Sunday, October 24, 2010

Losing in the Rain

I've had better ideas than heading to San Francisco on BART during an impending rainstorm, hoping to see the Giants play the Phillies in the last National League Championship Series game played in the City this season.

Karen assured me that she and the girls had no desire, in this weather, to head across San Francisco bay – without tickets - to maybe possibly see a ball game.  But that I should go, because, well, hope springs eternal, right?  I mean, I've headed to games before with my friend Andy when neither of us had a ticket – there are always scalpers.  Always.  No problem.

Of course, those games didn't have the potential to send the Orange and Black to the World Series.

Did I mention hope springs eternal?

I shouldn't even try, if I could be honest with myself for just one second.  But that's hard, the honest thing.  Like baseball fans and players, I'm ridiculously superstitious.  Take Leo, Leo who's been wearing the same Ludicra tshirt to work because the Giants have been winning since it's been on.  And so, if I were honest, I shouldn't be making this trek because my forays to postseason games have garnered awful reviews.  Karen and I went in '97, saw that stupid 3-0 loss to the Marlins.  But we did run into my Godfather and his beautiful wife Diane.  That was the best part of that night.

Torture in 2002.  We saw a World Series game, the one game the Giants lost at home.  10-4.  Stupid rally monkey.

2003, another loss to the Marlins, 3-1.

I shouldn't take my bad juju to San Francisco tonight.

The first sign of ill occurred when I spoke with "Ray" this morning.  To read his backstory, kindly visit
I asked "Ray" how he felt about the Giants' chances, and after he collected his change from Leo - Leo wearing Ludicra - "Ray" tucked his newly-bought papers under his arm, and only then did he look at me and say, all confident, I'm getting on a plane to Philly tomorrow morning at 6 a.m.  I'm getting on that plane because God hates me and because God hates you.

What "Ray" is saying is this:  I cover the Giants for Comcast.  If the Giants win tonight, no Philly trip.  But the Giants will lose tonight.  Guaranteed.  Hence, I'll be taking a trip to Philly, to continue covering these Mad Men.

"Ray," I said.  C'mon, they've got some magic going on across the bay, don't they?

God hates me, he said, and I'll be getting on a plane at an ungodly hour tomorrow.

If one were a tad bit prone to reading too much into the words of others, one might think that "Ray" was confidently predicting that the Giants would be putting their fans through torture this evening.

The next sign that things weren't going to go my way occurred when I overheard a conversation on the Fruitvale BART platform, a conversation between the four fans, all decked out in Giants regalia:  one with Timmy hair, another clowning in a Panda hat, all with tshirts sporting SF.

The guy in the Panda hat didn't have a ticket and his three friends spent the fourteen minutes we had to wait for a train taunting him, with the three waving their precious tickets at the Panda.  The gist of their taunts was that there was no way Panda was going to see the inside of AT&T Park, not on that night.

And since omens of ill travel in packs of three, the third ill omen showed itself when I got off MUNI at the corner of Third and 24 Willie Mays Plaza.  The crush of people surrounding the Park?  San Francisco will of course never get close to the numbers in New York, but tonight, you'd think the entire population was here, crowds a hundred deep and a hundred wide trying to get in, crowds overwhelming King Street, crowds overflowing from MoMo's there at Second.

Way too many in this host holding up one finger, all plaintive requests for a ticket, for entry into the biggest game the Giants have played in seven years.  Where had they (we) all come from?  If the Giants won tonight, they'd be going to the World Series for only the fourth time since they moved to the City by the Bay – fifty-two years ago.  What were these people thinking?  That woman over there, her hair dyed orange, holding a sign that read I NEED ONE TICKET CHEAP.  Or that other sign, held close to that guy's chest, that guy wearing Elvis shades – Dreams Can Come True, Give this Fan a Free Ticket!  And when I look at him, he peeks at me over his shades, he laughs and says, Hey, it's worth a shot, right?

So many people surging through that misty San Francisco night.  But everyone's trying to buy, not sell.

Lefty O'Doul's been good to me before, so I head to that bridge.  There's a promenade just before O'Doul, and I take a quick walk that way, looking for sellers.  The stadium's right next to me, a huge banner of Timmy hanging from its wall overhead.  The bay's on the other side, full of kayaks and rafts and boats – and a red car.  The car is English and small, and it putters around the kayakers.  Someone spent time and money converting that car into a boat, and the two guys tucked inside look like they're having fun.

I'm not having fun.

I head back for the bridge, and halfway across, a roar lifts from the confines of the park, deep-throated and long.  Tim Lincecum has retired the second batter in the top of the first, the game now well under way.

If I squint I can make out the big screen of the scoreboard, can see the next batter's stats as he heads to the plate. Giants fans thunder their approval.

ticketless.  The air's getting brisk, the mist is thickening, and here I am, pressing my forehead against a cold windowpane, looking in at a party I'm trying to crash.

