Pregame: Gigantes de Naranja
The miseries of May have come to Mission Bay. Icy winds, the rain, the Padres, no hits, fewer runs and, ominously, the pitching either wasn’t enough or just wasn’t. A flat series with Washington just concluded, barely won with two tedious teams going at each other in slow motion, and then the Freak, freaking out.
And now the Snakes slither up from the old mud flats of Arizona, pulling behind them everything about baseball you don’t like to think about when you’re going to a game: race, politics, bigotry, fear . . . But then it is an all-American game, isn’t it?
And if you want to call for a boycott of the game before you go to the game, this too is American, and very San Franciscan. Opponents of a return to nineteenth century social standards, will be at the ball park calling for a Boycott of All Things Arizona, including the Diamondbacks (not without reason).
Although Latinos have been playing professional baseball in the United States since Cuban Esteban Bellán joined the Troy (NY) Haymakers in 1871, teams with “one or more colored persons” were unacceptable to the first national league. Even baseball icons like Alfred Spaulding worried that professionalization would open the sport to any man “who could play the game skillfully, without regard to his race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Bellán was no slave. He came from the Cuban upper class and was not considered “colored.”
Today, Latinos make up more than 27 percent of major league baseball players. Tonight, six of the nine starting Gigantes are Latino. Wrapped in their orange jerseys and white pants, “your” San Francisco Giants look almost alive.
First Pitch 7:15 62°
The stolid Matt Cain marches back to the mound for the Giants. It’s been a rough May for him, with echoes of 2008 when he pitched beautifully but got no run support. Let’s look at his stats. Seven of the ten games he’s started have been “quality” starts; his record is 3-4. And the D-backs? Not only did they take two from the Gigantes last week in Phoenix (while their owner held a fundraiser for one of the authors of SB1070), they are the best hitting team in the league. But Matt mows the Snakes down in order: 19 pitches, 15 strikes, 4 balls.
Despite their impressive and timely hitting, the Snakes come to town riding a four game losing streak. As good as their hitting is, their pitching is that bad. Exhibit A : Edwin Jackson, a pitcher who puts players on base and gives up runs. Just what the doctor ordered. Torres leads off with a double. Freddy Sanchez singles him home. The rally dies, but a run, Matt, a run in the first inning!
Inning Three: Walking
Jackson walks Cain to start the bottom half of the third. Big mistake. Never walk the pitcher, especially at the start of an inning. One of the writers behind me says nine out of ten times, the pitcher will score. Torres flies out but Sanchez again comes up with a critical hit – this time a double into the gap between left and center. Sanchez on second, Cain on third, Panda at the plate.
One of the cliches concerning Latino hitters is they lack patience. That means not waiting for your pitch, and swinging too early in pitch count, like on the first or second pitch. But the story is “you don’t walk off the island” or, kids playing in the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua don’t get recognized by major league baseball for their on-base percentage (hits and walks), only for their hits. Unlikely.
Jackson’s first pitch is a change up. Sandoval swings and hits a long fly ball bringing home Cain from 3rd. And at the end of three, the orange boys lead 2-0.
Inning Five: What If the Giants Had Signed Fidel?
The Giants took a unique path after major league baseball began integrating by hiring Alex Pompez, a former New York numbers racketeer and owner of the New York Cubans. Pompez’ Cubans played in the Negro National League, as well as throughout the Caribbean and Latin America so he was uniquely positioned to know of promising young players. He not only helped choose players for the Giants, he acclimated young Latinos (and blacks) to U.S. baseball culture. Pompez was responsible for scouting and signing either directly or through his network such Giant greats as the Alou brothers, Manny Mota, Monte Irvin (whose number was just retired), Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal. It was the latter who threw the first San Francisco Giant no-hitter, also a first for a Latino.
Cain starts the fifth by hitting Mark Reynolds, the only D-back to get a hit off him. Reynolds looks like he wants to steal, and make Cain look bad. But Matt leaves him stranded. In the bottom of the 5th, with two out, Andres Torres steals second with Freddy Sanchez the hitter. Sanchez has been a revelation, but can he do it again? Yes! He waits. He walks. Here comes Sandoval. He takes a change up for a ball. He fouls the next one and swings at a third lining it hard to right and scoring Torres. 3-0 Gigantes.
Inning Eight: Electricity
Cain is in rhythm, in his groove. Like poets, jazz musicians, ballet dancers, pitchers rely on rhythm and timing; you can see how he carries himself, how in synch he seems with Bengie Molina, his catcher. Much different than the last time I saw Cain, when he seemed to be shrinking into the mound, confused and dispirited. Now he’s Clockwork Orange: 100 pitches; one hit.
A new pitcher for the Snakes: Chad Qualls. Sandoval leads off for the Giants and again swings on the first pitch, a fast ball. Home Run. His first in May, and first in 124 at bats. Welcome home Panda.
The seagulls sweep in from left field, wait impatiently overhead as Cain completes his second full game. Then, with fans streaming out smoking joints, the gulls swoop down on the field to feast on roasted rattler.
Tomorrow, after boycotting Las Culebras, watch the Giants play beisbol.