Sunday, October 28, 2012

World Series 2012, Game One

Omens, omens, omens.  Baseball fans are always looking for omens, so when it took 19 minutes to drive from Randy's house in Oakland to the parking lot ($70!) in San Francisco - besting by one minute our trip (a trip that in the Bay Area should of course take much longer) to Game Two of the National League Championship Series, that seemed propitious (to use an oft used word from this post about that wonderful NLCS).

Then there was the homeless guy outside the K&L on Fourth Street - the guy in desperate need of a light, lights being hard to come by in our increasingly impolite age (especially if you're a ragged soul asking for help).  I usually have a light, and this time it was the Zippo I scored during my first trip to Vegas - Vegas for Dean's Bachelor Party, and wow, I'd tell you if I could, but what happens in Vegas...

So my ability to light the guy's smoke also seemed propitious, because - well, again, when you're looking for omens, you see them everywhere.  Since the San Francisco Giants were about to face Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, I needed to see omens.

Good ones - not like the decapitated pigeon that fell out of the sky yesterday and splattered the sidewalk outside the bookstore.  What the hell was that about?  Not a particularly good omen - so we'll leave it be, return to Wednesday night, when I needed good omens because of Mr. Justin Verlander.

Verlander is a machine - the best pitcher in baseball.  Last year he won the Cy Young Award and was named his league's Most Valuable Player.  Facing him?  Facing the best in Game One of the World Series?  It was like 2010 déjà vu all over again - 2010 when the Giants were going against the Texas Rangers, were going against their ace, Cliff Lee.  Cliff Lee who had allowed opponents to hit .075 against him in that year's postseason.

Verlander had an even gaudier number of his own - his ERA for the postseason had been .074.

Omens, omens, where are the omens?

When we walked into the park, after climbing the steps into the stadium, we passed a table with two young women asking for help during the fifth inning.  Major League Baseball had teamed up with, and in the fifth inning, fans were being asked to hold up placards with the name of the person in your life who'd been affected by cancer.

I had taken a few steps past the table when I realized they weren't hawking credit cards - so I turned around, immediately losing Randy and Rob in the crush of orange and black fans, and asked if I could have a sign.  I put my phone down and, after the line on the sign that read- I STAND UP FOR - of course I scribbled the words MY DAD.

Then I re-entered the fray, trying to squeeze through the masses to our seats.

I'd already passed two beer vendors and a hot-dog stand when I realized I didn't have my phone.  Pant pocket?  Nope.  Pea coat pocket?  No again.

I must've left it on the table when I'd filled out the placard.  I turned, a salmon fighting upstream through this river of orange and black going the other way - swim surge leap - and when I got back to the table, I saw one of the young women was talking on my phone.  To my mom.

Oh, here, she said, as she handed the phone back.  Please tell your mom it's ok!

I'm forty-six, and there I was, explaining to my mom that it was ok.

Still, that's a good omen, right?  I mean, I found my phone, right?

What, did you think I forgot about the omens?  Not on your life.

On my way back through the orange ebbs and black flows of my baseball brethren, I saw the trophy - the trophy that indicated the Giants win the pennant!

The Giants win the pennant!

The Giants win the pennant!

The Giants win the pennant!

Next to the trophy was another table, this time with employees hawking Giants merchandise from the 2012 season.  On display was the Pablo Sandoval Garden Gnome.  The one where Pablo is blowing one of his trademark pink bubbles.

How could I not?

And - little did I know - this was another good omen.

Just very well disguised as a bubble-blowing gnome.

A World Series game is a little bit of Fall magic only available to the lucky two teams that have weathered 162 games in the regular season and then made enough luck to reach, in late October, the culmination of this journey that started in February when pitchers and catchers reported for Spring Training.

February 18th for the Giants.

February 19th for the Tigers.

Now, though, it's late October.  AT&T is always sold out, but it feels like there are more people in the park - it's just a crush of orange and black.

How can it feel like there are more fans where there are the same amount of fans every game?

A World Series brings out a good mood in everyone - and everyone's decked out in their Giants' finery.  The stadium's wearing its best duds, too, with Red, White, and Blue bunting draped everywhere.

The beer's colder, the cheers are louder, the hot dogs are hotter - and for the Tigers or the Giants, the greatest achievement any baseball team can muster is just around the corner.

Before I could finish my first Heineken - Heineken because, as Randy pointed out, they serve 'em in those tall, aluminum bottles, and that green aluminum keeps the beer colder than plastic.

Feels that way, at least.

But before I can finish Beer #1, just after Barry Zito had wiggled out of trouble in the top of the first when he had allowed two Tigers to pace around his infield like hungry jungle cats, Pablo Sandoval faced Justin Verlander in a quick - up until then - bottom of the first.  Quick because Pablo's two teammates had grounded out at the hands of the invincible Mr. Verlander.

The pace of the inning, the pace of the game, changed forever when Pablo Sandoval - staring down a count of no-balls and two-strikes - swung his massive body and struck at a high and outside 95 mph fastball that no one should have been able to touch.

But he did - introduced ball to bat - and after the introductions were concluded, the ball sailed over the center field wall on its way to Oakland.

Justin Verlander?  On 0-2 counts this years?  Had given up exactly 0 home runs.

That's propitious.

In the park, we sang bye, bye, baby - and a loud crowd got even louder.

You can hear the national television announcers talking about AT&T being the loudest park in the majors, I can listen to Margie tell me that as she drove past the park on Monday night during the seventh and deciding game of the League Championship Series she was struck by the fact that she couldn't hear her car radio because of the din emanating from the ball yard - but when you're in it?  Adding your voice to the cacophony?

It's loud.

Very, very loud.

And then in the third, when Angel Pagan hit a routine grounder to third - only then it became anything but routine as it hit the bag and scuttled into left field, allowing Pagan to turn a sure out into a double - and when I told Randy that we'd just witnessed this Series' Hunter Pence moment, Randy reminded me that he said if Pagan reached base, he'd be sure to score.

So - we began the Marco Scutaro chant.  It was quiet at first - just me shouting Marco and Randy laughing out a Scutaro.  But then it was another Marco followed by three voices saying Scutaro.

