Joshua Hernandez, Pattina Steele and Anthony Momolo have been up since 2:30 a.m. so they could be first in line to get into the Knothole. It’s the World Series. The long rows of ticket windows in the stadium wall are shuttered — tickets are sold out and going for $400 and up in the world outside the stadium. Scalpers are everywhere.
But at the Knothole, an open space between the outer and inner walls of the stadium, the game is free. As long as you get there early, and wait long enough.
“How long have you been waiting here?” asks a man with a notebook.
“Since 2:30,” says Momolo. “I’ve been on the 5 a.m,, 7 a.m., 9 a.m. news. I was on the radio two times, even though the radio is some low-class s***. But we’ve been on the TV all the time today.”
He shifts tone abruptly and cups his hands over his mouth like a megaphone.
“Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo,” he says, drowning out the reporter’s next question. Two men in Rangers shirts are wading through the lake of orange-and-black-clad fans, trying to look nonchalant.
Hernandez joins in: “Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. You’re hurting my eyes.”
“Walk away. Walk away in shame.”
“Those guys are some diehard fans,” Hernandez says once the Rangers fans are out of earshot. His tone is admiring.
“PB & J?” asks Momolo, rustling through one of the many grocery bags stacked around the folding chair he’s sitting in. “Tuna fish? I can make you a sandwich.” He pulls out a package of albacore tuna and a jar of mayonnaise.
“Yeah,” says Billy Wayne, approvingly. “Albacore. You’re getting fancy.” Wayne got here last night at 10:30 p.m., but a cop car showed up and made him leave. He was secretly relieved, he says. It gets cold outside the stadium at night, on the water. Hernandez, Patton and Steele are first-timers — good friends, on an adventure. Wayne has both the beard and the aura of perpetual wonderment of the mature Allen Ginsberg. He knows most of the security guards by name. He estimates that he’s seen hundreds of games here.
“I would like to state that we are all extremely grateful,” says Wayne. There was nothing like the Knothole at Candlestick Park, and the closest thing to it that he’s ever heard of is in Philadelphia. “This is kind of a Golden Gate Bridge thing — only in SF. I’ve tried to find out for years who was responsible for this. I mean, so many people must have signed off on it, at all levels. But who was actually responsible? I would kiss that person. They are welcome in my house. They’ve given me so much.”
His face assumes a nostalgic expression. “Being able to yell at Vladimir Guerrero about his bad knees. Chanting, “Worthless, worthless — that’s for Jayson Werth, from Philadelphia. Werth went and complained to the referee, but the ref was one of those old-school guys who just said, ‘Quit complaining and get back out there.’” Wayne pauses. “Really — we’d rather get in their heads than in their face. That’s why we learn the names of their wives and girlfriends.”
A television crew appears, dragging camera cables behind them. “How long have you been here?”
“Since 10 a.m.,” Wayne says.
“Were you the first person here?”
“No,” says West, “those guys have been here since 2:30 a.m.” He jerks his thumb over to where Momolo and Hernandez sit, toasting each other with enormous cans of Foster’s.
Just like that, the camera crew is gone. They crouch over Hernandez, who obligingly displays the tattoo on the left side of his neck for the cameras. It’s the SF Giants logo. On the right side of his neck is the word “Boriqua” — the indigenous term for Puerto Ricans — in elegant cursive. He was born in the Mission.
“The media is trying to get a flavorful and sexy story out of us,” says Wayne. Something like, “In a bad economy, there’s no money for tickets. But I’d rather be here. This is the only true field-level seat in the house. I’m right behind the right fielder, watching him do his job. I named it the Knothole because it reminded me of being a kid, looking through a knothole in the wood. Have you seen those old photographs of kids lying on the ground, trying to watch the ballgame through the crack underneath the fence?”
The Knothole is spacious compared to a crack under the fence — like a large, airy room with barred gates on both sides that security opens to let people in and out. Usually the crowd inside is around 125 people, rotated out after they’ve watched for three innings to make room for a fresh crowd. The early arrivals are here because they’re hoping that by going first, they’ll be at the right spot in line to be rotated back in for the last few innings. Also, says West, sometimes people with extra tickets to games go to the Knothole to give them away.
“They know that this is where the diehard fans are. Someone waiting, who doesn’t have that do re mi to get inside. That’s why I’m wearing this tie. I’m wearing this to ID myself. Only a baseball geek would wear a tie this stupid and ugly.”
The Knothole itself used to have tickets – free ones, issued by the stadium and passed out to whoever arrived at the stadium at 8 a.m. on the day of the game. It was, West says, a kinder way of doing things. People didn’t need to stake out spots for hours, or get other people to watch their things while they ran to the bathroom, or police each other in terms of establishing who is first, second and third in line. It was nicer, West says, but this current system is more San Francisco. “It’s more hardcore. You get in, but you have to be here. You’ve got to walk the line.”
A woman with a notebook walks up: “How long have you been waiting here?”
“Since 2:30,” says Hernandez. He turns his neck to show her his Giants tattoo. She admires it.
“Would you like a PB & J?,” asks Momolo. “If you’re hungry, we might also have a piece of chicken.”
“Have you gotten any sleep?” she asks.
“We don’t have to sleep!” says Momolo, as though this is the stupidest question anyone has ever asked him. It’s a beautiful day, he’s young, and in two more hours he’s going to see the Giants beat the Rangers. “We saw the sunrise together. We’re making a story.“