My love affair with the San Francisco Giants began twenty-five years ago on the opening day of the 1986 season. Back then I was a chubby ten-year-old who was very unhappy to learn that that day’s episode of the “Transformers” cartoon was being preempted by the Giants’ game. I crossed my arms, sullen, but didn’t change the channel. Instead, I kept watching as the announcers discussed the game’s big story – the debut of the Giants’ 22-year-old rookie Will Clark – and couldn’t believe my eyes when the kid smacked a home run in his first big league at bat off the great Nolan Ryan! I leapt to feet, cheering for the Giants, and haven’t stopped ever since.
Once initiated into Giants’ fandom one ominous fact kept popping up on radio broadcasts and in record books – the Giants had never won the World Series since moving to San Francisco in 1958. This ugly fact also reared its head on the playground at school where the small but vocal contingent of Oakland A’s fans taunted me by yelling “The San Francisco Giants have never won the World Series! Jose Canseco rules!!!” Punks.
The next year, 1987, the Giants won the National League West and made the playoffs. My Dad managed to get tickets to all three home games, and despite the fact they were the kind of seats that even Bob Uecker would complain about, I was in heaven. At the end of the fifth game The Giants had a 3-2 lead against the Saint Louis Cardinals thanks to the offensive heroics of Jeffrey “Hac-Man” Leonard, and were just one win away from the World Series.
Unfortunately, The Cardinals took game six to tie the series at three a piece. To my horror I realized that the deciding game seven would be played the night my fifth grade class was at Nature Camp where there wasn’t a television for miles! As we set out on a night hike minutes before the start of game seven, a camp counselor promised me that he would listen on the radio and then post the final score on the message board so that I could find out what happened when I got back from the hike.
The hike, as you can imagine, was torture, and each of our guide’s labored descriptions of plant life made me want to put my eyes out. All I could think about was the game, and wonder what could possibly be happening. Finally, when the hike was almost over and we were within a mile or so of camp, I broke into a sprint. I may have been a fat kid who hated to run, but I never slowed down because I knew that at the end of my journey was the Giants’ fate.
I reached camp, huffing and puffing, and looked to the board. There I saw:
CARDINALS – 6
GIANTS – 0
I stared at it, stung, then retreated to my bunk and cried myself to sleep.
In 1989 the Giants defeated the Cubs in the NLCS and made it to the World Series to play the hated Oakland A’s. The school yard, more than ever, became a breeding ground for taunts and name calling. Bloods and Crips likely treated each other better than Giants and A’s fans did at our junior high that fall. Sadly, the A’s took the first two games, and then the big earthquake hit. The Series was suspended ten days, and when it returned, the A’s quickly completed the sweep. Between the devastation of the ‘quake and the A’s easy victory, the Series was a total bust.
From there things didn’t get much better.
The Giants had a great team in 1993 with a 3,4,5 of Clark/Bonds/Williams, but failed to make the playoffs despite winning 103 games (this was back in the pre-Wild Card days).
In 1997 the Giants made the playoffs for the first time in eight years, and I drove up from college to go to the third game of the Division Series with my Dad. Unfortunately, the Marlins won the game and series that night, and my Dad and I sulked in the stands as the Marlins celebrated on our team’s field.
In 2000 the Giants made the playoffs again, but were knocked off by the New York Mets. The World Series championship remained seemingly unattainable. It had been 42 years in San Francisco without a ring.
But then…the 2002 team, lead by Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, plowed through the Braves and Cardinals to win a spot in the World Series! Even better, the Giants took a 3-2 lead in the Series and then jumped out to a 5-1 lead in game six. With just five outs to go it seemed that – after all these years – the dream was about to become a reality. We were finally going to win the World Series!
But then Scott Spiezo, that stupid rally monkey, and other obscene things happened, and inexplicably the Angels celebrated one of the greatest comebacks in World Series history.
The Giants had one more great shot the next year, but once again lost in the first round to the Marlins. In a horrific mirror of the Nature Retreat Incident of ’87, the climactic game of this Series was on my sister’s wedding day, and I only received news of the Giants loss minutes before the ceremony. If you look at the wedding photos, I do not look very joyous on such a joyous occasion.
The following years were pretty bleak. I kept rooting for the Giants even when they were at their worst though, and am happy to say that I got to take my Maddie to a game in San Francisco in 2008.
Things weren’t supposed to be any different this season as no one expected the Giants to win their division let alone the World Series, but slowly but surely the Giants started to look like contenders. I took Annie to her first game in San Francisco in July, and even she got in the spirit of things!
The Giants clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the season, and though everyone expected the Phillies to win the National League Championship, I held out hope the Giants would pull off an upset. Despite years and years of having my hopes dashed, I still had hope. Part of me wondered if I was being a fool…after all, how many times do you have to be smacked in the face until you get the message?
Amazingly, fifty-two years after moving to San Francisco, the Giants did the impossible – they defeated the Texas Rangers to become World Champions! Fittingly, Rangers’ president Nolan Ryan, the man who was on the mound twenty-five years earlier when Will Clark hit the home run that made me a Giants’ fan, sat behind home plate watching the Giants get the better of him once again.
Jerry Seinfeld has a joke where he makes fun of fans who chant “We’re number one!” by saying something like, “No, guys, you’re not number one. The team is number one. You just bought a T-shirt.” And I get that. But watching your team accomplish something that seemed so elusive after years of struggle is emblematic of something bigger than just having bought a T-shirt. It reminds us that if we keep trying our best and are patient in life, something great and unexpected can happen. It reminds us that, though life at times can seem hopeless and full of sadness and despair, something good – unforeseeable today – could come in the future as long as you don’t give up. It is a message of hope. And everyone needs hope in their life.
So good on ya, San Francisco Giants. We finally did it! And to all those little punks on the playgrounds of my youth, I say: “The Giants just won the Series, suckas! And Jose Canseco does NOT rock!”