“These old ballparks are like cathedrals in America. We don’t have big old Gothic cathedrals like they do in Europe. But we got baseball parks.” – Jimmy Buffet
I grew up the daughter of a 3rd generation San Franciscan, who adored his baseball team like no one I’ve seen. I can’t recall the first time Dad told me about attending Opening Day on April 15th of 1958, the year the Giants moved from New York to the City by the Bay, but that day will forever live on in his memory; he still has his ticket from that game. My father was an even-tempered fan, one who loved the team unconditionally while not allowing losses to dictate his mood, and I always admired the way he rode the wave rather than getting swept away by it.
My best memories of childhood are peppered with baseball games, trips to the city and Candlestick Park. Thin-skinned fans were prone to complain about The Stick’s infamously fickle weather, but I only remember blue skies, sunny days, and the excitement I felt while making the trek from the hill-top parking lot to the stadium below, with the simple but beautiful statue of Saint Francis (San Francisco) gracing its entrance. The anti-Stick enthusiast might also throw up doubts about the stadium’s appeal, dismissing it as a simple concrete structure in the middle of a questionable area. To me, however, it was like a castle, a fortress of old, complete with panoramic, sweeping vistas of the bay; a magical place where the wind whipped my hair and the energy was palpable. I’m sure we had decent seats – Dad liked to sit along the 3rd base side whether we were on the upper or lower deck — but it really didn’t matter where we were. Those orange plastic seats will never lose their luster in my mind; I have no bad memories of baseball.
However, as much as I loved going to the games as a young girl, it was really more for the atmosphere than out of a particular love for the sport — that came later. Rather, I used most of the game as an opportunity to do two of my favorite things: spend time outdoors and read. An avid bookworm from an early age, books were, and to this day remain, my traveling companion. Most games saw me with a book in my hands, but bringing one was never criticized; it was graciously accepted that I would spent about 6 out of 9 innings immersed in my literary world. Dad was just happy that I was there, that his family was there, to enjoy the moment with him.
A more gracious soul than my father you’d be hard pressed to find. A genuine and generous being, he was the type of guy who could make friends anywhere (sometimes to our frustration as kids…. “Dad, do you have to talk to EVERYONE?”) A mellow and mild-mannered man, I never heard him holler obscenities at players or fly off the handle. (Although he did once tell an obnoxiously drunk fan who was spewing racial slurs to “Sit down and shut up! You’re embarrassing yourself and everyone around you!” That’s a story for another time.) My dad mastered the art of keeping it classy, and the example he set for me is one of the reasons I consider baseball to be a gentleman’s sport. As I grew older, I put the books aside and started paying more attention to the game. How could I continue to bury my head in a book when he had his own stories to tell, tales of Mays and McCovey and Marichal**? More out of a love for my dad than a love for the sport, I listened, although perhaps less so during my insubordinate teenage years.
In 2000, when the Giants moved from Candlestick to AT & T Park, the history of the team suddenly became more accessible. Inside the park’s Club Level, where Giants artifacts and historical memorabilia line the hallways, my dad’s face would light up kid on Christmas as he shared his wealth of Giants knowledge. Outside the park, along the King Street brick wall, he would point out the plaques of famous players throughout the franchise’s history, a real live Ghosts of Giants past tour. Time, age and an appreciation of my father’s insight deepened my understanding and love of the team, and the sport in general.
Baseball is now one of my great joys, thanks to dad. Although I love the fun of the game, I find baseball to be much more than just an entertaining pastime. The sport holds deeper meaning for me, as it has imparted life lessons of patience, presence, perseverance, camaraderie and keeping a childlike spirit. Walking into a ballpark today fills me with a starry-eyed sense of wonder, no matter how many times I have been there. The Giants organization in particular inspires me through the character of its players, announcers and staff. Some of their names will grace the pages of future posts.
When the Giants won the World Series in 2010 after a 56 year drought, I remember how moved I was upon seeing several of the homemade signs displayed by fans at the victory parade. These orange and black works of art paid homage to dearly departed family members who had not lived long enough to see the team get their first-ever victory in San Francisco, and contained phrases such as “Celebrating in Heaven”. I am immensely grateful that my dad– the biggest Giants fan I know –got to see not just one, but three SF World Series wins during his lifetime. I am even more thankful that I have been able to experience those victories with him.
The day of that parade in 2010 is one of my fondest memories. Rather than fight the crowds, Dad and I watched the live coverage at a local sports bar (a tradition that continued in 2012 and 2014). After three glorious hours of celebration and speeches, he took me to a Giants dugout store and bought me a Tim Lincecum jersey, proudly presenting his gift with the following declaration: “I am officially passing the torch to you. It is your job to keep the love of the Giants alive for future generations.”
My father has not been well lately, and this is the first year I can remember that we haven’t gone to a ballgame together. I remain hopeful that this will change, but as baseball season draws to a close, that idea is dwindling, and I am once again aware that nothing is promised to us in this short and precious life. So I do my best to bring the game to him. Whenever I go to the ballpark, I call him to share the sounds of the crowd. If we get a win, I put him on speakerphone so he can hear his favorite song of all-time, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”, which is played throughout the park after every Giants’ victory. And every time I see my dad, I give him a big hug and tell him how much I love him.
I will continue to do my part, and remain the torchbearer. What exactly is a torchbearer if not someone who holds the light? In baseball season or in the off-season, at the game or in life, I will do my best to shine and share that light. And I thank you Dad, for leading the way.