And then Marco, and then eight yelling Scutaro.  And, very very soon, AT&T was throatily chanting



And just like that, Mr. Scutaro swung and singled and scored Mr. Pagan - bringing up Pablo Sandoval for the second time.

Put me in, coach.
In the middle of that at bat, the Tiger's pitching coach - Jeff Jones - visited the mound to talk to Mr. Verlander.  While Mr. Verlander only said, What are you doing here? his stare said so much more.  That stare held such condescension (and, truth be told, confusion - if it's possible to display both, and I'm here to tell you it is) because Pitching Coaches do not stroll to the mound to shoot the breeze with Mr. Verlander.  But - after Mr. Jones had retreated back to his dugout and we watched the next pitch, watched as Mr. Sandoval hit his second home run off of Mr. Verlander in as many tries, watched as the big screen showed Mr. Verlander mouthing the word Wow as he, too, watched the flight of the ball over the fence in left - his stare made that moment all the greater.

Clearly, we - Randy and I, Rich and Rob - were in for something special - and I looked inside the white plastic bag that held my bubble-blowing gnome and wondered, hmmm....

And then it's the fifth and I'm on my feet holding a sign indicating that I'm standing up for MY DAD, when I look to my left at Randy and see him holding up his own sign with my dad's name on it.

When did Randy do that?  How'd he get the sign?  Where'd he get the pen?

Regardless - thanks, Randy, thanks.  I thank you, and my mom?  My mom really thanks you.

Propitious?  Good omen?  You decide.  Because though the Tigers had changed pitchers, from Justin Verlander to Al Alburquerque, they couldn't change the outcome - and during his third at bat, there in the fifth, with the crowd roaring for more, Pablo Sandoval hit Home Run #3 to deep center field.

And this is how it looked.

As seen from PLB 124, Row 28, Seat 15

Three home runs in one World Series Game? Albert Pujols did it last year.  Reggie Jackson did it in New York in 1977.  And Babe Ruth did it for the first of his two times in 1926.

That's it.  And that's some company Pablo Sandoval now gets to keep.

And all the while this was happening?  Something as amazing though not as majestic was also occurring - Barry Zito was pitching the game of his life.  Barry Zito, the much maligned.  Barry Zito of the ridiculous contract.  Barry Zito who, the last time the Giants were in the Series, in 2010, didn't even make the post-season roster because he was just that bad.

Barry Zito vs. Justin Verlander - and it was Mr. Zito who was throwing 0's.

Randy said that the Tigers would surely benefit from a two-run home run at some point during the proceedings - which they would do, in the ninth, when they were losing 8-1.  But for the five-plus innings that Mr. Zito pitched?  He was nearly perfect, and all sins are forgiven.

This game?  This World Series game?  It had that crazy Angel Pagan double, it had Gregor Blanco making crazy-perfect dives to rob hitters of extra bases, it had Tim Lincecum appearing as a reliever and being perfect, retiring the seven batters he faced in dominating fashion.  And it had Pablo Sandoval.

Except for that hiccup in the ninth that Randy had foretold, it pretty much was magic all night long.  The best game I've seen as an adult, without question.

Final score:  8-3

Would the Giants have the momentum to win the series in this sort of splendid fashion?  Jim Leyland, manager of the Detroit Tigers, said:  I think momentum is your next day's pitcher.

And that's the kind of momentum the San Francisco Giants have been displaying because the next two games saw Giants' pitchers hurling shut-outs at the Detroit Tigers.  The Tigers, who were shut out only twice all season long - for 162 games - and then the Giants equaled that number over the course of three nights.

This is a very special Series - one that I've felt confident about since a Thursday night at Candlestick Park.  Thanks for that, Dad.  Thanks for the ticket, Randy.

Go Giants.  One more Win.  Just one more.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Greek guilt, Greek absolution, baseball - and Pearls Before Swine

I was torn.  We hosted Stephan Pastis last night at the store.  Mr. Pastis is the wizard behind Pearls Before Swine,and if you don't read this comic, you're missing out.  It's been a favorite of mine for years because it's hilarious, impertinent and wonderfully wise.

It's also one of the most-syndicated strips going, so I'm not the only one who thinks so.

When I learned that we had the great good fortune to have Mr. Pastis visit the store in late October, I was ecstatic - I would say I was happier than a pig in shit, because Pig is one of the main characters in Pearls Before Swine, but my mom wouldn't be happy.  So I won't.

My office at the bookstore has been decorated with Pearls paraphernalia for longer than I can remember.  David - a coworker and friend - taped a single panel from one of the strips on my monitor sometime in 2005.  Monitors have died since then, but the panel is always carefully removed and reapplied.

October 24th was going to be a good night for me - I would get to meet the man who's made me laugh more than any other.

Oh, Mr. Pastis posted about the evening - ensuring that a night that was going to be well-attended was going to be really well-attended.  

Then?  Then?  A funny thing happened on the way to our forum.

The San Francisco Giants happened - and their most improbable march to the World Series:

No team had ever lost the first two games in a best-of-five postseason series (like the Giants did) and then gone on to win the next three games, on the road, in a hostile environment.

The Giants did that.

Very few teams had ever gone down three games to one in a best-of-seven series to then roar back and win three in a row, to secure the Pennant and advance to the World Series.

The Giants did that.

The Giants did that and capped it with a pasting of their opponents at home, in San Francisco, during a down-pour - and the image of Marco Scutaro, the National League Championship Series MVP lifting his face to collect raindrops with a smile wide enough to see back in St. Louis is something I'll never forget.

Not that I actually saw it.  I was working.  Poor, poor, me - I know.  I know - poor, poor me.  Shuddup already.  Who cares that I missed the most glorious home game in the history of this storied franchise on Monday of this week - it's not a long story, and there's no need to revisit it here.

Big deal.  Enough.  The Giants won a Game 7 for the first time ever - and since they go back to 1883, that's saying something, but so what?  Winning the Pennant, at home?  In the rain?  It was a glorious spectacle and I missed it because duty called.  So what?  Oh well.  People go to bed hungry every night and I'm complaining about a missed baseball game.

I'm over it.  Clearly.

In a special and lovely twist of fate, though, the good friend (blessings to you, Randy) who had invited me to the Game on Monday invited me back to the very next game - the Game last night.

