 teams. Oh yeah, my nephew Sean works for the Toronto team.

When I went into a coma, the #1 song in the country was "Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé with Jay-Z. When I woke up, Beyoncé was the biggest music act in the country. The current #1 song is "Rockstar" by DaBaby. Prince died in 2016. While I was in a coma, Bruce Springsteen released 7 new studio albums, went on 7 world tours, had a show on Broadway that ran more than a year, and turned 70. Along the way, he won a few Grammies and a Tony. Danny Federici died in 2008, Clarence Clemons died in 2011. My beloved Sleater-Kinney released one of their greatest albums, went on a "hiatus", and came back a decade later. Before their most recent tour, Janet Weiss (sigh) quit.

Those Oscars you watched a coupla months before you went into a coma? The ones hosted by Steve Martin, where Chicago won Best Picture? The Best Picture at the most recent Oscars was Parasite, the first non-English language film to win the award.

The #1 broadcast TV series was CSI, which ran until 2015. Not sure you knew it back then, but we were entering the time of Peak TV. People "binge" series now. May I recommend the following shows to you, most of which you haven't heard of: The Wire, Mad Men, Deadwood, The Shield, Lost, Battlestar Galactica, 30 Rock, Justified, Terriers, The Americans, Broad City, Fargo, Game of Thrones, Girls, The Leftovers, Mr. Robot, Orange Is the New Black, Rectify, Halt and Catch Fire, Jane the Virgin, The Comeback, The Knick, RubiconTremé, Outlander, GLOW, Vida, The 100, Agents of SHIELD, Better Things, Insecure, Atlanta.

Your family is fine, Steven. Robin is as terrific as you remember. Neal and Sonia are still a great couple, Sara married Ray and had your grandson, Félix, who is about to turn 8. Welcome back.

Oh, and it's possible to become famous via something called YouTube, which was created a couple of years after my coma began. Here's a YouTube show you should binge:

You won't recognize most of those people, but they are all big stars today. And yes, that's Scarlett Johansson, the girl from Ghost World. She is one of the biggest stars in the movie world.


liverpool

I think it was back in 2007 when I decided I had to pick some European teams to root for. Before that, there wasn't much to watch here in the States, but gradually, most of the big European leagues were being shown fairly regularly to us, and while it seemed unlikely only a few years before, it got to the point where there was actually too much soccer for an American to watch. I already had our San Jose Earthquakes, although at the time they had moved to Houston and no replacement had yet arrived. I had been following Mexican soccer forever, since the days when it was the only club soccer we could watch, and rooted for Chivas of Guadalajara. I felt a connection to a small club in Wrexham, Wales, which is a different story. But by 2007, it was a cacophony, too many teams, and I thought perhaps if I just chose one team from each major European league, it would be easier to follow, and I might actually learn something about those teams.

I picked teams that were good, with history, but also ones that weren't dominant at the time ... that sounded boring. I tried to avoid the bad teams because they were never on television here. My choices have had various success over the years ... Inter Milan in Italy have won 6 Serie A titles since then, as well as one Champions League title. In Spain, Sevilla is usually in the running for a title, although they never actually win it, but at one point, they won three straight Europa League championships. Werder Bremen of Germany have had the worst of it since 2007 ... they never win anything, and are currently in danger of relegation.

But then there was Liverpool. When I latched onto them, they had won 18 titles at the top tier of English soccer. They had also won 5 European Cup/Champions League titles. Their history was as storied as any in England, but they hadn't won the league since 1989-90, although they always had top players and they usually were close to the leaders.

That first team of the Steven Era (2007-08), Liverpool was managed by Spaniard Rafa Benítez. They were unbeaten through their first 14 league games, but faded and finished fourth. They did get to the semi-finals in the Champions League. Spaniard Fernando Torres scored 33 goals in all competitions, and I became a big fan of the hard-working Dutchman Dirt Kuyt.

Over the years, they finished second in the Premier League three times. Last year, they won the Champions League. But a 19th domestic title eluded them.

