Thursday, August 29, 2013
2 Out Hits Can Bring You Home: My First Trip To AT&T Park
In 1883 a professional baseball club joined the National League and played its home games in New York City. They called themselves the Gothams. That first season they finished 6th of 8 teams, 16 games back of the Boston Beaneaters. Two years later the name of the team changed to the Giants and a franchise was established.
My father grew up in New York City rooting for these New York Giants. In his lifetime he saw the Shot Heard Round The World, The Catch, and a World Series victory. But he also saw heartbreak. After the 1957 season the Giants moved across the country and set up home in San Francisco. His heroes, especially Willie Mays, moved so far away.
It didn't deter him though. He continued to cheer for the Giants. After the Mets came to be in 1962 he would go watch them play whenever they came back to New York. He loved his team. My Parents moved to Chicago for good in the mid 1970's. This just meant the visiting ballpark changed. He would still wear his Giants hat to games and cheer. It's also my original hometown.
Which brings me to Saturday August 24, 2013. For the first time in my life I was attending a Giants home game. Something that always seemed a far off possibility was now coming true. Obviously my entire life I have cheered for the Giants. When they won it all in 2010 I was on the phone with my dad crying and cheering at the same time. After last year's championship I yelled loudly with great joy. I love the Giants.
At the beginning of August I covered my first Giants game from the Trop down here in Florida. So in anticipation of this game I requested another one. The following day I was going as a fan with my family. I figured covering this game would give me a unique experience for a lifelong fan attending his first ever home game.
The main rule in the press box is no cheering. So, for obvious reasons, I couldn't visibly react when our boys did well. I had forced myself in to a situation where I couldn't even applaud the outstanding achievements. I didn't mind at all. The next 14 hours of my life were some of the most exciting and thrilling ever in my 34 years.
I arrived at the Giants offices around 2:25 for a 6:05 game. I signed my name and was handed my pass. I officially had my golden ticket to AT&T Park. The ballpark that is the crown jewel of baseball was finally steps away for the first time. I headed in and let the day begin.
You walk through the underbelly of the stadium before getting on the elevator to the press box. This meant that the first view I would ever have from the inside would be from right there. I walked towards the field and just stopped and scanned. I'm pretty sure a "whoa" slipped out. It was magnificent.
I noticed Ally Williams, you may know her better as @itsallyduhh, was sitting there on her laptop. I went up and introduced myself and unpacked my stuff. I was in the front row of the box almost dead center behind home plate. I walked around, got the pre game notes and sat down to start tweeting and setting up my pregame story. A little before 3:30 we headed down to the field for BP and Bruce Bochy's presser in the dugout.
There I am standing in the Giants home dugout, holding out my recorder like everyone else to hear what he has to say. The usual assortment is there. Hank Schulman, Andrew Baggarly, Carl Steward, John Shea to name a few. There is a CSN cameraman straight on from Bochy as Amy G sits next to him with the microphone the get the sound bytes. And the reporters ask questions for about 10 minutes and that's it.
The Giants were taking batting practice and I stood and watched for a little bit. I mingled, but not a whole lot. I took a ton of pictures. This is the first time I am ever at the home ballpark of the team that I love, and I'm on the field. How does that even happen? There's no way that I could have dreamed this as the 8 year old that cried himself to sleep when the Giants lost the 1987 NLCS.
I just stood there and soaked it all up. The guys that made me so happy as a fan were right there just going to work. The view of the ballpark from down there is just spectacular. I allowed myself to enjoy if for a while. The man on the outside looked calm cool and collected. The little kid on the inside was screaming "Can you believe you're standing here? None of this is real! Wake up!".
I was able to pry myself away from that and I went back to the press box to write my pregamer for Around The Foghorn. I got to use stuff I heard Bochy say 30 minutes earlier. It was the most fun I ever had writing a pregame story.
There's this window of time when covering a game between BP and the actual game itself. You get time to go eat, write, run to the supermarket, whatever you want. So I decided to walk around and meet up with friends I have made through writing and social media.