Last night?  Game One of the World Series.  At home.  Against the most vaunted pitcher playing baseball today - Justin Verlander.

This Wednesday night, like the Monday before - had all the makings of being something historic.

But did I mention that Stephan Pastis was going to be in the house?

That's where the Greek guilt comes in.  I had planned on being there.  Had planned on taking my Elizabeth because she has just discovered comics, can crack herself up reading these simple panels of wonder that the best (Charles Schulz, Gary Larson, Stephan Pastis) make look so easy when of course they must be so hard.

I hadn't scheduled myself to work that night, but had still planned to work that night -when now, now!  The Giants also beckoned.

The forces at work were two:  the force of the Pig and the force of the Rat.  

In Pearls Before Swine, Pig is the Charlie Brown character.  Well meaning, always trying to do right.  Rat?  Rat is Lucy on a bad day.  Conniving.  Spoiled.  Always ready to pull the football away from Charlie "the Pig" Brown because she can.

I'm embarrassed to say that in my interior fight between Pig and Rat - the Rat won.

I asked my co-workers to explain to Mr. Pastis that in any other situation, I would be there in the store cheering him on, but that on this night - this night of San-Francisco-Giants nights, my selfishness won out and I would be in AT&T Park, not Alameda.

Little did I know that last night would indeed be historic.  Pablo Sandoval, the third-baseman for the Giants, had a game rarely seen in the World Series when he hit three home runs in his first three at bats.

Only three other players have ever done this.  Albert Pujols did it.  So did Reggie Jackson.  Oh, and Babe Ruth.

That, friends, is heady company.

Needless to say, we - Randy and I and his brother Richie and Randy's friend Rob - had a grand time.  Cheering until we were hoarse, drinking until we got to Happy and beyond.

And then there was Pablo.

And then there was Pablo, Pablo Sandoval doing this thing that had only been done thrice before.

And then there was Pablo

The Giants won the game last night.  Battered the best pitcher in baseball until he left the mound - bewildered at the devastation that had been visited upon him.  Devastation that for him, for a pitcher with his credentials, had been unimaginable only an hour before.

The final score was the San Francisco Giants 8, the Detroit Tigers 3.  Game One was in the books, and I had seen it in person, and it was the greatest game I've ever seen as an adult.

The Greek guilt, though, lingered.  This, then, would be when the Greek absolution comes in.  Mr. Pastis is, like me, Greek.  So he understood.  Like me, he is a baseball fan.  He told Jerry - our events coordinator - that if he had tickets to last night's game, he would have been there, too.

Laughing off my absence with grace and charm.

Throughout the event, our customers kept him updated on the progress of the game.  So everyone had a grand time in Alameda - like we were having across the bay - laughing with Mr. Pastis but checking the score and letting him know when the good bits happened.

When I came into work this morning, I saw that Jerry had left my stack of books - now signed - just to the left side of the computer monitor that has Pig and Rat taped to it.  In front of the monitor lay our autograph book.  I took it in hand, flipped it open to the pages Mr. Pastis had signed.

And this is the Absolution I found:


Mr. Pastis - the Pig in me thanks you.   The Rat in me wants to buy you a drink.  Metaxa, rocks.  And not just any Metaxa, but the Private Reserve.  Have you tried it?  It's sublime.

Did I say thanks?


The gauntlet is thrown!

In response to my previous post where I introduced the Orange & Black #2 - a cocktail to celebrate the San Francisco Giants' trip to the 2012 World Series - I received this comment from Nick Britsky:

Hello! Are you based out of San Francisco? I write and enjoy your site. I'm based out of Detroit. Are you up for a wager or a drink off? 

Oh, baseball, how do I love thee?  Oh, friendly wager, how do I love thee, also?

First, please - visit Nick's site.  It's much better than my own, and if you are a drink-fancier, you'll love it.  If you enjoy interesting people writing about interesting things, you'll love it.  The only thing wrong with Mr. Britsky is that he, alas, lives in Michigan.  Thus, he is a fan of the Detroit Tigers and as such is root-root-rooting for them to be victorious in this, the 108th playing of the Fall Classic.

I, of course, denizen of the Bay Area, pray that the San Francisco Giants slay the Motor City beast, the beast with three heads - Verlander, the greatest pitcher in the game; the Prince, one of the biggest, most fearsome hitters in any league; and Cabrera, who did nothing special this year except win the Triple Crown, something that hadn't been done since Sgt. Pepper was new to the charts.

So, Mr. Britsky - or Nick, may I call you Nick?  A wager you say?  Indeed?

I'm in.

I will happily send you a bottle of St. George's finest.  This distillery calls my city - Alameda - its own.  Or perhaps you would prefer a bottle of Old Potrero Single Malt from San Francisco's Anchor Distilling Company?

Of course, you would only receive these if the unthinkable happens - if your Tigers recover from last night's loss to win the Series.

Or perhaps, perhaps, you have something else in mind?

Nick, what say you, good sir?


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Orange and Black #2


1.5 oz. Tequila
.5 oz. Cointreau

.5 oz. lime juice
2/3 cups chopped apricots
1 cup ice

Blend all until slushy. Pour into glass rimmed with coarse black salt.
For the San Francisco Giants.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Game 7? What Game 7?

No, I won't be attending Game 7 tonight in San Francisco.

To the uninitiated, the San Francisco Giants are playing in the seventh and deciding game of the National League Championship Series.  Winner takes all and goes to the World Series.  Loser goes home.

The last time the Giants played a seventh game similar to this was fifty years ago when they battled the New York Yankees in the World Series.

The Giants lost that one - many think it's time to make that right.

There's a little bit of history tonight.  The Giants have never one a Game 7 in their 128 years of being a baseball team.  They are 0-5 in that scenario.  That's significant.  As significant as the fact that the Giants had also never had one of their own pitch a perfect game.  In 128 years.

Until this year.

When Matt Cain did just that.

Tonight's starting pitcher for the Giants?  Matt Cain.

I received an invite to attend this game, this game that's starting in just a few minutes.  I answered in the affirmative.  Hell, yeah!


Except that moments after accepting the invitation - I looked up at my calendar and saw that I had agreed to help out at a book event for a sister-store in Burlingame tonight.  That event begins at six o'clock.  The game begins at 5:07.

Not a propitious state of affairs.