After I cross O'Doul, I find a freaking homeless encampment at China Basin Park.  It's just a little spit of a park overlooking the channel that separates us from the ballgame.  The sweet stench of pot is heavy here.  Bunch of people on the thin stretch of grass, cold like me, one girl on a guitar singing White Rabbit, and she's trying to get Grace-Slick loud, and so as she hits When-logic-and-proportion-have-fallen-sloppy-dead, her voice is getting louder, sure, but she's not singing any more, she's just getting loud, and when Keep Your Head comes around, she's hitting those words the same way she's hitting the strings on her guitar, and the strings are going to bust Keep Your Head and her voice is going to crack Keep Your Head and the drunk guy on the slope of grass, the drunk guy Keep Your Head who's whirling whirling, he's going to face-plant soon.

Keep Your Head, and she's just screaming the words, so there I stand, with no ticket, imagining the ghost of Grace flipping me off.

I'm cold, have I said that?  And no, I don't want the soggy churro this other woman offers me.  How about a ticket? I say, and the churro lady laughs and takes her wares off towards the drunks on the hill.

There's a big parking lot right here at Third, and a guy comes out of it, walking likes he owns all of our fates, and he sees me looking at him and asks if he can hook me up.

I'm trying to put my camera under my jacket, it's getting a little wet now, and I ask the guy what he's got.

He flashes four tickets at me, 117 Lower Box, he says, right behind homeplate.  Take all the pictures you want from there.

I hold one of the tickets in my hand.  It looks real, but what do I know?  It's also got a face-value of $160.  What are you asking? I say.

And the guy, he's got his Giants cap turned halfway-wrong around his head, he looks up at me and says, For you, Boss, a thousand bucks.

Another roar from the crowd inside AT&T – from all the people having fun inside.  All the people who have tickets.

That sound good to you, Boss, the guy says as he snatches the ticket from my hand.

I want to reach out, grab the bill of his hat, and yank it frontways.  But there's a big guy behind my little guy, just shadowing him, and the big guy's staring me down, sizing me up for a loser without the cash for one of his tickets.

Roar goes the crowd.

I head back to 24 Willie Mays Plaza.  Cross the street, head up King.  Long line of folks waiting to get into Pete's Tavern.  There's a guy working the line.  His seats are cheap, only 500 per.  Nosebleed, though.

More pot smoke.

I get to MoMo's, a crush of people there watching the big screens they have setup outside.  There's a big olive-shaped heart statue on their patio, and I wish I had a martini big enough to drop it into. 

Roar goes the crowd.

I head up King, along the Embarcadero, the bay quiet and dark out to my left.  All the way to Delancey Street – and not a hint of tickets.

I walk back, all the way down to King, up to Third, past the promenade again, across O'Doul, smelling pot, hearing roars – though the roars have diminished, replaced with groans.  I do that walk across O'Doul, up to King, up to MoMo's and back again.  Where have all the tickets gone?  Who has picked them, every one?


Such a flood, so many people – a guy in a business suit with an orange tie yelling into his Blackberry, cool cat in a mink coat, waving a broom, a girl with long lashes, pretty in the rain, it's raining now – all of them holding up one finger.  Just one ticket, please.

Elvis still holding his sign - Give this Fan a Free Ticket! - How's that working out for you? I say.

He's got nothing for me.

Back to the corner of Third, outside Louisiana Fried Chicken.  There's a guy there with Standing Room Only tickets.  Two young women are working him hard.  $200 dollars he keeps telling them.  It's raining, they say.  $200 each, he says.  They're losing, they pout.  $200, he says.  Did I mention we dance, the tall, leggy brunette says.  Good on you, he says.  Professionally, the little blonde says, and she bats her lashes.  $200, he says again.  We're not paying $200, the brunette says.  Then you'll be standing out here in the rain with everyone else, he says.

The blonde traces a line down the front of his ratty, Guess jean-jacket, and sidles a little bit close.  Am I going to have to take you around the corner? she says.  Unruffled to the end, he just steps back, looks out at the biggest mob to be in one place in San Francisco since the first time the 49ers had a victory parade down Market Street.  And just what corner, he says, would that be?  And he heads off into the dark.

I'm kind of laughing at the irony of these professional dancers trying to haggle with this kind-of-sloppy white guy, kind-of-sloppy in his tattered jean jacket.  Usually, I'm thinking, kind-of-sloppy white guys are haggling with them as they dance professionally somewhere with a pole on the stage.


I buy a dog from a vendor, sleepy guy with a girlfriend sitting under his umbrella, the girlfriend trying to keep her joint dry.  What is up with all the pot?  Oh, right.  Let Timmy Smoke and all that (one Giants' star is a bit of a pothead, so all this ganja must be some token of solidarity.  Or something.)

Later, TickTock, later.

It's the seventh inning now, and I'm thinking it's time to go.  The Hi Dive probably has a seat available, that bar underneath the Bay Bridge, and it's got good juju attached to it – that's where we all went after hearing my friend Nami read from her amazing novel, Miles From Nowhere.  Which is kind of how I'm feeling now.

I think they had good scotch.  Oban?  Maybe they had Oban.

I take a last look in at the screen inside the Chicken joint there at Third, and that's when I see an associate of the Guess jean-guy with folks pressing around him.  He's holding three SRO tickets.  He catches my eye, holds up one finger.  Hundred bucks.

