It Rained On My Parade

Madison Bumgarner Fathead on display at the World Series victory parade in San Francisco, CA. October 31, 2014It’s been a while since my last blog post. A LONG while. I’ve been traveling more than normal, and I guess I just fell out of the blogging habit. It’s easy to do when your trips happen every few weeks, and involve weekend travel. Then your beloved baseball team makes it to the postseason. As a wildcard. And goes on the win it all, playing five nights out of seven for an entire month.

Every other year, like clockwork, my October is ocupado, thanks to the San Francisco Giants.

I’ll blog about my recent travel – which involved plenty of photography – shortly. But for now, I’m still basking in the post World Series parade glow.

The parade route wasn’t as crowded as in 2010 or 2012 – hopefully because it rained all morning, and not because we Bay Area folks are taking World Series wins for granted. Whatever the explanation, I managed to position myself in the first row against barricades on Market Street… where I stood waiting for the players’ floats for 4.5 hours, without water (except for what was soaking my hair and shoes), to avoid the need for a restroom run. Under no circumstances was I relinquishing my ideal photo-taking spot.

Totally. Worth. It.

Stopped Cold at AT&T Park

San Francisco Giants vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, April 10, 2014. AT&T Park. San Francisco, CA.
AT&T Park (April 10, 2014)

 

On Thursday, I shivered through my first regular season San Francisco Giants game of 2014.  The night air was so cold, I had to slip into my down jacket before the end of the second inning — not a good sign. Unfortunately, I forgot my gloves.

It was “Farewell to the ‘Stick” night — a celebration of more than 50 years of baseball and football played amidst wind, fog and swirling trash at soon-to-be-demolished Candlestick Park. The fitting promotional giveaway was a commemorative scarf that smelled awful when removed from its plastic bag. I wore it anyway. It’s no coincidence that scarves are among the most popular promos at AT&T Park. On my way home, I encountered at least one freezing fan offering to BUY one off someone.

Granted, East Coast teams play in some very cold temperatures in the early months of the season — a few years ago, the Cleveland Indians home opener was SNOWED out — but they have the scorching heat of June through August to look forward to. In San Francisco, we probably won’t see weather like that at a night game unless we make it to the post-season in October.

I’m surprised AT&T Park hasn’t tried a mittens promotional giveaway. Or a hand warmer giveaway.

Naturally, such an extremity-numbing game went to extra innings, and unfortunately the Giants wound up losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks by one run in the 10th. Still, my seat — four rows from the field, right next to the visitors dugout — was something to blog home about. I can only assume that the original owner gave up price-gouging for Lent, because I bought it on StubHub for at or near face value. Bless you, kind stranger.

Apologies for any camera shake. I shot until the shivering made it too hard to keep still…

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3 Observations From 2014 Spring Training

Child's hand holding a baseball with the Cleveland Indians logo, waiting for a player to sign itI returned from Scottsdale and Cactus League baseball less than 48 hours ago, and am clinging desperately to the last shreds of my spring training vacation buzz. I didn’t have much time to blog and post photos while I was away, so now I’m playing catch(!) up. (Playing catch? See what I did there?) I also have some reflections on my five days in the Arizona desert.

America’s pastime isn’t always pretty: I often hear Bay Area dwellers caveat something going on around us with, “but of course, we live in a bubble.” It’s a good economy bubble, thanks to the Silicon Valley, as well as a great weather bubble – and as a result, San Francisco attracts a lot of young, educated, physically active people. Live here long enough, and you can lose sight of how the rest of America actually looks and behaves. Spring training in Scottsdale delivers an eyeful of reality.

I am not a perfect physical specimen, and I struggle to maintain a healthy weight, yet when I’m at Spring Training I often find myself both reassured (“Hey, maybe I’m not in such bad shape!”), and alarmed by the amount of morbid obesity around me. Listen, like most fans I indulge in ballpark food with relish (and mustard) – but it’s shocking to see so many overweight, middle-aged people sucking down multiple beers, foot-long chili cheese dogs and double cone soft serve ice cream… then hiring a golf cart to ride – rather than walk — .8 miles to their hotel. A few of these folks may have an injury or disability that impacts their mobility, but not THAT many.

