How Giants baseball drew a family together

At KALW News, we're still celebrating the San Francisco Giants' 2010 World Series victory. As part of it, we created an hour-long documentary all about the team, the torture of being a Giants fan and, of course, the indescribable sweetness of a World Series win. In putting it together, we spoke with fans all around the Bay Area to get their best Giants fan stories – like SF Weekly’s Joe Eskenazi, San Francisco District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly, hip hop artist DaVinci, KALW’s morning announcer Joe Burke, Hall of Fame broadcaster Jon Miller and singer/songwriter Ashkon.

Here's one from KALW's own Max Jacobs, on what the Giants victory has meant for him and his family.

*     *     *

MAX JACOBS: It was the spring of 2005, and my college history professor and I had been talking baseball all semester. Every week, I’d show up early for class and we’d analyze the latest Giants news.

“That guy’s a whale. I called it from the beginning,” he would say about Armando Benitez, the struggling Giants closer at the time.

“He’ll bounce back,” I’d counter. “He just needs to get healthy.”

“Naw, he’s fat and overpaid. Good luck trying to trade him.”

I really enjoyed those pre-class talks, and I thought my professor had too. So I felt almost betrayed one day when I heard him say this:

“Baseball is just a silly game. That’s all it is. It’s not worth all this fuss.”

I guess when you really think about it, baseball is just a stupid game. Player salaries are exorbitant, steroid scandals come by the dozens, team owners extort taxpayers for unnecessary and wasteful stadiums. Compared with global problems like war, famine and natural disasters, it can seem silly to obsess about which home-run hitters the Giants might acquire at the trade deadline.

But despite all these completely legitimate reasons to abandon my baseball obsession, the game still really mattered to me. As I thought about how to justify this to my professor, he paused for a moment and looked at me.

“I bet you shared baseball with your father,” he said.

“Yeah ... I did.”

“And I bet he shared it with his father.”

“He did too.”

“And I bet when you guys had little to talk about or relate to, you could always still talk about baseball.”

“Right on all counts.”

When I think about the Giants’ magical world series run this past fall, I don’t just think of what it means to me, or to San Francisco. I think about what it means to my family. I think about my father, who died when I was 15. A native San Franciscan, he began each day during baseball season by checking the box scores in the Chronicle to see how his hero, Willie Mays, had measured up against the other major leaguers. When I was in junior high, we would watch Giants games together on summer nights. We butted heads a lot in those days: he thought that my grades could be better (he was right), that my jeans should have fewer holes in them (right about that too), and that my friends could be more wholesome. I was defiant and wondered why he couldn’t just let me live my life.

But watching baseball was neutral ground, something safe we could always do together. So when Barry Bonds hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win a tie game, none of our other quarrels seemed important. During the last few months of his life, when he was too sick to get out of bed much, he could still enjoy watching baseball – and we could both enjoy it together.

My dad spent four decades as a devoted fan, but he never got to see his team win it all – though he and his own father did spend an exciting evening at Candlestick Park during the ‘89 World Series, when the Loma Prieta earthquake stopped the game before the first pitch.

When I think about the Giants I also think about my stepfather, who passed away this past fall. He was never a baseball fan, or even really a sports fan for that matter. On top of that, he had terrible vision and could barely even see the little white ball on the TV screen. Nevertheless, we spent a summer watching Giants games when I was 19 and recovering from surgery at my mom’s house. He would lean in as close to the TV as possible and yell at the umpires for blowing a call with as salty a tongue as any lifelong fan. It wasn’t so much a newfound love of sport that captivated him, but the chance to share something with me, his polite but distant stepson. That was the summer of 2004, the year the Dodgers beat out the Giants for a playoff spot by one game. I doubt my stepdad remembered all the painful details of the season, but I’m sure he remembered spending that summer together. I certainly do. 

And finally, when I think about the Giants I think about my mom. She grew up a Dodgers fan in Southern California, but after years of living in the Bay Area, and with my father – who told her  early in their relationship that marriage was off the table if she remained a Dodgers fan – she finally left the dark side to don the orange and black.

This year, she got swept up in post-season fever even though she has long since moved away from the Bay Area and no longer owns a TV. During the last two months of the season I’d receive a call from her almost daily:

“Did you see the game? Did you see Uribe’s home run? And Wilson! He walks three batters and then strikes the guy out to win the game: torture!”

Or...

“Those bums! How can you give up a three-run homer to the Dodgers?”

Luckily, most of the calls were celebratory, especially at the end. After Game 5 of the World Series, just as it was dawning on Giants fans that we had finally done it, I got another call.

“Your father would’ve been so excited to watch this unfold,” 

“I know,” I said. “I think about it all the time.”