Early in the 2015-16 season, they hired German Jürgen Klopp as the manager. Klopp had won two Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund. Klopp is charismatic, and is considered one of the great managers of the modern game. Under Klopp, Liverpool have played an entertaining style, one that leads to plenty of goals. Their defense often suffered, but Klopp and Liverpool signed Virgil van Dijk, arguably the best defender in the game, in January of 2018, and followed that by getting Brazilian goalie Alisson, also a candidate for the best at his position. Those two players shored up the defense, the offense continued to score, and Liverpool were a real threat, as their Champions League victory last year showed.

This season, Liverpool have run away with the Premier League. Their front line of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, and Mohamed Salah thrill on a weekly basis, and young Trent Alexander-Arnold has developed into one of the best right backs in the world. It's been a pleasure watching them play.

They would have clinched their first title in 30 years long ago, but the COVID-19 crisis delayed things. Play finally resumed last week, and after a dull 0-0 draw, Liverpool reminded us of what they do in their second match back (the crowd noise is fake ... there is no one in the stands due to the virus):

It may have seemed anti-climactic when Liverpool clinched the title Thursday after Manchester City lost, but I don't think the long-suffering Liverpool fans minded (not a lot of masks or social distancing here):

The club released this video, featuring their theme song, "You'll Never Walk Alone":

Finally, this, after they won the Champions League last season. The fans lead the singing ... it is their song, after all:


opening day 1987

(There isn't going to be any baseball for a long time. I have been to 40 consecutive Giants Opening Days, and have/had tickets for #41, but it is entirely possible my streak is ending. So I thought I'd occasionally look back at some of those 40 Openers, make up a bit for the absence of current baseball. Some of these have gotten mentions in blog posts past, but whatever.)

1986 was a promising year for the Giants. It was the first full year under manager Roger Craig, it was their first winning season in four years, and it was the rookie season for Forever Giants Will Clark and Robby Thompson. So it was with a feeling of optimism that we showed up for the 1987 opener at Candlestick.

The Padres' lineup included one future Hall-of-Famer, Tony Gwynn. It also included three players who were traded to San Francisco later in the season, one of the biggest Giants' trades of the time, acquiring Kevin Mitchell, Dave Dravecky, and Craig Lefferts. (They also had Tim Flannery, who later became a legendary coach for the Giants.) The starting pitchers were Eric Show and Mike Krukow. And there was one more future Hall-of-Famer: plate umpire Doug Harvey.

The Giants struggled against Show, and while Krukow mostly held off the Padres, going into the bottom of the 8th the Giants trailed, 3-0. But the Giants' bats awoke in the 8th. With one out, Mike Aldrete pinch-hit for Krukow and drew a walk. Chris Speier pinch-ran for Aldrete, and Clark singled. Chris Brown, who was later dealt to the Padres in that mid-season trade, doubled home Speier, and one out later, Candy Maldonado, appearing in his first game for the Giants, doubled home Clark and Brown to tie the game.

After which, no one scored for a while. The Giants threatened in the bottom of the 10th when Clark led off with a triple against Lefferts. Padres manager Larry Bowa ordered two intentional walks to load the bases with no one out. But Joel Youngblood hit one back to the mound, with Clark out at the plate, and Chili Davis hit into a double play.

It all came together in the bottom of the 12th. After new pitcher Craig Lefferts retired the first two batters, he gave up consecutive singles to Jeffery Leonard, Bob Melvin, and Chili Davis, sending the fans home happy with a 4-3 Giants win.

The Giants went on to win the NL West, marking their first trip to the post-season in 16 years. They won 3 of the first 5 games against the St. Louis Cardinals, but didn't score in the final two games, ending the season.

Here is Game Five of the NLCS against the Cardinals. That series was the first I had ever attended in person, and after this game, which put the Giants up 3 games to 2 as they went to St. Louis, all of us in the stands said we'd see each other at the World Series. Oops.


opening day 1983

(There isn't going to be any baseball for a long time. I have been to 40 consecutive Giants Opening Days, and have/had tickets for #41, but it is entirely possible my streak is ending. So I thought I'd occasionally look back at some of those 40 Openers, make up a bit for the absence of current baseball. Some of these have gotten mentions in blog posts past, but whatever.)