If you see a slim person at Spring Training, it’s dollars to doughnuts (pun intended) that he/she is under 25 years of age, with a metabolism that is still working overtime. And if she’s a woman, she’s probably wearing false eyelashes, a push-up bra, a skin-tight tank top and very short shorts. One such young woman stood next to me before Sunday’s Giants/Indians game, as I took some of the photos below. Flashing her ample cleavage and a button declaring “It’s My Birthday”, she got lots of autographs from Indians players, despite not knowing their names or the positions they play. I SUSPECT it wasn’t the birthday button that did the trick. Speaking of autographs…

I don’t get the autograph thing: Maybe I’m bitter, because the first (and last) autograph I ever got — from Chris Evert, who I adored as a kid and still think is pretty awesome – I misplaced almost immediately, and was heartbroken. I guess I was so scarred by the loss, it soured me on the whole autograph-getting experience. So I am fascinated by grown men who jostle and elbow their way to the edge of the field each day, hoping to get a signature on a ball or cap brim. Many of them enjoy telling players stories as they sign, like “I was at the game where you hit that homer off Clayton Kershaw”, or whatever. The players politely nod and say things like, “Oh yeah? That’s cool.” Once they have an autograph in hand, these men beam like little boys.

To each his own, right? The autograph frenzy only bothers me when I see a father pushing his kid HARD to get a signature, and it’s clearly the dad’s thing. The kid doesn’t care. In fact, before the aforementioned Giants/Indians game, a dad – who I’m pretty sure is an otherwise good guy and loving father – forced his super-shy son to the front of the crowd. When the kid hung back and an Indians player missed him as he moved down the line signing for fans, the dad got overly enthusiastic and shouted “little boy right there, you missed a little boy to your right, little boy, little boy”. The player stopped cold, glared and asked, “You telling me to sign?” He eventually signed the boy’s ball, and father and son thanked him. It was awkward. I was sorry for the dad, getting schooled in front of the crowd. But I also sympathize with players, who must get fed up with pushy fans treating them like employees who OWE THEM an autograph.

Shop much?: The only thing at spring training that’s more frantic than a line of autograph hounds, is the San Francisco Giants shop in Scottsdale Stadium. Step inside and it’s like you’ve been sucked into the famous Running of the Brides at Filene’s basement. There is pushing, shoving and general rudeness by fans who are seemingly unaware that there are Dugout Stores all over the Bay Area, or that most Giants swag is available online. Not sure how they manage to function in society in the off-season. The weird thing is, while the Cleveland Indians/Cincinnati Reds shop at Goodyear Ballpark is always crowded, it lacks Scottsdale’s mob-like, looter vibe. I wonder what the Cubs team shop in Mesa is like? Cubs fans are rabid too, but Chicagoans have Midwestern manners so…

There it is. A recap of my easing into baseball season, in fewer than 1,000 words. Despite wearing 50 SPF sunscreen I picked up some color (in the form of freckles), and I took good photos, consumed a few warm-weather cocktails, and shook off a load of work stress.

Next step: Opening Day! Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!

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Game 162: Parting Ways

San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito prepares to take the mound at AT&T Park, September 29, 2013
Barry Zito

Tonight the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Texas Rangers — thereby earning an American League wild card spot, and the distinct privilege of playing the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday.  And so, I am closing the book on regular season baseball.

It has become a tradition for me to attend the San Francisco Giants’ final regular season home game each year. It’s usually a day game, and the weather is always exceptional. That’s how I spent Sunday afternoon: at AT&T Park, switching between photo taking in the fabulous fall light, and monitoring the Indians game against the Twins on the scoreboard. If the Tribe had lost, they would have had to play a tie-breaker of some kind — a crushing outcome I could not accept.

Never fear, the Indians won, and made the postseason for the first time since 2007 — at which point I gave the game in front of me my undivided attention.

The Giants did not disappoint, rallying from a five-run deficit for a walk-off win, courtesy of their $90 million man (for the next five years, at least), Hunter Pence. Barry Zito also took the mound for his long-awaited curtain call. Classy and gracious as always, he tipped his cap to the crowd and later gave a sweet good-bye speech.

It hasn’t always been pretty, but we’ll miss you Barry.