Is it worth a hundred bucks to be part of the party?  To possibly see the Giants clinch?

That's when I get a text from my friend Harry.  One word from him, from inside the party where he and Natasha are:


So I fork over the cash, hustle across Third, pay my respects to the statue of Willie,

both of us cold and wet.

Right after I enter AT&T I see Fred, Fred from Alameda.  San Francisco's a world class city, but small.  You always run into people you know.  But Fred's headed the other way and he can't hear me over the crowd.  Maybe I can catch Randy.  He's got great seats – third base side.  I just have to find the souvenir stand that's next to the stairs down to him.  I always forget, is he in 125?  126?  But I do remember the stand.  I just have to get past Cerberus guarding the entrance down to him.

Hmm.  Um, it's pretty easy to sneak down to see Randy during the regular season.  During the NLCS?  Not so much.

I text Andy.  He's in Lower Box 105, row 35, seat 5.  Has been the whole game.  Bastard.  He comes up, he needs to stretch his legs SINCE HE'S BEEN SITTING IN HIS SEAT THE WHOLE GAME WHILE I ROAMED AIMLESS OUTSIDE.

He needs a drink.  They don't have agua, so he settles for a Sprite.  I get a pedestrian beer.  We bemoan the direction the game has taken since the third inning.

I wish him godspeed, let him go back to his seat.  I text Natasha.  Let her know I'm in.  She's happy, texts Awesome - we need some luck.

She doesn't know about my bad juju.

I wend through the crowd, fight for a spot on the walkway – the game down there, the bay over here. See that Red Car still puttering through the waves. I buy another beer, cause they stop selling after this inning.

Did I mention the Giants are losing to the Phillies?  Have been since the third?  An old Giants broadcaster said that he had a one minute hourglass that he brought with him to every game.  He'd flip it, and every time the sands ran out, he'd announce the score.

Clearly, I suck as an announcer.  I thought it was hard as kid, sitting in front of our tv on Sherwood Avenue, sitting there watching the game with the sound turned down, trying to announce.  I had my baseball cards spread out in front of me, stats on the back of the cards for the players on the screen.  Never enough cards, though, and by the third inning I'd have run out of things to say.  So I'll just say this:

The Giants are losing 3-2.

Sure, they scratched back a bit, but they're still looking up at that crooked number.

I make my way around the back of the park, pushing through the people.  The fans are ok tonight, but not into it as much as they were last night.  Harry will tell me later that the crowd seemed spent, that it was hard to recharge after such a smashing victory the night before.  It's like they all talked to "Ray" this morning, like they all have his dour prediction in their heads.  Sure, a few people are waving flags, the orange pompoms are shaking, but there's an undercurrent.  Unease. 

It's 8:01 when I get a text from Leo, Leo garbed with Ludicra somewhere in the Mission.  The game's not over, not just yet, but Leo's text is prophetic:

God hates Ray.

And indeed, God does hate "Ray" because the Giants will lose.  Not with a bang, but a whimper.  The final score is 4-2.  This means that "Ray" will indeed be leaving on a jet plane.  For Philly.  Tomorrow.

As we all, this multitude in orange and black, depart the park, I receive a text from Andy, wanting to know if I'm taking BART.  But then Harry and Natasha both hit me up – they drove, their car is down on Harrison, and would I like a ride?

I usually walk along the Embarcadero in the dark, past Red's, past the Hi Dive, to the Ferry Building, and then to BART.  But tonight I'll take my friends up on their offer.  We arrange to meet by the statue of Cepeda on the corner of Second and King.  Later, after we head off to Harrison, we'll pass by two guys as they put their Red Boat/Car thing onto a trailer  The same car I watched putter between kayaks.  It's got two white propellers in the back under the red of the car.

Did I mention SF was a small town at heart?

That's later.  Now I'm still in the park, heading for the ramps that'll take me down to the street, and I pass by the sign that I've passed dozens of times before, but tonight, tonight it speaks to all of us, those of us in the crowd who start chanting Saturday, Saturday, Saturday.  We believe the Giants will win on Saturday, because that's our only choice.

But the sign?  I'll sign off with the words on the sign.

Postscript:  The Giants did win on Saturday.  Natasha and Harry took pity on us for not having a tv and invited us over to watch the game.  And although it would have been nice to close the series out on Thursday, in San Francisco, Harry reminded me that it was the final-final that was important.  He quoted one of his favorite basketball players, Reggie Miller, Reggie of the Indiana Pacers.  All time three-point leader and Knicks killer, according to Harry.  Reggie Miller said, after his Pacers didn't win a series at home, but had to travel to get the job done, Mr. Miller said:

It would have been great to have closed this out in Indy, but sometimes it's more fun to go in and put your feet all over someone else's furniture.

Enough said.


  1. Does "Ray" know you write these? Maybe "Ray" could help a brother out and get this published somewhere. Who's got "Ray"'s email?

  2. I have not mentioned to Ray that he has appeared in these pages.

    Go Giants.