1983 was my 4th Opening Day, and it was quite eventful. The 1982 season was exciting, although it's often forgotten now. So we felt optimistic for 1983. The Giants opened at home against the Padres, with Mike Krukow (pitching in his first game as a Giant) going against Tim Lollar. Krukow came to the Giants in a trade that saw Joe Morgan sent to Philadelphia, where he went to the World Series.

There were no future Hall-of-Famers in this game, but there were some interesting names. The hated Steve Garvey was making his debut as a Padre. Future Giants legend Tim Flannery, who was only 25, got a couple of at-bats for San Diego. Krukow's debut was inauspicious ... he gave up 4 runs in an inning-and-a-third. The Giants had clawed back to a 5-3 deficit going into the top of the fifth. Jim Barr came in to pitch. Here's how the Padres' half of the fifth went:

Single, single, single, single, single, wild pitch, out, single, new pitcher, out, walk, error, double, out. When the dust had cleared, San Diego had sent 12 men to the plate and scored 8 runs to take a 13-3 lead.

The Giants got 3 of those runs back in the bottom of the inning, but the Padres weren't done ... they got those 3 runs back in the top of the sixth to make it 16-6. The Giants weren't done, either, scoring 3 in the 6th, 1 in the 7th, and 3 more in the 8th to make it 16-13. Tom O'Malley came up with two on, representing the potential tying run. But he flied out, and the end of the game was anti-climatic. The Giants went in order in the ninth, the game ending when Gary Lucas struck out Duane Kuiper.

So: 29 runs, 33 hits, 3 errors, and 5 home runs. More than 50,000 showed up and got their money's worth, even if the home team lost.


throwback thursday: opening day 1980

There isn't going to be any baseball for a long time. I have been to 40 consecutive Giants Opening Days, and have/had tickets for #41, but it is entirely possible my streak is ending. So I thought I'd occasionally look back at those 40 Openers, make up a bit for the absence of current baseball. Some of these have gotten mentions in blog posts past, but whatever.

My first Opening Day was April 17, 1980. The Giants had stunk in 1979, and in 1980 they kicked off the season on the road by losing 6 of 7 games. I remember a few things about that afternoon. For one, I had a broken foot (which hadn't prevented me from seeing The Ramones a few days earlier). For another, our seats were not only in the nosebleeds, but way up in the nosebleeds. I had to walk up a lot of stairs before I could sit down. I could take it ... I was only 26 years old.

The visitors were the San Diego Padres, who boasted two future Hall of Famers in Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield. (I find it interesting that seemingly any old box score you look at includes future Hall of Famers, even if we didn't realize it at the time. Ozzie Smith was 25, in his third season, and had yet to win one of those bazillon Gold Gloves. Winfield looked a little better ... 28 years old, 3-time All-Star, Gold Glover, led the NL in RBI in 1979.) The Giants countered with a future Hall-of-Famer of the their own in Willie McCovey, who had established his Hall credentials by 1980, having by Opening Day a total of 520 home runs.

There were only 3 umpires ... someone missed a flight. The Giants sent Vida Blue to the mound; the Padres offered Eric Rasmussen. Rasmussen is best-known today as The Man Formerly Called Harry. He was born with the name Harold Rasmussen, and was called Harry through the 1976 season. Turned out, he hated the name Harry, and hated Harold even more. So he changed his name legally to Eric, and that's the man who started against the Giants on that Opening Day.

The Giants wasted no time making the fans happy. In the bottom of the first, two walks put runners on for the legendary McCovey, who singled home the first run of the game. Willie ended the day with 3 hits and 3 RBI ... he was the best player in the game. He was also 42 years old. He only managed 9 more RBI that season before retiring in early July.

The Giants coasted the rest of the game. Jack Clark and Milt May also had three hits, and the Padres didn't score until Vida gave up a 3-run homer to Gene Tenace in the 9th inning. Final score: Giants 7, Padres 3.

