Once again, I’m talking to a fan from the Washington Nationals upcoming opposition. This time, my friend David (he was a guest prognosticator during football season) is answering questions about the reigning world champion San Francisco Giants, whom he adopted after moving to the city by the bay.
WFY: While I know you followed a different team growing up and may not have really been into baseball when that team won it all, how much did you enjoy the Giants World Series victory last year?
DS: Last year was fantastic and very fun to be a part of. I had followed the Giants for several years, but hadn’t properly considered myself anything more than a casual fan that cheered for the home team until the start of 2009. My friendships with a few die-hard fans helped my general interest grow into a true emotional commitment to a team. Then the team wins it all the next year. I felt a bit of guilt about that given that fans here had waited their whole lives for that moment. But I’m secure in my true fan status.
WFY: You arrived in San Francisco in the middle of the last decade when back when the Giants still played in SBC Park, I think and Barry Bonds was the headliner. Has the fanbase changed much in that time?
DS: The first few games I went to at SBC/ATT in 2003-2005 had a strong 1995 Camden Yards flavor to it. It was where consultants and attorneys took their clients. The sushi and garlic fries and the microbrews and sourdough breadbowls seemed to cut against the authentic baseball experience. But I later came to appreciate that it is totally authentic and just speaks to the uniqueness of San Francisco. Diehard, working class fans in San Francisco like sushi and microbrews.
Obviously though with the World Series pennant waving the fanbase seems to have swelled. But it doesn’t seem to me to be growing all to much because the Giants are fashionable. A meaningful chunk is older fans that had grown discouraged after years and years have come back to the team and brought their kids. That team last year also was fun and funny. It was the kind of group that could bring back those turned off by the steroid Aughts.
WFY: Speaking of Bonds, what has the reaction been to his trial?
DS: I think people are generally indifferent. The most common comment I heard or read was that people think that the investigation and the trial were a waste of time and money. Bonds is an enigma out here. People loved him for his amazing performances and the excitement that he brought to the ballpark experience. At the same time he never did things to ingratiate himself to the fans or his teammates. I’d guess more people think he is an expletive deleted than think he is a decent guy. When the Giants parted ways with him, the fans weren’t second guessing the choice and no team wanted him.
WFY: If I am not mistaken, you have gone back and forth with baseball over the years due to the strikes, absurd payrolls, etc. What brought you back into the game?
DS: The radio. When I moved to California to attend graduate school, I regularly found myself in the new experience of listening in the afternoon to baseball on the radio. Hearing Jon Miller call a baseball game at 2 or 4:30 in afternoon, I kind of tapped into a nostalgia for a time that I never experienced. I had also dearly loved listening to Miller call the Orioles when I was a kid and getting to hear him again everyday was a great comfort and joy. Also, they play real baseball in San Francisco. National League baseball requires the fan to know more about the team. The use of the bullpen does not just operate in isolation because of the DH. That decision-making process and element of strategy made the game so much more compelling than the more Cro-Magnon approach of the American League. Let’s not the forget the classic and sharp uniforms the Giants wear. If they dressed like the Diamondbacks, then my thirst for baseball nostalgia would have remained unquenched.
WFY: Is the oft-changing phone company-named ballpark the Giants play in really as good as they say it is? Bonus question, having been to Candlestick Park (for a 49ers game), the promise of which lured the Giants out of New York, what is the venue like?
DS: It is the best ballpark I’ve been to. (I prefer it over Wrigley, which is a cathedral.) I adore San Francisco and it tastefully uses the landscape. Rather than just opening out on the most notable icons, you look out on the Bay. Off to left field is the Bay Bridge, which is lit at night. The field has interesting dimensions, but not in a forced or excessive way. Often during night games around the 8th inning a fog will roll in and the sea gulls start circling, which always adds to the setting for a tight game. When the Giants win they play Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” as people file out, which I find endlessly charming.
You get no frills at Candlestick. I’ve narrowly avoided alterations in the parking lots there…with Niner fans! What usually sticks out in my mind is the depth of the sections, which means lots of stairs. The simplicity of the place would remind you of Veterans Stadium or RFK, but with smaller and fewer concourses. People call it a dump, but for those people it probably wasn’t the setting for some of the happiest afternoons and nights of their lives. I’ve always sat on the Niners sideline. I suspect the experience is less pleasant on the other side of the field in the collapsible sections.
WFY: Speaking of New York, the Giants sent a delegation to Manhattan over the winter. Since San Franciscans are sometimes suggested as being a bit provincial (I’m not finding fault mind you, its SAN FRANCISCO after all, I still daydream about it and I visited in December!) was their any backlash to the team embracing their Gotham heritage?
DS: I hadn’t even heard about it. I did see in the Chronicle a piece about a bar near Union Square where displaced San Franciscans watch the games—that was cool. When I’ve talked about the topic with friends that are life-long fans, they do take some affront to the media’s references to the New York championships. I agree with them. I think it is probably just laziness on the part of Eastern media outlets. Over and over again, pieces would say the Giants first championship since 1954 and list out the number of times the Giants organization has one the World Series. The Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958 and had never won from day 1. I think the San Francisco Giants fans deserved enough respect for people to say that their team had never won the World Series and they had patiently cheered on their team from the beginning. Those other championships were someone else’s team. What difference does it make to a San Francisco Giants fan what John McGraw did? What matters to Giants fans was the pain of losing a Series to Bobby Richardson or losing to the Cardinals in the 80s to end a great run or getting roughed up by the A’s in ’89. Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe Ravens fans sit around and talk about the good old days when they had Otto Graham and Jim Brown.
If one insists on doing that though, then one would think that a writer would have made the point that the Senators defeated the NY Giants in the 1924 World Series. Although the first Senators went to Minnesota, the Rangers do share in the Senators history. But that is not as obvious as anything that is related to New York. I think some Giants fans were annoyed that Ranger fans got labeled with the sympathetic mantle of “long suffering” and they did not.
In any event, Willie Mays is a big part of the team’s face and message and he’s at every major event. He is beloved by Giants fans and by the City. But, at the end of the day, Willie Mays will always be a New York icon and I think that is a big driver of the ties with New York.
WFY: As a displaced Washingtonian, do you pay attention to the Nats at all? Also, have you attended one of their games here?
DS: No. I’m too busy. My universe is pretty much limited to the National League West. I rely on the radio play-by-play guys to tell me what I need to know about the opponents. I haven’t seen a game in DC, but I plan to.
WFY: Where do you get most of your Giants news from? Is there one beat writer that stands out?
DS: KNBR is the team’s radio station. Three times a week members of the play-by-play team do interviews on a morning drive show. That’s the best information about the team. The Chronicle‘s writers do an adequate job, but there is no one that I look for. Usually the Chronicle‘s next day coverage is about 5% or 10% better than the AP summary that gets published about four or 5 minutes after the game ends. That’s kind of sad statement. If you’re freakishly into statistics, then you should read Bay City Ball. It is a local blog that ESPN started linking to not to long ago.
WFY: Who takes this series and the season series between the Nats and Giants?
DS: The Giants have been playing poorly as of late. Lincecum and Cain recently had bad starts. I’ll predict that they will both come back ferociously and win. The Nats will get to face either Bumgarner, who has been struggling, or a new addition that’s filling in for Zito. I’ll give you that one. In a best of four, I’ll give you one game for home field advantage. They split the series.
Over the season, the Giants win.