One: Pressure Cooker
A beautiful day for a walk through the city’s “warm belt” and down Mission Creek to the ballpark. Rex, a Mission street philosopher near 16th and Harrison, wants me to mention the stellar baseball career he almost had (check). I’m in no rush to get to the ballpark, which, as the pennant race tightens in the last weeks of the season, has become a pressure cooker. Each pitch takes on added weight and meaning — if you think baseball means anything.
I pass four homeboys in Giants gear. “Hey O.G.” — they warn me my backpack is open.
Two: Fiesta Gigantes
Oops, forgot about this evening’s Latino promo at the ballpark: some tents outside Lefty O’Doul Gate, and live music. Like all Giants’ promotions targeting a particular ethnic demographic, it’s the Walt Disney version of Latino culture; no uncomfortable reminders about the wave of anti-immigrant politics, high unemployment, massive cuts to public education and health care services in working-class communities — let’s just have fun! The Giants wear their “Gigantes” jerseys and the A-V team has thrown some Spanish into the Jumbotron mix.
Three: Let Us Now Praise Famous Hipsters
Tim Lincecum, the Giants’ ace, starts on the mound. After a soap opera season that gave SF fans something to analyze, interpret, argue and worry about during the cold months of July and August, Lincecum seems to have worked things out. He’s back to his old self — no, that’s not quite right. His old self, the little Freak who threw the ball a thousand miles an hour, has slowly given way to a newer self, a self who wants something more than an endless baseball game: an older, some would say wiser, while others might say lazier, self — a hipster who might rather hang out in Dolores Park than work out in a boring old ballpark. Whatever — now that his prodigal pitches have returned, who really cares?
Four: Celebration or Discrimination?
Last month, Chicago White Sox coach Ozzie Guillen spoke about the conditions Latino ballplayers face when they come to the “Grandes Ligas.”
“Don’t take this wrong,” Guillen, a Venezolano, said, “but they take advantage of us. We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid … go to the minor leagues, good luck.” The privileges of which he spoke primarily had to do with language: Japanese players are accompanied by interpreters, whereas Latino players, who know little or no English, are ghettoized.
Predictably, his words were taken the “wrong way,” a “rant” by the media’s favorite Latino “hothead” (another target of this stereotype is new Giant Jose Guillen, but that’s another story).
Five: Big Hitters, Little Hits
Most of the Brewers (“Cerveceros”) are very big guys when they come to the plate, but Lincecum makes them take big swings at nothing but space; that is, until the fourth inning, when Prince Fielder knocks one against the left-field wall for a long single. The Brewers now swing smart; just try to make contact, not hit a home run. Two of the next three batters hit dinky singles, and bases are loaded. Alcides Escobar grounds directly to third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who chooses to get the runner at home rather than try for a double play. It turns out to be a controversial decision, as the next batter, Jonathan Lucroy, bloops a single just over first baseman Aubrey Huff, and two runs score.
Meanwhile, Brewer pitcher Yovani Gallardo, who also struggled in August, is pitching well, with a 95 mph fastball, a slider the Giants barely touch and an occasional curveball and change-up to keep SF off balance and off the scoreboard. In the bottom of the fifth, with two runners actually on base at the same time, manager Bruce Bochy removes Lincecum for a pinch hitter. On the TV monitors I watch a furious pitcher tune out his manager, who begs to be understood.
Bochy’s move results in a walk and bases loaded. The Giants score a run on Mike Fontenot’s subsequent ground ball, but do no more damage. Still, it’s the Giants’ first run in the last 14 innings.
Six: Clubhouse Chemistry
Ozzie Guillen’s comments touched off an explosion of angry denials by the MLB and denunciations by MLB hacks in the media. The story began to change, though, when high-profile Latino players like the Mets’ Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez defended Guillen with their personal stories.
Though somewhat complicated in detail, the cultural issues Guillen raises, and the MLB’s failure to deal with them in any serious way, are not new. They pose a problem not only for individual players but for teams as well, especially when things get tight like they are now. The lack of cultural education (remember, a lot of Latino players sign contracts when they’re 16), especially in language, must make for a borderline dysfunctional group of guys. Maintaining coherence, let alone morale, when players can’t talk to each other — not just as statistics in a bag of skin, but as human beings — must be one of the more daunting challenges a manager faces.
Seven: Spanish Spoken Here?
Not a peep from Giant bats since the fifth inning. It seems that when they don’t get big hits, like the home runs from a couple of nights ago, they don’t score. No one I talk to in the stands speaks Spanish, or maybe no one wants to speak Spanish with me. I also notice that the Giants don’t provide any Spanish-language signs or directions to Spanish-language services for fans.
Eight: The Race
The Padres, Rockies and Braves have all won. If the Giants lose this one, they will fall out of first in the NL West and two games behind Atlanta for the wild card.
Nine: Good Teams
Brewer closer John Axford strikes out the side to end the game 2-1 for the Brewers. “Good teams win close games,” says Cervecero Lucroy. But what does he know? During this home stand, the Giants have dropped three of four close games.