Here is the 1980 Giants Team Highlight Film, "Tradition for Today":


long tales

Sometimes I wish I had gotten into Star Trek when I was a teenager. I've never had anything against the show, the various permutations that have followed, or their fans. Jealous of those fans, actually. I never watched any of the series. I saw a couple of movies. Like most people, I know who Kirk and Picard and Spock are. I just never watched.

Marvel is another example. I read a few comics back in the day, most specifically the original Dr. Strange series (I was a wannabe hippie, what can I say). And my wife watches the movies, so I've seen some of them. But I'm never quite sure who does what.

Doctor Who, Star Wars ... I know little (Doctor Who) or some (Star Wars), but I am no fanatic, and I don't get tingly when a new Star Wars movie turns up. Again, I don't hate them or their fans, I'm just not a part of that.

My jealousy comes from wishing I was a part of it. Star Trek especially ... there are so many series and movies that I could binge the rest of my life and not catch up with all of it. That sounds appealing ... not the binging, just the part where there is so much and you are part of it.

Then I realized, there is one area where I participate that is similar to what Trekkers enjoy: sports. You follow something over the years, as history builds up and each season brings a freshness you don't find anywhere else. The Giants are in Spring Training, and Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence are back, and they are "Good Giants" and I think of the past when I see them in the present. Johnny Antonelli died the other day, and he was a Giants ace pitcher the first few years after they came to San Francisco. I relate to the Giants the way Trekkers relate to Star Trek: a continuing story that I take part it, year after year, drawing enjoyment not just from the present, but from the present's connection to the past.

I've never held it against people who are "fair weather fans", who show up at Giants games when they are winning World Series but are absent the rest of the time. Why shouldn't they get in on the enjoyment? But when the Giants won the Series in 2010, it was especially sweet for those of us who remember 1958 and had been waiting our whole lives for that moment. Same thing with the Warriors ... I remember when they were NBA champs in the mid-70s, but I also remember decades of underachievement, and so their revival in recent years was particularly cool.

Maybe we all need long tales to help us survive.


throwback thursday: iran in the u.s. 20 years ago

At the 1998 World Cup in France, a match took place which was called "the most politically charged match in World Cup history". The participants were the United States and Iran. Iran won the match, 2-1, eliminating the USA from the tournament.

In January of 2000, Iran's men's soccer team took a brief tour of friendlies in the United States, including one against the Americans. The first match on the tour was against Mexico, and was played 20 years ago today in Oakland. We were there.

A sign of how relations between Iran and the United States were in 2000 can be seen in the demand by the Iranians that fingerprint formalities would be waived (in those days, Iranian visitors to the U.S. were frequented fingerprinted by immigration authorities).

More than 34,000 fans showed up for the match against Mexico. Soccer fans will recognize some of the names that played in the match. For Mexico, there was "El Emperador", Claudio Suárez, Cuauhtémoc Blanco (currently the Governor of the State of Morelos in Mexico), and Luis Hernández, "El Matador". Iran featured Ali Daei, who scored more than 100 goals for the national team, and Khodadad Azizi, who later spent a season with the San Jose Earthquakes. Goals were scored by Hernández, Blanco, and Daei, as Mexico won, 2-1.

Here's a short video showing Blanco's trademark move, the Cuauhtemiña:


champions once again

In a tournament where the USA's most marketable player was Alex Morgan, who is in the Mia Hamm mold (pretty, scores goals), it was a "purple-haired lesbian goddess" who was the face of the World Cup. Morgan is so good, she tied for the most goals scored yet seemed to be off her game. But Megan Rapinoe rose to the occasion as few others have. She scored as many goals as Morgan, she was named MVP, and she pissed off the President of the United States. Nothing is more American.

It's a tradition here to post this quotation at the end of a World Cup:

One thing I know for sure about being a fan is this: it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say that they would rather do than watch are missing the point.... When there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outwards until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team's fun ... The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others' good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realise this above all things.

--Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

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