Still, a deal's a deal.  And I said I would work the event.  Someone else would have blown off the book thing for the chance to see history.  Someone else, though, wouldn't have to deal with my own Greek guilt.  So off to Burlingame I go.  Alas, it's not a Pulitzer winner I'll be seeing this evening down in the Peninsula.  It's, you know, Captain Underpants.

Thankfully, I have a friend who is a teacher, a teacher who asks her students to write to Dav Pilkey every year as he is a favorite.  So there's that.  I'll get a book signed for her, for them.

After all, what's the alternative? 

Besides - seeing that historic game I described?  I'm sure there'll be another Game 7 fifty years from now.


addendum to October Baseball and Thursday night ghosts

I called my mom today to tell her about seeing my dad last week - Dad who died two years ago March 1st.

She'd understand - she's Greek.

Before I could tell her about what happened last Thursday, about how the visual prompt of seeing the outside escalators at Candlestick Park had led me to seeing my dad in the night air, all around - before I could tell her that, my Mom says,

I have something to tell you.

What's that? I say.

I went to pick up a prescription, she said, at Costco (where my dad worked before he got sick), and when I was waiting in line, one of the ladies there saw me and came out front.  Anna, she said, it's so good to see you.  I just wanted to let you know how much I miss Tony - especially now with the Giants doing so well.  Oh, how we talked about the Giants!  He would have loved this, Anna.  He would have been so excited to see this happening and we would have had such fun talking about it.

I miss him.  I miss Tony so much.  He was so special.  He was so nice to all of us, to everyone.  But baseball!  We had so much fun talking about baseball.

I do miss him.

There at the end, my Mom's crying a little.  I'm crying a little.  And my mom says, Oh, Tony.  Tony.

And I ask, When was that, Mom?

What? she says.

When did that happen?

Oh, she says, last week.  Let's see - I went to pick up my medicine on, on...Thursday, she says.  It was last Thursday.

Thursday, I say.  Can I tell you a story about last Thursday, Mom?

What happened on Thursday? my mom says.

I saw Dad, I say.  I saw Dad.

October Baseball and Thursday night ghosts

On Tuesday, October 9th, the San Francisco Giants were fighting for their postseason lives.  In the opening round of the 2012 Playoffs, the Giants had lost the first two games against the Cincinnati Reds in a best-of-five series.  If the Reds won just once more, they'd punch their ticket to the second round.

The Giants had lost those first two games at home and were facing a historically impossible task:  to win three games - on the road.  No team in the history of baseball had ever won three games on the road after losing the first two in a best-of-five series.

That Tuesday night, I was in San Francisco by invitation of the gracious Cheri Hickman to celebrate the release of Canal House Cooks Every Day.  Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton are the brains behind Canal House Cooking - the magazine - and now they're behind the publication of this beautiful book.

The night before, Monday, I'd mixed myself a Jack Manhattan from Canal House Cooking Volume No. 2.


2 oz. Jack Daniel's whiskey
.75 oz. sweet vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 (or 2!) Luxardo Maraschino cherries

Put a big handful of ice cubes in a large glass. Add the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. Stir gently. Strain into a chilled, stemmed cocktail glass. Add the cherries.

On the Tuesday, I drove into the City in record time.  Propitious.  Then I found parking - on Columbus - a block from the party.  If you haven't tried to find parking in San Francisco, early in the evening, on Columbus!, you don't know how propitious this is.  

Trust me.  Propitious.  I took both these as good signs, took the good signs to mean that the Giants would be victorious in this, the third game of their series.  All they had to do was win that game.  They needn't think about all the history that weighed against them.  Just win that night and live another day.

I had some time to kill because I'd made such good time driving into the City, so I tarried on Columbus and found a bar with a television facing the street.  Giordano's is just past the Stinking Rose and there was a small group of baseball fans pausing there on the sidewalk just like me.  The most vocal of the fans was a cabdriver, Rick, who drove for DeSoto.  I wouldn't have hopped in a cab Rick was driving because he'd had a bit to imbibe - but as far as shooting the breeze on a Tuesday night while the Giants battled on the big screen inside Giordano's?  No better companion.

As the Giants retired the Reds, as they forced extra innings in this elimination game with the score tied 1-1, as I stood there next to the streetlight with the Italian band of colors - green over white over red, the triptych you find on all the streetlights in North Beach - who should come walking down the street but Scott, a compatriot from my bookstore's home office.

No one leaves! Rick-the-cabby implored everyone gathered on the sidewalk.  No one leaves!

Scott checked his watch, saw we had a few precious minutes before six o'clock tolled, and so he tarried there with me.  Tarried as Buster Posey led off the tenth with a single, followed by Hunter Pence who also singled.  And if there are two batters with better names in a baseball lineup than Buster and Hunter, I haven't seen them.

Tick tock, though, tick tock, and duty called at the dinner we were now two minutes late for.  When Brandon Belt struck out, we took our leave - after I made Rick-the-cabby swear that he'd bring the game safely home.

Courtesy of Michael Barnard
So we left, and enjoyed an unbelievable meal at the hands of Mesdames Hirsheimer and Hamilton. And while we all were engrossed in this most amazing meal, there may have been some surreptitious checking of phones to follow the game - to smile when Buster scored the go-ahead run.  To smile bigger when the Reds were retired in order in the bottom of the tenth.

Thus would begin a historic comeback as the Giants - after winning the next night, and then also on the Thursday night - did become the first team ever to win three games on the road to win that series.

When the Giants began the next series, at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, they opened the same way they'd opened against the Reds - with a loss, this time against these Redbirds.

I went to the next game, less than a week ago, by invitation of my friend Randy.  Propitious events?  Propitious events again.  We left Randy's home in the Oakland Hills and arrived at the parking lot in SF that Randy prefers in about twenty minutes.  That's record time.

Bodes well, don't you think? I asked Randy.  He didn't reply, he was busy checking the lot - the lot he prefers, but the lot that seemed to be full.

I pulled into the lot - and an attendant told me to just leave the car where it was.  We were the last car admitted into Randy's preferred lot that late afternoon, and to a superstitious baseball fan - that also boded well. 

Yes, Randy, yes? I prodded.  Sure, he said, Sure.

