Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Above the blue and windy sea

Time was — when our first was born — that people could predict my moods by the outcome of each San Francisco Giants game. Wins made me accessible and cooperative and accommodating; losses turned me into a hermit.

(Last night's embarrassing 9-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, for example, would have meant a bad today for everyone.)

I was ardent. We almost named our son after Will Clark, the hootin' and hollerin' Giants hitting sensation and first baseman at the time, but we employed rare restraint at the last.

Time was that I spent a couple of cold October evenings fixing the water lines to our house (well, "fixing" sounds a lot cleaner and more definitive than what I was doing), and watching baseball playoffs through the living room window, which I had cleaned in the one spot that gave me a clear shot to the TV.

I've tempered my baseball behavior since. In fact, I'm not a baseball fan anymore; I'm a San Francisco Giants fan. The only other baseball I follow is the Giants' current opponent (the Dodgers this day). After the two teams part, I all but forget the other guys. Other sports hold no interest for me.

I try — try, mind you — to see baseball for what it really is: Enjoyable but meaningless entertainment.

Wins bring pleasure, but so — I've come to discover — do losses. It's the pleasure a good book brings as its drama unfolds. The games are daily serials. My heart races, my face reddens; I hoot at a good play and curse at a bobble. The game ends, I listen to the the radio analysis for a while, then it's over. On to life.

At its height — when the Giants won the 2010 World Series — I shared the elation with, what, maybe 2 million fans who follow the team from game to game? I didn't buy the commemorative sweatshirts or license plate frames or bobbleheads or any such thing, but I was happy to have watched with others as the improbable season unfolded, and wistful when it ended. And life went on.

The Giants this year are a torturous lot — "Giants baseball: Torture!" had been a catchphrase the last two seasons and it's an evergreen — so I now share the angst and wary hope of those 2 million other fans. Just a month into the six-month season, and the Giants have lost their closer, the weird-bearded marketing genius Brian Wilson, for the season because of a bum elbow, and are not sure when or whether they'll ever get their clutch hitting second baseman, Freddie Sanchez, who has been out since the middle of last season with a shoulder injury.

The deceptively powerful third baseman, Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval, went down last week for six weeks to repair a broken bone in his left hand — the same bone that broke in his right hand this time last year. Their catcher, Rookie-of-theYear Buster Posey who missed more than half of last season when a home-plate collision crushed his ankle, is back and doing sorta kinda OK. Their aging first baseman Aubrey Huff fled the team in a panic attack, and is back now, tenatively. And this week their effective middle reliever Guillermo Mota got kicked out for 100 games allegedly for taking performance-enhancing drugs.

This list of woe is incomplete.

Even among the healthy, the roster evokes grievous tension. Ace pitcher and two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, who embodies "must-see TV" because of Koufaxian bow he makes of his body to throw the ball, is like a thoroughbred who must have perfect conditions and mindset in order to succeed. Veteran Cy Young winner Barry Zito, whom I admire for his work ethic and his service to wounded military veterans, comes to the mound as a different pitcher each time, bedeviling hitters with his magic-trick curveball one game, walking a conga line the next. Fans regularly rag him for the multi-million dollar salary they say he doesn't deserve.

I'm leaving out the good stuff, like usually dependable starters Matt "Hardluck" Cain (so many times the Giants have failed to give him the runs he needs during his mostly masterful performances) and youngster Madison Bumgarner. Shortstop Brandon Crawford is acrobatic in the field, though a victim of the youngster yips. Trade acquisition Melky Cabrera wows the crowd with his bat and with a frighteningly accurate arm from the outfield; speedy Angel Pagan was on a 20-game hitting streak (snapped, sadly) as of last night. Rookie Gregor Blanco brings speed, and the infield usually comprises first- or second-year players these days.

The result is hit-and-miss, with more errors than the Giants usually commit. Not much different than most teams. The season, as we tell ourselves, is early yet. Plenty of games left.

The "pleasure" in all this is watching to see if the Giants can finagle small miracles en route to the playoffs — or succumb to more than a century of statistical likelihood and common sense, finishing a respectable third or stinky fourth place.

Win or lose, the Giants will have entertained me. That's my game plan.

It helps that the Giants have the league's best storytellers (Vin Scully is the best alone, but the Giants broadcasters have him outnumbered.) On the radio, it's butter-voiced Hall of Famer Jon Miller and the Boy Wonder, Dave Flemming. On TV, most of the time, it's Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, two former Giants (the former a one-time 20-game winner and All-Star) whose greatest value to the team is being former Giants who talk fan-to-fan with Giants viewers.

Some of summer's best moments are catching the Giants on the radio. Baseball games weave their tendrils into daily life, slyly. Just when you're lost to the drone of the day, the sudden barking narration of a double in the gap returns you to the game in progress. More than one long family drive was made shorter by extra-inning games of heartstop and heartbreak and derring and stupidity until, suddenly, resolution.

The best part of a Giants home win is the tradition of playing Tony Bennett's "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," over the public address system as fans file out. Radio listeners can hear the ending crescendo echo through the stadium as the broadcasters return from commercial for  for the post-game recap:
"Above the blue and windy seeeaaaaa …
When I come home to you, San Francisco,
Your golden sun will shine for me."
One-hundred thirty-four games left.

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