A few months back, while I was quarreling with writer’s block I read a lot Anne Lamott’s “Bird By Bird.” Near the end of the book, she has a chapter on writing as a gift. In her career, she has written several stories, short and long for people; one for her dad who was diagnosed with brain cancer; one for friend Pammy with breast cancer; and another for a baby who died when he was just five months old. It got me thinking a lot about writing as a gift – not just for people who are sick or have passed away, but also for anyone who you love enough to dedicate your words to.
I think its only fitting that we talk baseball this week. My Giants just wont their 2nd World Series in 3 years. But this post isn’t for them; it’s for my brother, Chris.
Chris and I are probably two of the biggest Giants fans around. When we were kids, we would do everything together; and if we weren’t outside playing, we were inside Giants baseball on KTVU. Most days at four o’clock, we would click the television to channel two just in time to tune in for Giants baseball. “I feel good” would play through the speakers and we would sing along before settling into our seats to watch. Baseball is probably the single strongest bond that we’ve shared from age six till present day; when in doubt about something to talk about, talk about Giants baseball.
There are plenty of memories and stories to share about Chris and I; like when we wanted to turn the field behind our house into a baseball stadium: all we needed was some wood, and a hammer and nails. We had visions of the Astrodome – or at least a fully playable field with a few bleachers. We collected scrap pieces of wood and other materials to make our bases, but eventually our age caught up with our stadium dreams.
We both played a fair amount of baseball growing up. I mostly played shortstop and pitcher; Chris played a lot of catcher and first base. Because we were four years apart grade-wise, but only two years apart age-wise, we even played on the same little league team one year. Chris had a funky batting stance that I’m sure he attributed to a baseball player, but I don’t quite remember. He used to hold the bat real high over his head, with his shoulder practically hiding his then round baby face. He was a strong kid, so when he made contact with the ball, he would often give it a rip.
When you see us next to each other, you would hardly believe we’re related. Chris has dark hair and eyes and a round face and a stockier build. I have light hair and eyes and am on the taller and lankier side. As my older brother, I always looked up to him. Growing up, he was my best friend. Sure I had friends from school that I spent a lot of time with, but Chris and I shared a bedroom up until the day he left for college. So there was no shortage of bonding, or baseball watching.
Back in the day, there were players like Will “The Thrill” Clark with his right sleeve pulled up and black slathered underneath his eyes; Robby Thompson, our hard-nosed 2nd baseman whose glove, according to former shortstop Rich Aurilla, mainly consisted of pine tar, chew and spit. Thompson’s partner in crime was Jose OOH REE-bay! Of course there was Kevin Mitchell, who was most famous for his occasional barehanded catches in left field; Mike Krukow was a pitcher not a color commentator, and “hum baby,” Roger Craig, our fearless leader. And it all happened in Candlestick Park, with its red dirt and swirling winds, and foghorn that sounded after every home run.
Over the 20+ years of watching Giants baseball, we’ve seen them make four World Series appearances; almost move to Tampa Bay; win and lose and rebuild; build a new stadium; torture and triumph. We watched with bated breath during the earthquake of 89’. We watched when “The Shooter” Rod Beck was the most dominant closer in the game; and we watched the 1993 season, the first season in which we signed a then very fit and sprightly, Barry Bonds, and Dusty Baker lead us to 103 wins and yet we missed out on the playoffs, with the Braves winning 104 games and the division (the wild card was instituted shortly after). And we watched the complete collapse during the 2002 World Series. You wanna talk about torture? All the new bandwagon fans that have come on since 2010 have no idea. The Giants’ bullpen blew a five-run lead in Game 6 of the World Series and then lost game 7. Any Giants fan that went through that knows what torture is, and is a true fan.
I kind of hate all the “new” fans with their Panda hats and whatnot. The Giants players of today have become household names – Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, and Pablo Sandoval. Because of their success and likeability factor, they have risen as stars, and they will go down as some of my favorite of all time. But most fans know just them, and not Jeffrey Leonard, 1987 NLCS Most Valuable Player; or Candy Maldanado, one of the few Giants in history to hit for the cycle; or Bill Swift who led the NL with a 2.08 ERA in 1992; or Kirt Manwaring, who was a stud of catcher with a cannon for an arm. Chris and I remember those guys.
In our later years, during the Barry Bonds era of Giants baseball, we would watch and pretend that we had ESP and could predict when Bonds was going to get a home run. It would happy so often, coinciding with our calls that we actually began to feel like we could call home runs. We would say that we got this feeling in our chest, and could envision the ball heading over the wall. And then the next pitch would be sent flying and we would run in circles in excitement. We had the pleasure of attending a game at AT&T Park, at which Bonds hit a walk-off. Bonds came up in a tie game and hit one to the opposite field, the ball flying past our very eyes from our seats on the third baseline, and over the wall. That was probably our most exciting moment watching Giants baseball together.
He lives about 3 hours away from me now, so I don’t see him as often; but the Giants playoff run allowed for texting back and forth about our teams’ performance.
Bruce Catton, former American historian and journalist once said, “Say this much for big league baseball – it is beyond question the greatest conversation piece ever invented in America.” Chris and I could talk about anything, anytime; but the truth is, we’d just rather talk baseball.