And while Randy may not be as superstitious as I am, may not see phantoms in the shadows and signs in singing of a bird, he did assure me that he certainly wasn't wearing the same cap he'd worn the day before when the Giants lost.

So there's that.

And the Giants would win that night, in grand fashion, and during the game I bought my new favorite hat.  My new favorite lucky hat - lucky because the Giants won while I wore it - final score 7-1.  Lucky because I made everyone sitting near us doff that cap - for luck, of course - and they all did, happily. 

Then, though, things took a sad turn for the San Francisco team when they traveled to St. Louis to play three games in a row.  They lost the first two.  After Wednesday, they trailed the series - this time a best-of-seven - two games to one.  And then after Thursday, they trailed 3-1, leaving St. Louis with the enviable task of just having to win one more game to get to the World Series.  This they could do the next night, on the Friday.  All they had to do was win that game and they would get to stay home and greet the Detroit Tigers in the 108th World Series.  

Something funny happened on the way to that victory, though.  Let's back up to Thursday, again.  To the game the Giants would lose, again.  During their Thursday game in St. Louis I was at Candlestick Park in San Francisco watching a ho-hum game that the 49ers would eventually win.  Checking the Giants' score and seeing they wouldn't.  Eventually win.  In the middle of the game, I uncharacteristically made light of the Giants' plight.  I took to the airwaves to post:

Niner game is just so-so. I mean, it's a beautiful night at the Stick. Wondering how the Giants are doing, though.

That would be sarcasm re Giants. Grr.

I don't often poke at the boys because it's not good form, but they were getting plastered and that's no fun and there may have been some alcohol involved.

But did I mention that something funny happened?  I haven't driven to the Stick in years - the Giants began play at Pac Bell in 2000, and we'd stopped driving to football games before that.  But last Thursday?  Harry missed the bus - literally - and so he drove there after his mediation concluded in the City.

After the game, we walked around the stadium to get to the parking lot, to Harry's parked Audi.  I haven't been on the east side of Candlestick since I've driven to a game there.  So it's been twelve years, at least.  And when Harry and I took the turn around the stadium, suddenly there was the long escalator that rises to the upper deck - the escalator that my family and I took on so many occasions.  And there in front of the escalator were all the ticket gates where we bought tickets for Giants' games, back when you could drive to the game and buy tickets on the same day.

The same gates my family used for years during our trips to Candlestick, the gates I hadn't seen - nor thought of - in years.

And suddenly my dad was all around.  He was everywhere.  My dad who died in March of 2010, who died before the Giants would win their first San Francisco World Series - my dad who loved the Giants maybe more than me or any of my brothers.  My dad who taught me how to listen to baseball on the radio.  Who took me to my first game in 1971.  Who took me, along with my mom, to all those Bel Passi baseball games when I was a kid - to cheer on a boy who had none of his talent but plenty of his passion.

And suddenly my dad was all around.  Suddenly it was 1971, for that first game, and suddenly it's 1975 when we saw Ed Halicki's no-hitter, and suddenly it's May of 1987 and we're all there for my birthday, and suddenly it's 1992 and we're watching some of the last games to be played in San Francisco because the Giants are headed to Florida - or so everyone thought.

And suddenly my dad was all around on Thursday night - and with bay mist hitting our faces, with that escalator and those gates in sight for the first time in years, it's all those years and all those games all at once - with my dad all around.

It takes the world's biggest egotist - and you won't find a bigger egotist than a writer - to think that his dead father would visit him to send the message:  don't worry, your San Francisco Giants will be ok.  But I'm here to tell you that was my first thought.

Of course, now, on Sunday - I realize how silly that reads.

But I know this - suddenly my dad was all around.  On Thursday night I was overcome by the sense that my dad was there, all around.  And that I was incredibly calm.

Calm in a way I haven't been in a long time.

Just - calm.

I know that I didn't have much stress yesterday during the Giants' game.  I always have stress during Giants' games - especially in October.

I know I didn't have stress during tonight's game - and when I started writing, I didn't know who was going to win but I knew who was going to win.

Probably - you might say, with a smirk - probably you were feeling the alcohol, and that was all.  Or maybe, just maybe, I was tired. 

Or - or - my dad was giving me one more chance to say hello and goodbye.  Because I know this - have I said I know this?  Have I said that suddenly my dad was all around?  That my dad was there, the same way he was there so many times over so many years.  Right there - buying tickets for us all, leading us to that escalator on our way to the upper deck. 

Thanks, dad.  Thanks.  It was good seeing you.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Crossing the bay with Tony La Russa and his three big rings in one small boat

Tony La Russa is one of the greatest managers in baseball history.  He's third on the all-time wins list, one of only a very few to win a World Series in both the American and National Leagues - and one of a small, select number to be named Manager of the Year in both those leagues.

I mean, I'm still a little hacked off that he beat the San Francisco Giants in 1989, but I've gotten over that.


So when I found out that he was coming to the store to promote his memoir, One Last Strike, I was excited.  The only thing better than baseball is a good baseball story, and I had no doubt that Mr. La Russa had a good story to tell.

On the morning of the event, just before we opened, I received a phone call.  It was a representative for Mr. La Russa - Elena - asking if I had a boat.

At first, I thought she was pulling my leg.  We'd already changed the time and day of the event - twice - so I fancied that the caller was having a little fun at my expense.

Stolen from a Lara Morris Starr post.
Turns out Elena was deadly serious.  See, when they last rescheduled the time of our event, 48 hours before it was set to happen, someone hadn't taken into account that the reason for the change was so Mr. La Russa could be at the Giants' game that night.  But our bookstore is on an island in the bay - not in San Francisco, not at all - so timing had become an issue.  There was no way to get from Alameda to the City, not by driving on the freeway.  880 Gridlock was guaranteed - not only because of the traffic for the game, but for the traffic with everything happening in San Francisco that weekend.

But if I had a boat - if we could bypass the cars by taking the water?  Mr. La Russa just might make the game.

Turns out, though, I don't have a boat.

I know, I know - bookselling is such a booming concern that people think we booksellers do have that yacht waiting for us at the dock, along with the caviar and the supermodel.

