The Giants in the Series: They’re ours (well, some of them)

In my heart of hearts, the World Series would have started at Willie Mays Plaza tonight with the Giants hosting the Yankees. I’ve been a Yankee fan for most of my life — save for that period from 1981-98 when I was mad at Steinbrenner — and besides, it’s really not a Series without the Yankees, is it?

The Texas Rangers? Sheeeeesh. They’re synonymous with postseason baseball, alright. But I guess they should win a pennant once every 50 years or so. (Except that not so deep down, despite my surface sarcasm, I do know Nolan Ryan is putting together a contender to last through the next generation.)

But with New York out of the picture (and possibly at the start of a long decline), it frees me up to pull for San Fran, which is in its first Series since I moved here. And it saves Giants fans the chance of another heartbreak at the hands of the Yankees — like, say, 1962.

And let’s face it: It’s always fun to see guys you followed, or at least watched, in the minors make it to the show — and even more so if they make it to the Series. And in a city with little to be proud of, Fresnans are gonna be able to see several Giants they saw at Grizzlies Stadium and at least enjoy a small dose of civic pride.

I saw Tim Lincecum when …


I came up against those “I saw him when …” feelings a couple of days ago when the Blue Jays named Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell as their new manager.

Hard to believe for people who know me now, but I was a sportswriter for six years at my first paper, the Waterbury Republican-American. Among the beats I covered was minor league baseball. I got to follow the Waterbury Indians, Cleveland’s Class AA Eastern League affiliate, for the Brass City’s last two years as a minor-league city, 1985-86.

And Farrell pitched for the Waterbury Tribe in ’85. He was a solid righthander with a good fastball, a young guy with a quiet demeanor. He eventually ended up in Cleveland, and later went on to several other teams, most notably the Angels. And he picked up a World Series ring in his first year as the Sox’ pitching coach, 2007.

Jay Bell was another Waterbury Indian who picked up a Series ring — at the expense of the Yankees. Bell came to Waterbury in the middle of ’85 as part of the trade that sent Bert (Be Home) Blyleven from Cleveland to Minnesota. He was a quiet, humble, hard-working kid from Texas, a shortstop who would have a lengthy stint in the bigs, most notably with the Pirates. But he closed his career with the Diamondbacks — by scoring the winning run on Luis Gonzalez’s single off Mariano Rivera, just over Derek Jeter’s outstretched arm, in November 2001.

It was fun to watch some of those guys and say “I saw them when …” Like Doug Jones, Waterbury’s closer and another really nice guy. At the time, he was trying to work his way back to the show after a rotator cuff injury derailed his early career in Milwaukee. He became the American League’s top closer in the late ’80s/early ’90s with a pathetic Tribe team, before another extended run in Houston. Or Dave Clark, who became a utility National League infielder (mostly with the Cubs), later a coach and an interim manager for the Astros. Or several others.

It was almost the same feeling watching the young Fresno Grizzlies go from Triple-A to the Giants. Three hours and 150 miles away? Might as well be three decades and 150,000 miles — which is about how far apart San Francisco and Fresno are as cities and mindsets.

But most of the time, we had them first.

Like the heavily hyped Lincecum in 2007, the kid with the Gumby body and the backwards-arched delivery. We all knew he was only gonna be around for two or three weeks at the start of the season, so get your tickets now. And thanks to the freebies floating around The Fresno Bee’s newsroom, I got to see his first start from eight rows behind the plate.

He seemed to be everything he was supposed to be — he was consistently registering 94 on the stadium gun. Lots of fire, I thought, but I didn’t see much in the way of his off-speed/breaking stuff that impressed me. I thought he needed work. And that’s why I’m not a baseball executive. I did get to see him a second time before he left, though. And you know the rest of the story.

Or Brian Wilson — or should I say, The Future Classic Brian Wilson — a little-known reliever when he came to Fresno, also in the spring of ’07. I did a post a long time ago about the night I met him; it was a jersey auction night, and I bid for his No. 20 (yes, he wears 38 in the bigs, but he wore 20 in Fresno) because, as a huge fan of The Classic Brian Wilson, I thought it would be cool to have a Brian Wilson baseball jersey. Who knew The Future Classic would be playing in the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium the next year, become one of the top closers in baseball and grow one of the weirdest beards since the House of David?

And the one Grizzlies game I went to this year — the third game of the season, the first Sunday: the traditional Refrigerator Magnet Day — Buster Posey, your most-likely National League Rookie of the Year. was catching. Like Lincecum, we knew he wasn’t long for here, but we thought we’d have him most of the year. But life happens, and sometimes, as the Giants did this year, you come up smelling like whole bouquets of roses. And Posey was the biggest of those roses.

And while the 2010 Giants were a team of misfits that Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy somehow stitched together to sew a pennant, there’s definitely a homegrown flavor to the roster. Look it over and you can see more than half the names saw time in the Big No before they got to the Big Show: Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, Nate Schierholtz, Eli Whiteside, Travis Ishikawa, Freddy Sanchez, Andres Torres, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo. And Edgar Renteria did a rehab stint here this year.

So that’s a lot of “I saw him when …”

And maybe next week, we’ll be able to say we saw them win the World Series.

UPDATE 11/1: And now we can say it — the world champion San Francisco Giants. Has a nice ring to it — as will the fingers of about three or four dozen players and other employees in a few months …

Saw the final game at the Landmark, where I saw my Saints win their storybook Super Bowl in February. The feeling was pretty much the same, only magnified — lots of reveling fans who had never seen their team win a Series. I was beaming for them. (And I’ve had no problem rooting for the Giants since they ditched Bonds.) It was a night to behold — Lincecum in control and on fire for most of eight innings, Renteria becoming one of the few players to get the Series-winning hit twice, with two different teams (Indians fans will never forgive him for the 10th inning in Game 7 in Miami in ’97), Wilson just his crazy self in the ninth. It may have been a bunch of misfits, but you know that in the end, just like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the misfit toys all find good homes. And these Giants found permanent homes in the hearts of long-suffering fans with memories of McCovey’s liner to Richardson, the earthquake and Game 6 in ’02.

I was also thinking about someone I know back home as Wilson threw his final pitch. Peter Detmold owns the Dutch Tavern in New London, Ct. He’s also the co-singer/guitarist for one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands ever created, The Reducers. Peter also moved to New London from the Bay Area as a kid and had bled orange and black since, even those many years when it wasn’t cool — it was downright cold. (I might be wrong, but I think he even has a Croix de Candlestick in his possession.) Anyway, if I were gonna be anyplace else tonight, besides San Fran or the Landmark, it would’ve been the Dutch. I’m sure there are tears of joy flowing with the beers of joy in the little bar downtown …


2 Responses to “The Giants in the Series: They’re ours (well, some of them)”

  1. It's Drew! Says:

    As always, you’re writing is about the only thing that can make me want to follow sports!

  2. It's Drew! Says:

    Ugh, make that “your”.

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