My editor at AtF, Melissa, and I hung out first. We just sat there a few rows behind the plate and chatted. I finally walked around the park a little when we went and met up with her husband Alex. It was really the only time I paid attention to the concourse area. I felt so at home walking amongst fans dressed in the orange and black that I love.
I made my way up to the View Level to meet up with my pal Jamie. Everyone I was getting to meet had only been Twitter handles and pictures. Finally the people that I so enjoyed watching games with I finally got to see in person. It also gave me a chance to really see the cove and bay out beyond the walls of the park. It was a postcard.
First pitch was coming so I headed back down for the game. I got back to the press box just as Hot Buttered Rum was singing the National Anthem. It was then that I finally met the guys from the Torture Cast podcast. Ben Lee had gotten a seat by Ally, but Chad King and Willie Dills ended up on the other side of the box. I went over and said hi for a few minutes. We made plans for after the game and I took my seat for the first pitch.
My love of Tim Lincecum as a pitcher has been well documented in this space before. For the second time in as many games, I got to see him take the ball for the Giants. I always felt that he was the key piece that led to the Giants run of success. He single handedly changed the culture from long bombs off the bat of Barry Bonds, to strikeouts, flyballs, and low scoring games. My dad used to love to point out to me how well the Giants pitchers all learned to pitch to the strengths of AT&T after that.
Any thoughts or hopes that I would see another Lincecum no hitter were pushed aside after Jose Tabata battled through 10 pitches to lead off the game with a single. As much as I would have loved to see how deep he could go before giving up a hit, it was nice to know I wouldn't be holding my breath and trying not to cheer come the later innings. Timmy struck the next guy out then got McCutchen to hit into a double play.
Then something magical happened. Out of nowhere the Giants exploded for 4 runs in the first inning. All nine guys came to the plate. They didn't hit the ball all over the yard, but for a team that can't score sometimes, it was a tsunami. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that it was the Giants that would be the team in control of this game.
After an inning and a half I had witnessed four strikeouts, two looking which is not usual for Timmy, a double play ball and all the Giants swing a bat. Am I going to wake up soon? Are things like this supposed to happen? It was sitting there through a dream.
During the third inning I headed down to the @Cafe in left field of the park. Once again I met up with everyone from earlier, Aura included, and we hung out and watched the game together. It was a chance to talk a little bit and not just say hi and goodbye. We sat right by the control room of the social media experience at AT&T Park. Which is fitting if you think about it. A lot of the joy of this experience was finally meeting the faces behind my social media Giants family.
Back in the press box during the 4th inning I got back in to the flow of the game and watched the drama unfold. Things got interesting at times. In the top of the 6th inning Lincecum pitched in to a jam. After a walk and a double he was done for the night. Timmy struck out 8 Pirates and the crowd showed its approval by giving him a standing ovation as he walked to the dugout. I got chills.
The bullpen gave up two runs on the next 3 pitches and the lead was cut to 5-3. It was a ballgame again. Then a wonderful thing happened. After the Pirates scored those 2 runs, Pablo Sandoval made sue they knew the Giants still had this game. With Hunter Pence on 3rd base and 2 outs Sandoval knocked a single to drive him home and extend the lead to 6-3. The Giants were scoring runs with 2 out hits.
Things got dicey again in the 7th and the other key moments of the game happened. After Marco Scutaro muffed what could have been an inning ending double play, the Pirates best hitters were coming to the plate. Sandy Rosario got the dangerous McCutchen to fly out the RF for out number two. Bochy went to Javier Lopez to face the tough hitting Pedro Alvarez with 2 outs and runners on the corners.
My favorite stat all season has been how many inherited runners Javi has left stranded. Entering this appearance he had inherited the second most runners in the NL (48) and allowed just 10.4% of them to score. That's the lowest percentage in the league. He just gets it done. Against a guy that had homered the only other time they faced each other, Lopez struck Alvarez out on 4 pitches. The crowd roared, and the Giants got off the field with the lead. Javi does, what Javi does.
