Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You've been here before

The Giants and I were new at this five years ago.
(c'mon: Another baseball post?! Seriously?!!)
(Look, it's either this or write about the Loma Prieta earthquake and the
World Series — quite appropriate on the 25th anniversary — but I've already done that — twice. — ed.)
I had started my part-time gig as a tour guide of Sacramento's Underground. The information felt overwhelming, the challenge frightening.

I had to distill a thick binder of historical information into a story that kept people engaged and while I kept them safe for an hour of walking around an obstacle course of the old town.

What's more, I put it on myself to effect a 19th Century Irish persona and a brogue that didn't remind people of the Lucky Charms™® Leprechaun.

The Giants, meanwhile had no business rising through the standings that year. They were the misfits, failing to conform to baseball ideology. Failing at all but winning.

Love! Exciting and new!

Several of the museum staff, where the tours emanate, turned out to be Giants fans too. A radio in one office even now is permanently tuned to the weak KNBR signal, broadcast home of the Giants. I learned quickly where the "on" switch was because I didn't dare move the dial and lose that precarious signal for good.

They were good times. I was figuring out this guide business. The hard knocks of leading a tour and failing forced opportunities to try again with a new tack, a different way of showing and telling, until I felt comfortable in this faux Irish skin.

The Giants kept winning all the while. It became habit, then obsession, to stop by that office between tours and catch 10 or 12 pitches, maybe even a half-inning, before having to stomp off to the next tour.

The first words out of my mouth once I returned to the museum from a tour: "Score?" Someone had the score and scoring summary ready. We Giants fans in the museum rose and fell by those games. The majority of the staff, not fans, rolled their eyes.

An improbable final-game division win in 2010 rolled into a division championship against the Atlanta Braves, became National League pennant against the phading Philadelphia Phillies, became a showdown with the American League sluggers the Texas Rangers. The Giants were overmatched, all the pundits said so. The Giants won.

Two years later, the Giants were back. Catcher Buster Posey, lost the season before to a gruesome collision at the plate, was back in form. Key players from the 2010 were gone, though, or pale imitations of themselves.

It was not to be. The Giants had no chance. But they made it again to postseason, for an early exit, the experts said. Then, down the first two games in the five-game division series, needing to win the rest to stay alive, the Giants did and beat the Cincinnati Reds. Behind three games to one against the St. Louis Cardinals for the pennant and needing to win all the rest — the Giants won all the rest.

Detroit would destroy the Giants, the pundits said again. The Giants swept the Tigers instead.

The second time in three years proved more manic. The season's end and the playoff games always seemed to coincide with tours or church or other obligations. I learned to text that year and sought salve that way, loved ones relaying scores while I was pinned down during the Eucharistic Prayer.

I was at the top of my game guide-wise, even folding in a second character.

Two World Series wins in three years! It was quite enough. I was sated.

This, though. This is gluttony: The possibility of three World Series wins in five years. Once again, the Giants made it the hard way.

They flopped feet first into the playoffs after a woeful and powerless mid-summer stretch. And yet … they trounced the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one-game Wild card playoff just to get to the division series against the powerful Washington Nationals. The Giants beat the Nationals with power to get into the League championship, then waited for the evenly matched St. Louis Cardinals to throw the ball away enough times to lose (suggesting a new statistic known as RTI — run thrown in).

The final game came with unexpected Giants power and the unlikeliest of heroes, Travis Ishikawa. He was on the 2010 Giants World Series team, a player I liked to root for, a player best known for pinch hits. The Giants released him when he wasn't hitting well, and he bounced around the minor leagues for two years before resurfacing with the Pirates at the start of the season, then got released again and back on the Giants.

Ishikawa seemed like a retread hanger-on, but had transformed himself physically and worked on his hitting. Maybe it wasn't so unlikely, then, that he hit the pennant-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth, the hoariest of American dreams.

Now the Giants are the calm veterans, facing the speedy and powerful Kansas City Royals who play a much different style of game. The Royals are the upstarts, unlikelier than the Giants.

I feel like an old hand too, like I've been here before. All the games so far have taken place when I'm not on tour or stuck in church or otherwise indisposed, like we planned it, the Giants and I. Having seen it all, or almost, I remain calm when tourists fall on the route, or delivery trucks block our path, or low-riders extinguish all sound save for what disgorges from their woofers.

We're cool. We can do this.

Game 1 tonight. Go Giants.

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