Alas!  Not I.  However, I do know boat owners, and after ascertaining that Elena wasn't kidding, I made some calls.  I started with the person who was closest to me - close in the sense of working right across the street at Tucker's Ice Cream.  Kate would be helping us out later that day - before Mr. La Russa signed his books, we were having a tail-gate.  Kate was providing chocolate malts, the good people from the Alameda Education Foundation were cooking up hot dogs - we had planned on having a regular ol' party.

But while Kate and David did indeed have themselves a boat, it was a sailboat.  Not a perfect solution because sailboats are fickle, literally subjects to the whims of the wind.

Then I sent a message to another friend who lives on the island - but that other friend didn't get the message in time.  It was Saturday morning, after all - people were busy with their weekend lives.

Candymaker or Captain?
Three times is a charm, yes?  So I called Jengiz.  After a quick session of phone-tag, I got hold of him.

You want me to take Tony La Russa across the bay in my boat? Jengiz asked.

I do, I said.  I do.

There are many ways that Jengiz could have answered my query.  He could have asked if I was kidding (my initial response).  He could have asked for details.  Hell, he could have hung up.  So I wasn't expecting an enthusiastic - Sure!  That's sounds great.

Right now?  All I'm saying is - everyone needs a friend with a boat, a friend who will assent to offer last year's manager of the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals a ride across a blustery San Francisco Bay at a moment's notice.

On his boat.

Just so you know - Jengiz said - it's small.  Sixteen feet.  And sixteen feet isn't big when you're talking about a boat.

I said I'd explain that to Elena, that I'd have her call him.

There was then a series of phone calls between Elena and Jengiz, where Jengiz reiterated that he'd be happy to be the Ferryman, but that the ferry in question was not big.  Was in fact small.

This was not a problem, Elena assured him - because a boat was required and Jengiz had a boat so we were in business.

I will take this moment to assert that there should be a Bookseller's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and that we Alameda booksellers should be enshrined there because WE FOUND A BOAT FOR AN AUTHOR IN THE AMOUNT OF TIME IT TAKES A PITCHER TO WARM UP.

I'm just saying.

Courtesy of Gregg Cevallos
My last conversation with Elena ended with her saying that if I went on the boat - as Jengiz had suggested - she'd appreciate it if I looked after Mr. La Russa.  He's not great in the water, she said, so if there should be any trouble....

She let that thought be washed away with the tide - and then she laughed.  I have a lot invested in him, she laughed again, so you both take care, ok?

We sold a lot of books that afternoon.  We'd have some angry customers that night, customers who'd come when we'd been advertising the event.  But that afternoon?  With folks looking at the Three Rings Mr. La Russa took off his fingers so people could get a better look?  Three Rings indicating Three Championships - any one Championship the result of so many quirks, so many good decisions, so many breaks, that determining the odds of winning just One is beyond the realm of the best mathematicians and the smartest bookies.  And there was Mr. La Russa with Three.

After the event, Mr. La Russa followed us (Jengiz, his wife and two kids, me) to the dock at Jack London Square in Oakland.  Jengiz' wife, Claudia, had brought their two little girls to the store.  They would accompany Jengiz and me across the bay.  We all chatted there in the back - about Claudia teaching in Oakland, about Jengiz' work as a nurse - and when Mr. La Russa found out my coworker, Duane, was a Pats fan, he pulled out his camera and showed Duane pictures of Belichick and the gang at games from Spring Trainings past.

Just shooting the breeze, but the trip across the bay loomed.  When Mr. La Russa asked if Claudia would also be going, she said no.

Mr. La Russa laughed, laughed and said he'd feel better - safer? - if a school-teacher accompanied us, figuring that she had more sense than Jengiz and I (which is undoubtedly true).

There's not room, Claudia said.  It's a pretty small boat.

How small?  Well, that question was answered when we arrived at Jack London Square and walked down the dock where Jengiz had moored his boat.  On the right side of that dock was a beauty of a boat.  Long and sleek, it looked like something out of Flash Gordon, all chrome pipes and polished teak and ready for a runway.

That wasn't Jengiz' boat.

On the left was another gorgeous creation - smaller, a bit, but with brass and darker wood, both gleaming.

That wasn't Jengiz' boat, either.  And actually, you couldn't see Jengiz' boat as we marched down the dock because that second boat?  The shiny, smaller one with brass?  It hid Jengiz' boat.

Courtesy of Claudia Hung Haas
Jengiz' boat?  It's super cute.  If I had a boat, it's the kind of boat I'd have.  It would be perfect for me and Karen and the girls to take out on a calm day.  And everything that I'd learned about Mr. La Russa in the short time I'd been around him that afternoon - that he was informal, that he didn't stand on ceremony, that he insisted on being called Tony, not Mr. La Russa - spoke to the fact that he was truly grateful for the ride and that it didn't matter that the boat was, yes, small.

Still, it was kind of funny.

Jengiz unmoored that good ship Lollipop and we headed off - but with me sitting in the back, the boat rode low in the water, so Jengiz had me sit on a bench tucked in the front, while his girls moved aft.  The first wake we hit sent the boat up and then down, fast - sending me up and then down even faster.  I cracked my head on the way up, and then crashed through the bench on the way down.

I don't think I broke the bench - I think it actually was designed to come apart the way it did.

I think.

We hit a few more wakes like that, going up and then coming down, hard.  At one point, Mr. La Russa, er - Tony - inquired if it was concrete that we had landed on and not water, because it felt pretty solid on the follow through.

Jengiz kept asking if we were ok - he wasn't too concerned about his beautiful girls, they were absolute little giggle monsters there in the rear, totally unconcerned with the wobbly trip.  Mr. La Russa - I mean, Tony - finally answered that the reason he was wearing his sunglasses was so Jengiz and I couldn't see that his eyes were rolling around in his head like marbles.

Wake - thump - smash.

What do you talk about when you're late for a playoff ballgame and you're chugging across the bay to McCovey Cove?  Baseball stuff, for sure.  How'd Tony feel about Ron Washington not making it back to the Series?   Not bad, not bad at all.

How'd he feel about the blown Infield Fly against the Braves?  Mainly, he'd asked Commissioner Bud Selig what the protocol was.  Turns out, there is no protocol, it's a judgment call, and as such it is not subject to review.

