Before Golden Trophy, Giants Provided Golden Memories | Print |  E-mail
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Friday, 04 March 2011 12:36
By Matt Johanson
Special to The Forum

 

I used to think I followed the Giants because I attended college in  San Francisco  or because I liked the National League style of play. But recently I realized it  all started because of Danny.

It’s a good thing I didn’t see that sooner,  because over the years I might have been tempted to smack him with a baseball  bat, like Juan Marichal clubbing John Roseboro.

When I was growing up, Danny was the coolest kid on our block in  Castro Valley. He had the best video games, a  TV that pulled in dirty movies and more baseball cards than anyone else I knew.  He was also a huge Giants fan and had an older brother who drove us to  Candlestick  Park

We lived closer to the Oakland A’s. Some neighborhood kids rooted for more successful teams like the Cardinals. A few interesting girls at school  liked the Yankees or Dodgers. But to fit in with Danny and the gang, I latched onto the Giants. I was only 11 but there was no going back.

Baseball is designed to break your heart, said Commissioner Bart  Giamatti. That proved especially true for Giants fans. Long before broadcaster Duane Kuiper accused the team of “torture,” San Francisco often seemed committed to  psychological warfare against its own fans.

Everyone who has followed the team  for any length of time bears the scars. Mine include the Giants’ trades of my favorite players, Jack Clark and Matt Williams, San Francisco’s agonizing near-miss in 1993, and above all, the excruciating collapse in the 2002 World Series.

But I kept coming back, attending hundreds of games and enjoying  thousands more over the airwaves. The Giants became my companions through radio broadcasts on evening runs in the park and summer backpacking treks through the  mountains.

I had great fun assembling an all-time team of my favorite players like Jim Barr, Bob Brenly, Robby Thompson and Rod Beck, each of whom autographed  a baseball card for me. I even got lucky enough to find a publisher which paid  me to write two books about my favorite team; interviewing Mike Krukow, Will Clark and Dusty Baker was a privilege.

Every win brought joy. Every loss became a forbidden subject. Somehow San Francisco often combined the good with the bad.

The Giants opened a beautiful waterfront ballpark park in 2000, only to lose their first six games there. Barry Bonds  broke home run records while becoming a poster boy for the steroid era. And no  matter what else they did, the team’s championship drought dating back to 1954 always hung overhead like frigid summer fog at Candlestick.

I got used to the  fact that no matter who wore the uniforms or how well they played, sooner or later the team would always crash and burn. Naturally,  the 2010 Giants’ improbable World Series win thrilled me and millions of other  fans who never thought they’d live to our team win it all.

I’m even more  exhilarated at how they did it. San Francisco won with an incredible combination of amazing pitchers like Brian Wilson, hard-working veterans like Aubrey Huff, surprising breakthroughs like Andres Torres, castoffs like Cody Ross and up-and-coming kids like Buster Posey.

Unlike other championship teams from the last decade,  there’s not a drug cheat or a prima donna in sight.

These Giants are among the  most likeable and unlikely teams ever to win the Fall Classic. We may never see  their like again.

It’s tempting  to say that the 2010 World Series made my years following San Francisco worthwhile. It certainly sweetened the deal. But truthfully, it was all worth it even before the Giants’ long-awaited parade down Market Street.

I’ve been fortunate to interview players like Robb Nen, Kirk Rueter, J.T. Snow, Juan Uribe and Edgar  Renteria. I got to see the team play in cities across the country and even tuned  in from overseas.

The game has brought me closer to friends who share my passion for the national pastime, especially those who cheer for the orange and black.

Baseball has helped tie together my family through trips to spring training, dozens of ballpark outings and countless conversations around the dinner table. I had golden memories even before San  Francisco won its first golden trophy.

After we finished high school, I didn’t see Danny for 20 years. But then we reconnected  at a Giants game and now I see him at the ballpark all the time. So when I run  into him next season, I’m going to buy him an overpriced beer, toast the world champions and thank him for helping me make a lifetime friend.

Matt Johanson writes and teaches in Castro Valley and authored the upcoming book, “Yosemite  Epics: Tales of Adventure from America’s Greatest Playground.” His work can be found at mattjohanson.com

 

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