We are a product of our surroundings. I grew up in Shaw’s Flat, California. It just so happened to be the center of the universe.
There was very little flat land in and around Tuolumne County. But, my father had built a house on an acre of land that was next to my Grandfather’s house, which was next to my Great Grandfather’s house. They were in a large meadow surrounded by groves of poplar and oak trees. My front yard was a baseball field. The outfield fence was a string of poplars. On one tree by the road, I put a handmade sign that lasted for years “Poplar Stadium”.
When Dad got off work every day at around 4, I ran way out to the road and jumped on the running board, and held the mirror. I wore my mitt. Before he even went inside, he grabbed his, and we did these things: I pitched 6 innings to his strike zone – strike out 18. Walk as few as possible; He threw me 18 at bats. He hit me 50 grounders. He taught me to play baseball. Our neighbor, Mel, called me “Willie” until the day he died in 2013.
My oldest sister, Shirley, however, taught me to love baseball, and love the Giants. At night, I would sit in her room, and we would turn on the radio and listen to KSFO…Russ, Lon, Bill Thompson. The night was lit by stars, and way across the meadow, the mountain top in the distance was lined by little tiny pine trees. I imagined them to be fans at the top of the stadium. When Juan pitched, she would take a ruler, line out a scorecard on the back of the cardboard from a package of nylons (she may have snagged them on purpose to get more scorecards…). I was drawn to the sounds of the game…I lived to be the shortstop for the Giants.
As I grew, my buddies all came over for sandlot games…all day, every day, all summer. We all loved to play. None loved it as much as me. I played and grew, and played and grew. I loved Juan, and Tito, and Willie, and Willie, and Jim, and Jimmy Ray…then others came along…years passed. They never won, I never wavered. I kept playing. At 20, Coach Streeter had us all in the dugout in February, and told us all the lineup he was going with that season. “Randy will bat 3rd and play shortstop…” . I went to my apartment that day, sat alone, while my roommates, clueless as ever, debated their various levels of stupidity…and I tried to let go of the game and my dream. I couldn’t. I kind of haven’t. I got 13 at bats that year. I cheered on Randy, and everyone else. I flicked seeds from the end of the dugout. I knew that year meant I needed to decide where life was taking me. Just months later, I met Beauty…and I knew that it was time to start that new, wonderful, satisfying, fulfilling, tremendous path. Through it all, baseball never let go…I still love it…the greatest sport in the world.
Through the journey, one thing has been there the whole time: my Giants. When Chris Arnold and Jimmy Howarth came through with key hits in a 7 run bottom of the 9th to beat Pittsburgh 8-7. When Jimmy Rosario crashed through a gate at the Stick making a game saving catch. When we opened the new park. When Dusty took the ball from Russ. When Timmy rode the shoulders of teammates. When I watched more trophy celebrations in 5 years than any fan deserves in a lifetime. When Casilla balked. When the Cubs celebrated on the infield.
Baseball has been a very trusted friend. It taught me how to win. It taught me the proper way to handle those wins. It taught me how to lose. It taught me to respect your opponent in those losses, even on days when, though your team was clearly better, you were not that day. It taught me work ethic. It taught me joy, sadness, acclaim, loneliness, togetherness, support, teamwork, fairness, unfairness, luck, chance. It taught me how you have to set your ego aside for the team, sometimes because you won’t play much. It taught me that you can do everything right, and still fail. It taught me you can also not do it just right, and still succeed. It taught me to stand in the middle of a field on a mound with all eyes on you, and how to calm down enough to make a pitch. It taught me to look out at a man child about to heave either an un-hittable fastball, or more un-hittable breaking ball, and try to hit it anyway. It mostly taught me humility…it taught me life is like baseball. It taught me baseball is the closest thing to life that I have ever known.
The Giants didn’t succeed in 2016, and we all are heartbroken. We are all analyzing everything that happened.
The day after the devastating loss to the Cubs that ended the 2016 season, Brandon Crawford was cleaning out his locker. The prior night, he made two errors. The prior night, he crushed a double off the top of the fence.
He grew up learning to love baseball, too. He was dedicated and talented enough to realize his every dream. In that Cubs game, baseball humbled him. He went home thinking about how much baseball means to him, and how much baseball taught him. He will have learned all those things from this wonderful game that we all learned as well.
He will, like us, think quite a bit about “Baseball, the Giants, and me”