One: The House of Orange
On the last Orange Friday of the season, fans entering Mission Creek Ballpark receive free orange rally towels to wave in support of the San Francisco Giants as they open a decisive three-game series with the San Diego Padres. One Giant victory will put the team in the playoffs for the first time since 2003 as National League Western Division Champions.
The rally towels that quickly begin to look like rags carry the corporate logo of Bank of America. Earlier in the day, BofA suspended home foreclosures in 23 states amid reports that the bank had foreclosed on thousands of homes without proper documentation.
I mention this to the television commentator sitting next to me in the overcrowded press box. He looks at me like, “What does that have to do with baseball?”
Two: The Willie Mac Award
The players vote to give the teammate they consider most inspirational the Willie Mac Award, named after former Giant great Willie McCovey, who just underwent back surgery. He’s come back to Mission Creek in a wheelchair to give this year’s award to Andres Torres.
Midway through the proceedings, a strange shadow comes over the ballpark, the shadow of the 1962 World Series, when the clearly superior San Francisco Giants had out-hit, out-pitched and outscored the New York Yankees. Yet they lost the series when Willie McCovey’s screaming line drive in the ninth inning of the seventh game was miraculously snatched from the air by a leaping Bobby Richardson.
The 1962 World Series has nothing to do with the award. It has to do with the weirdness, uncertainty and luck of baseball.
Three: Yes We Cain?
In addition to the rally rags, fans receive “Yes We Cain” signs in honor of starting pitcher Matt Cain. Last year’s winner of the Willie Mac Award and this year’s brightest light on the pitching staff, Cain finds himself almost immediately in trouble.
Ryan Ludwick leads off the second inning with a solo home run to left. Lucky, right? Maybe, but things fall apart in the third inning, beginning with a single from the pitcher and ending with Adrian Gonzalez’ three-run home run. 4-0 Padres after three.
Four: Good Ol’ Boys
Just to make sure San Francisco fans get the point, Matt Stairs connects for another solo home run off Cain.
I watched Cain practice batting. He looked loose, comfortable, even joking with boss Bill Neukom. All the Giants looked loose; just another day at the office. So loose they easily mingled with the Padres, who are cold but acted warm and friendly with the Giants. Padre starting pitcher Clayton Richard joined in, saying to Juan Uribe, “You guys are only going to hit ground balls tonight, right?” Uribe laughed. Everybody laughed.
The Giants are not hitting ground balls off Richard. They aren’t hitting much of anything. They’ve had a lot of trouble with this guy in the past, but at least they are making good contact with the ball, and they are getting on base. They just can’t bring anyone home.
Five: Rally Rags and Other Fetishes
The orange rally rags reflect the magical thinking that pervades major league baseball, on the field and in the stands. Like any fetish, the rally rag (or cap, or other object) acts as an amulet invested with supernatural powers to assure victory. Unfortunately, waving a fetish around the ballpark also carries painful associations for Giant fans: The hated L.A. Angels rally monkey in the 2002 World Series.
One of the kinkier, well-publicized (though more private) fetishes operating to boost the Giants into the playoffs this year is the pink sequined thong worn by first baseman Aubrey Huff. Does it work? He put it on at the end of August.
Six: A Rally
Cody Ross doubles and scores on Freddy Sanchez’ single in the fifth, but it’s too little, too late. Don’t say that to Giant fans. Especially after Pat Burrell doubles with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning. Rally rags start waving en masse. Then they suddenly stop. Standing next to me in section 321, Daniel exclaims with no lack of sarcasm, “Oh, wonderful! Aaron Rowand!” The $12 million-a-year Giant with a batting average below the seventh ring of Dante’s Inferno is pinch-hitting.
Dennis and I agree: Rowand has been so miserable this year, he’s the last guy you want to send up in a situation as desperate as this. So much for the rally.
So much for my baseball analytical powers. Rowand hits a home run into the left-field bleachers and it’s 6-3. Forty-thousand rags go berserk. Before the inning is finished, Jose Uribe will score when the ball seems to dribble off Torres’ bat, managing to stay in fair territory.
Seven: Section 311
Linda takes time out from celebrating Rowand’s homer to make it clear that she did not call me incompetent when I tried numerous times to take her picture a couple of weeks ago. Fair enough. He doesn’t say it because he’s an usher, but I can see Israel thinking, “That doesn’t mean she thinks you are competent.”
There are some Padre fans in 311, including Jane, who is due to give birth any day now. “I was afraid her water was going to break when Gonzalez homered,” says her husband, Mike.
Eight: Waiting for Godot
Over the next three innings, the rally rags play with the emotions and ideological moorings of Giants fans. They promise home runs, extra-base hits, timely well-placed singles. And the players keep trying. Only zeroes on the scoreboard.
John suddenly appears, dressed in orange shorts, shirt and Mexican wrestling mask. He directs one side of the section to yell “Go,” the other side to yell “Giants.” We do, the Giants don’t and John runs off to another section. I try to talk to him, but he’s got to hurry. He brought his daughters to the game and they get embarrassed if they see him doing this routine.
Nine: New Fetish Needed
No one believed the Giants would deprive their fans of the nerve-wracking suspense we’ve come to expect, nor that an orange hand rag, especially one compromised by its association with a deadbeat bank, would bail out our baseball team. The Giants don’t need a miracle, just a well-pitched game and a timely, well-placed hit.
OK, 40,000 pink sequined thongs waving madly on the banks of Mission Creek wouldn’t hurt.