The bottom of the 8th ended with a 6-3 Giants lead. Then one of the most amazing things I have ever seen took place. El Mechon started over the loud speakers as Sergio Romo walked from the bullpen mound to the center of the diamond. The place erupted. Everyone started dancing in their own crazy way and just soaking up the festive music. Smiles were on faces everywhere as people laughed, sang, and serenaded the bearded closer. It was a party and everyone was invited.
He returned the love that the hometown fans showered upon him by closing the door on the Pirates in the 9th. He allowed a 2 out double that was meaningless and then that was it. The Giants were victorious for my first ever game in San Francisco by a score of 6-3 over the Pirates. I met up with the guys from the Torture Cast and we all headed down for Bochy's postgame presser.
I sat in the back, turned my recorder on when he entered and just listened. Then, with the final question of the night, Amy G helped put a cherry on top of this whole experience. She asked Bruce Bochy the following question.
"Bruce, I know that things went right for you guys tonight, but we saw the return of the 2 out hit that you guys had been missing. That was off the bat of Pablo. So how nice was it to see that 2 out hit, and to see Pablo get it?"
Bruce Bochy responds to the final question of the night.
"Ya, I thought that was a really important at bat. You know it gave us a little bigger cushion there. Game's within 2 runs at that point. Of course, we get a 2 out hit with a man on third base and it helps settle the guys down a little bit."
I turn and look to my left and all I see is smiles on the faces of the Torture Cast guys and Ally. We were in utter shock. It was all we could talk about walking up the stairs back to the press box. I couldn't believe she asked him that question and that he answered it, both using the phrase "2 out hit". This night couldn't get any better.
I wrote my game recap back in the press box and then made the walk on over to Zeke's to hang out with the Torture Cast guys and record a podcast. It was there that I also got to meet yet another Twitter friend Erin. We sat at the bar and talked for a bit. Jamie joined us as well and everyone was just as awesome as I had imagined.
I sat down to hang out and record the Torture Cast bonusode with the guys. We were also joined Ally Williams and Jen Cosgriff. I hadn't met Jen yet, but by the end of the night we became TFF's (Twitter Friends Forever). That and many fun times came from the next hour of recording the podcast. It was a fantastic time and I recommend you listen to it if you like to laugh. We had a great time, hope those that listen do too.
Go check it out at this link. There is background noise, so headphones seem to work best to hear us clearly.
We sat around and just continued talking and hanging out. I mean, who wants a night like this to end? The crowd thinned out and a few of us closed down Zeke's. I had a great time hanging out with those guys. All of them were smart and passionate about the Giants. I was amongst friends that cheered for the same team as me for the first time in my entire life. They had the same memories, and thoughts on favorite players growing up. We all had are where were you moments.
I don't get to do that. All my friends have been fans of another team. The night couldn't have ended any other way. Just talking Giants baseball for hours and hours with good people would have made the entire trip to the game memorable. Everything else that happened was really just gravy.
The long walk to the hotel and a few beers later it was time to finally put this puppy to bed. Chad and I hung out for a bit and then the sun was threatening to come up. I had an afternoon game to attend the next day. That story is for another time.
That Saturday did so many things for me. The reason we came to San Francisco was to lay my father to rest. He passed away before the 2012 season and last weekend was when we got together to honor him. None of this love for the Giants, the ambition to write, or the things I want to pursue would have happened without him.
The Giants did everything in their power to make the night special for me. The man that turned the franchise around, Tim Lincecum, pitched to a crowd that loved him. The Giants scored 4 runs in the 1st inning and it felt like a victory lap for the last 34 years. There were standing ovations and a crowd that was in to the game. It didn't matter that the Giants had struggled this season. All that mattered was how they played that night. And it felt like they played that was just for me and my dad.
I've never been a person to think that any dream can come true. But there's just some nights that you can't argue with the facts. August 24, 2013 will always be one of those nights. Thanks Dad.
@2outhits on Twitter