The San Francisco baseball Giants are about to play the formidable Philadelphia Phillies for the championship of the National League. I am a Giants fan. This has caused me some not inconsiderable consternation, if not downright despair, in the past, especially in 2002, 1993, and 1988.
My friend Susan has written a very nice piece about being a Giants fan on her blog, and I thought I would share it here in full, unbeknownst to her. Hope she doesn’t mind.
I was out of the baseball loop for quite a while and, truth be told, I was only a middlin’ fan in the years before I had two time-consuming children. We attended some games during the Bonds era, but it was sort of like attending the circus. It was something to see, but hard to really care about what I was seeing.
Two summers ago the baseball stars aligned for me, and I not only re-entered the world of baseball, I became a much better fan. I’d always appreciated the obvious things that make baseball different from other professional sports: the way a game isn’t really over until the last pitch (witness Game 3 of the Giants/Braves NLDS series this year, with the Giants one pitch away from losing the game, coming back for a win), the slow pace (what other American sport incorporates fans singing a song in the middle of the game?), and the “day at the ballpark” vibe. But since 2009, I’ve started to do something with my team that looks a lot like falling in love.
I was asked recently by my perplexed non-fan sister why anyone would choose to follow a team that loses a lot. And Nancy, my recovered Giants-fan friend, reminds me almost daily during this playoff season that my heart WILL be broken (and I’m pretty sure she’s right). Both are reasonable things to say when someone falls in love with a regular, flawed person, too. Why not pick the handsome, successful guy? Why pick the guy you know is going to lose, eventually? Or why, indeed, fall in love at all?
And the answer: because it feels so right. This time, my fan experience is personal. I’d like the team to win, but mostly I like “just being with them.” The Giants are a clubhouse full of interesting and amusing guys, under the leadership of Bruce Bochy, Mr. Humble. The SF Chronicle carried a story this morning (not available online) about how Bochy was so excited to be flashed on the TV screen while attending a Detroit Pistons game that he called his adult son to tell him to turn on the tube. “I’m on TV!”
“Dad,” son Greg said, “I see you on TV almost every night.” Oh, right, he forgot about that.
There’s Tim Lincecum, two-time Cy Young (that’s a pitching award, a big deal) winner, affectionately called “The Freak.” He’s young, probably crazy, got popped for marijuana possession last year and is flat-out amazing on the mound. There’s young Buster Posey, a Georgia boy, already married at 23 (newspapers keep noting that she’s his high school sweetheart, as if he’d had time to find someone else), a brilliant catcher just out of short pants. There are the cast-offs from other teams who are now having banner seasons, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross. And Pablo “Panda” Sandoval, who was an epic hero at the bat last year, but is struggling this year, still supported by his team and his manager. Then there are guys who just keep making great plays, like Juan Uribe, who despite his increased size and years can snatch a tough ball out of the infield and get it to first before we hear the crack of the bat.
And then there’s Aubrey Huff. Huff Daddy. I live for his at-bats. His average? Oh, it’s OK – currently .283 lifetime. 225 home runs in his 12 year career (that’s pretty good, for the non-fans). But that’s not why I watch. I spent a lot of time on YouTube trying to find a clip that shows why I watch. Apparently I’m alone in my fascination with his batting rituals. Too bad. He’s awesome. It goes like this: long stride up to plate. Touch plate ever so carefully with bat. Slowly take stance. Take first pitch. No matter what the call, raise eyebrows, look at ump. Step back, look at bat as if seeing it for first time. Look it up, down. Check it with left hand, then right. Step back to plate, repeat.
Swinging strikes are the best: eyebrows shoot up, recover from swing, step across plate, twirl bat in the air, catch, take a breath, and repeat above. Or if it’s a third strike, grimace (using every facial muscle possible) and walk determinedly to dugout.
It’s both comforting and exciting to watch him do the same dance with the pitcher every time. Can you tell? I’m pretty much head over heels for this guy. And when he does connect, (which is not infrequent, with the above stats) it looks like this. Plus, c’mon. And you want a backstory, a little personal drama? You got it.
And he’s just as expressive and interesting to watch on defense, as here.
The San Francisco Giants, having won their division title and battled halfway through the National League playoffs, are up against the scary Phillies, beginning Saturday. Should they get through that, they will likely face the New York Yankees, at team that fans of teams like the Giants adore hating. The Yankees are the captain of the high school football team who drives a Lexus Dad bought for him because he made varsity. Pretty, sure, but substance? Values? Talking until all hours of the night about the things you have in common? It’s just not there. Give me the guy with the funny-looking mug, who wears a red thong for luck, and swears on camera. He’ll still break my heart, eventually. But it feels so right.