But I was most interested in the non-arcane things we discussed.  Get any group of people of a certain age together in a room - and if they've been in the Bay Area long enough, and if today's date is looming - if October 17th is in the air - someone's sure to ask, Where were you during the earthquake?

23-years-ago today, just after five in the afternoon, I was underground at the Powell Street BART station headed home to Oakland to catch the end of the game when the ground shook and the lights went out and people started screaming - and without the benefit of emergency lights, I lit my Zippo and led some folks up through the dark and into the light of that pretty but awful afternoon.

Tony?  Of course he had the story to trump all stories.  His Oakland A's had won the first two games of the 1989 World Series.  Game 3 was set to begin on October 17th at 5:35 p.m. - but at 5:04, the Loma Prieta Earthquake shook Northern California.

Tony said that after the A's took those first two games, his rival in the other dugout, Roger Craig, told him - Just you wait.  You haven't heard fans like the fans we have in San Francisco.  It's going to be so loud, you're not going to know what hit you.

So there's Tony, sitting in the dugout before the game, and he says, I heard this sound unlike anything I'd ever heard before, and I thought, Craig wasn't kidding.  It was loud.  But then I looked out at the light towers across Candlestick Park and they were swaying back and forth, and I that's when we knew that something else was happening - and Tony La Russa was at the television center of it.

That's what we talked about - just stuff.  Again cementing the notion that Mr. La - Tony - was unpretentious in the extreme.

I almost forgave him the outcome of the '89 World Series.


Then the ballpark was ahead, and Jengiz maneuvered to a small dock about the size of your dining room, a dock I'd never noticed before because it's dwarfed by the dock for the ferry.  Jengiz jumped off and tied his boat down, and was quickly followed by his kids, by Tony, and then me.

I was going to take a quick picture of Jengiz and his kids with Tony before he hustled off to the game - and that's when the harpy started yelling at us.  There was a steep set of stairs leading from that small dock up to the promenade behind the park, and at the top of those stairs stood a security person yelling down at us that we weren't allowed on that dock and to get the heck out of there.

Jengiz, with a maestro's confidence, gestured to our guest and shouted - But this is Tony La Russa.

Tony held out the quite impressive MLB passes that he now wore around his neck - but the harpy didn't care, or didn't know who Tony was, and she kept kvetching at us.

My last image of Tony is of him standing at the top of the stairs, trying to convince the harpy that she should unlock the gate so he could get going on be his way - when suddenly, the Blue Angels thundered by overhead.

With our trusty Captain back at the controls, we left McCovey Cove and headed back across the big water to the East Bay.

The lights of the City were just coming on.  Jengiz tousled his daughter's hair and smiled.

Did we just give Tony La Russa a ride across the bay? he said.

We did, I said.

And so we both smiled.

I knew this was going to be a good day, he said.  And indeed - Jengiz had posted that morning:   Oh how great it is to be getting up this morning and thinking how beautiful the Bay Area is.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I'm Losing My Imagination

Yesterday was Picture Day at school for both girls.  Elizabeth wasn't happy.  Our third-grader was making a scene about what she should wear, and the level of drama was uncharacteristic for her.  In the midst of me telling her that I liked the floral print, and Karen urging her to wear the dress with the pink flower, Elizabeth blurted out--

I have something important to tell you!

That stopped me and Karen.  Karen over by the piano while I stood in the dining room, both of us looking at our Elizabeth from different directions.

Through tears - but with an urgent voice - Elizabeth said, I'm losing my imagination.

What, honey? Karen asked.

Yesterday, Elizabeth said.  Kristina and I were playing dolls in the backseat, and it wasn't the same.

It wasn't the same, she said again.  And little Elizabeth shook as she struggled with those words.

What do you do at a time like that?

Karen reacted better than I did - hugging our daughter, patting her freshly brushed hair.  Her long hair that they'd both worked on to make especially pretty for Picture Day.  But what do you do?  For a child who's so self-aware that she knows when her imaginary world - the world where she and her sister spend so much happy time together - what do you do for a child when that world begins to disappear down a rabbit hole?

Karen knows better than I do that Elizabeth is at the age when that wonderfully rich world inside a child's mind begins to change.  When the fairies and princesses become less real.  When the Barbies and stuffed rabbits shift into being just toys, toys without the ability to talk back.

It's so hard to remember that time, to remember that there very well could be a real-life Paddington Bear with a note attached - Please Look After This Bear.  Why not?  Why couldn't he be real?  He was real enough to me in 1972, I just hadn't met him yet.

But did I actually remember that?  Could I place myself in the position of my child where it wasn't pretty to think so, but back to when Paddington was real?

I can't recall.  Not with any certainty.  I do know that I was never aware of the change as it occurred.  It just happened without my acknowledgement, like time's passage while I sleep.

What to do, what to do?  Besides telling Elizabeth I love her, besides holding her hand extra soft as we walked to class in the morning, besides hugging her extra hard as Kristina and I left her on the playground with her friends and headed to Kristina's Kindergarten class.

The next day, today, I tried to circle back.  Threw out that books will always provide a wonderful escape and that they'll always be there for her - pawns that she can move across a board of her own devising whenever and wherever she wants.

I know that, Daddy, she said.  But books, they tell you things.  It's different than just my imagination.

And then Elizabeth moved the hair out of my eyes with the same gentleness I had just used on hers.

She smiled - and if ever there was a sad, reflective smile, it was then.

Checkmated by an eight-year-old.

What to do?

What to do.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nick's Rickey

When bad days lead into bad nights, sometimes I want to crush something.  When that happens, I make myself a Joe Rickey.  A Rickey can be a lot of different things, like a martini can be a lot of different things all calling themselves a martini.  But the original Rickey?  The original was Joe.

Colonel Joe Rickey was a mover and shaker for the Democrats in Washington D.C. in the 1870's and '80's - making the Joe Rickey cocktail a classic of the classics.  In the midst of the Colonel's morning constitutional, he'd often find himself at Shoomaker's Bar in D.C. where his favorite barkeep, George Williamson, would serve him a bourbon and soda.  That's one way to start your day.

During one particular dawn - so the story goes - Mr. Williamson dropped half a lime in the Colonel's glass.  The Colonel enjoyed what had been created and ever after requested half a crushed lime in his bourbon.  Pretty soon, other gents would belly up to Mr. Williamson and ask for what Joe Rickey was having.  Voila!  A new drink.