Each year, I feel a little melancholy during my final afternoon at the ballpark. Will my favorite players be back next season? Is there room in me for one last bratwurst? When do pitchers and catchers report to Scottsdale? (Answers: probably not, always and 139 days from Sunday.)

So as I took in my last regular-season game, I decided to have a little fun.  I snapped photos not just of players, but also of some of the colorful characters I encountered at the ballpark. I had to be sneaky of course.  If some camera-shy fan got angry with me, I doubt I could have run very fast after all that bratwurst.

Now I have the Cleveland Indians to cheer for, with the Oakland Athletics as my back-up team should misfortune befall the Tribe. And there is so much blogging to do… once I remember what I blogged about, before baseball season started.

Suggestions are welcome!

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Giants vs. Dodgers: A Clean Sweep

San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain on the mound, May 5, 2013.
Matt Cain

The San Francisco Giants beat the Los Angeles Dodgers three times last weekend. Swept the floor with them, you might say.

I caught Sunday afternoon’s game — the last of the series and a 4-3 victory for my guys.  My seat was near third base — a more favorable location this season, since the team has found its offense.  In years past, when only one or two Giants players even made it to third base, let alone scored, it could feel like the loneliest, saddest place on earth.

Matt Cain — who was winless in April — looked strong.  Hunter Pence was en fuego. (Sunday was Cinco de Mayo, after all.)  Andres Torres ran very fast.  And Pablo looked… like a fat panda.  His online bio puts his weight at 240 pounds, but these photos don’t lie.  The guy is a house.

Right now Sandoval is batting .323, but you have to wonder how long he can maintain that when he huffs and puffs around the bases… and can no longer see his toes while doing it.

On a lighter note, being back at the ballpark on a warm day — camera in hand — brought me all the usual joy.

And as my tagline says… I have the pictures to prove it.

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Sunday’s Rocky Road

Sunday’s San Francisco Giants game against the Colorado Rockies was a bit of a nail biter.  On one of the most beautiful Bay Area Sundays we’ve had in some time, fans enjoyed a somewhat explosive first inning… followed by six innings of sleepy offense.

Barry Zito was… Barry.  He blew a 3-0 lead in the first inning, and with the help of George Kontos and Clay Hensley the Giants were losing 6-4 by the start of the eighth.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled with Zito’s improvement this season. I could be a twitter hater — wringing my hands and gnashing my teeth about the size of his contract.  But you know what?  It’s a sunk cost.  Why not just be satisfied when Barry gets a win, even if it’s largely thanks to Hunter Pence?  Even better, let’s celebrate when he actually does well. Why the hell not?  It’s better than the alternative!

That said, I love this revisionist quote from Barry after his shaky game. It was like the kid who takes a face plant off his bike, and tells everyone who rushes to his aid, “Oh don’t worry, I MEANT to do that.”

“We needed something like that.  We’ve had a lot of wins by sizable margins and lost some tough ones in-between there. Having come-from-behind wins is important going down the stretch.”

So you think we needed that, Barry?  Did we really?  My cardiologist says no.

After all that torture, the Giants won 9-6 thanks to a three-run homer by newly acquired Hunter Pence.  So far, I like that trade.

I was again in Larry Baer territory with my trusty Canon.  A few of the keepers:

Marco Scutaro
Marco Scutaro
Barry Zito and Ryan Theriot
Barry Zito and Ryan Theriot

I love this photo because it looks like these two guys are holding hands. Like maybe Giants’ veteran Zito is looking out for relatively-new-to-San-Francisco Theriot.  Taking him under his wing.  “Listen little buddy, nobody here calls it ‘Frisco’.  I’m just saying.”

Buster Posey takes one for the team
Buster Posey takes one for the team. Buster was BLEEDING!
Barry Zito
Barry Zito, looking fine for a guy who just blew a three-run lead.
Melky!
Melky!
Angel Pagan
Angel Pagan
Angel is all smiles after stealing third.
Angel is all smiles after stealing third.
Lou Seal makes his move.
Lou Seal makes his move. He appreciates maturity, and I can respect that.
Javier Lopez
Javier Lopez. Adjectives elude me.
Barry Zito
Barry Zito
Classic Zito
Uh-oh
George Kontos
George Kontos. Eye candy, but not his finest hour.
Hunter Pence
Hunter Pence crosses home plate after his three-run homer. He looks sorta happy!