While the Joe Rickey was popular, it went transcontinental when people started making it with gin instead of bourbon.  The Gin Rickey - I think I can I think I can - was a locomotive compared to Joe Rickey's freight train, so most people know the Gin Rickey but forget poor old Joe.

Not tonight.

Not when the Giants lose - bad.  Bad two days running.  And worse the second day than the first.  When your baseball team is on the ropes, when their hopes are slim - it can put a man in a crushing mood, have I mentioned that? 

The morning began with a remembrance not of things past, but of the fact that my simple syrup was getting low, necessitating that I cook up a new batch.  Made it a double so I could finally fill the Italian flask I bought for a friend.  I delivered that flask - tonight - along with a book, both for that friend.  Had asked my friend earlier where I could drop the goods and he said he'd leave his bar open for me.  So after work, after another crushing baseball loss, I laid a gift wrapped book down on a darkened bar top, then crawled under to where the small refrigerator is and placed the flask inside.

I forgot - there in the dark - that when I opened the fridge, light would spill out.  Would spill out and wash over the bottles on the mirrored shelves above me.  The Whistle Pig rye that had been hidden in the black of that shadowed bar suddenly sparked to life.

That's when I remembered my friend's words.  His words encouraging me, prodding me - almost a command, were those words.

For he had written - and I quote - "Help yourself to a drink." 

How could I not, thus enjoined?  Especially when there, suddenly, where all had been black moments before, the Whistle Pig had taken center stage under the lights, practically begging Mr. DeMille for a closeup.  Dare I turn my back on a friend's entreaty?

I dare not.

So I took a healthy swig of the Pig.  Just one, mind you.  Just the one.

But a good one.

Emboldened, I knew I'd have another when I got home.  After a day selling books while listening to my Giants die on the ball field.


So when I got home, I'd make a Joe Rickey, a Joe Rickey because I was in the mood to rend, to crush, to destroy.  If you don't know the tragedy of bleak October baseball, you may not understand.  But try try try to understand, I'm a manic man when it comes to days like these.

Imagine my shock, then, when I got home and realized I didn't have any limes.  One over sized Key lime, yes.  But Key limes, of course, are a little more tart, a little more bitter.

A little more bitter?

That's when Nick's Rickey was born.

A more bitter fruit was just what the doctor ordered for the messed up night the Giants had delivered.  Not to mention the debacle at work yesterday - but that's another story for another day.  Suffice it to say, a bitter weekend begged for a bitter fruit. 

So I grabbed me a wicked little knife we keep hidden from the girls because it's so sharp, so lethal.  And with its curved blade I sliced through the Key quick and deep.  I took a highball glass - no time to chill it - and added bourbon.  Threw in two rocks, then crushed that goddamn Key lime in my fist, over the glass, and threw the whole thing in.

And that's the difference, friends - small, but crucial.  A Joe Rickey calls for a lime, neatly cut in half.  That half is squeezed with grace and tact over your glass, and then gently dropped.  Nick's Rickey?  Slice yourself a Key lime, slice it good, then crush it in your hand.  Let it fall like some wounded angel into your crystal, wipe your palm on your jeans before you bury that Key lime under more rocks and then, then?  Drown the bastard in soda.

You can add a splash of simple syrup if you'd like, if your heart isn't as black as mine is tonight.  That splash of sweet will fight with the bitter, if that's the fight you want.

Drink and repeat, because once you get a taste for cutting, you'll have to do it again.

So again? 

2 oz. Bulleit bourbon
1 Key lime
Soda water
Splash simple syrup
Add bourbon to a highball glass, then add ice.  Slice a Key lime deeply and with pleasure.  Squeeze it over the bourbon.  Let it fall.  Add more ice, fill glass with Soda water.  Splash it with simple syrup.  Stir.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

World's Best Cocktails? Count the Gin Basil Smash as one

My new hero is Tom Sandham.  Keyholder for the PDT bar in New York.  Jetsetter, always on the lookout for the perfect drink.  Cocktail columnist for the Times - London, not New York. 

People?  I didn't know cocktail columnist was a job description.  Clearly, I'm in the wrong line of work.

Oh, and Mr. Sandham is the author of World's Best Cocktails.  You want this book - and you can have it since it was just released in the States.  Gorgeous photography.  Wonderful and witty writing.  Both the photos and the writing are in support of 500 signature drinks from around the globe.  He includes bar and bartender profiles in addition to the drinks.

And the drinks?  This book is the best alcohol porn I've come across in a while. 

Some of the drinks aren't for the home bartender.  The Emerald, for instance, showcases 18-year-old Chivas - and while the Chivas would have made my dad smile, the Green Apple Foam to top the drink would have had him laughing. 

Green Apple Foam (from page 185):

With a blender, mix 8.5 oz. apple juice with 1 tsp. xanthan gum.  Double strain to separate the liquid from the foam.  Fill a whipped cream siphon with the foam.  Charge with 2 nitrous oxide/N20 canisters.

But books like this - and it's one of the recent best - showcase the beautiful and the sublime.  It doesn't matter that you don't have nitrous canisters (you don't, right?), what matters is that Mr. Sandham puts you at the bar with Max Warner, the global brand ambassador for Chivas (another job description I did not know existed), and Mr. Warner can mix you up that Emerald, and away you go.

The book is intelligent, sumptuous, and Mr. Sandham's guiding hand is always sure.

I took a stab at the Gin Basil Smash on page 100 because it looked delicious (and because my garden's basil was fast running out).

The drink's a beauty, created by Jorg Meyer, owner of Le Lion bar in Hamburg, Germany.  Mr. Sandham begins his book with his list of the World's Top 30 Cocktail Bars, and Le Lion makes it there at #18 - as does Rickhouse (#6), the closest (to me) bar on his list.  If you're not busy, why not meet me in San Francisco?  It's on Kearny, just below Bush.  You'll love their Rye Maple Fizz.

For now, please enjoy the


Fresh, sweet basil
1.75 oz. Gin
4 tsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. simple syrup
Muddle the basil in a shaker.  Add remaining ingredients and ice.  Shake.  Fine strain into a chilled rocks glass, over.  Garnish with a lemon wedge and a sprig of basil.