Today I went to the playoffs for the first time. My friend Timmy is a season ticket holder, and so he has first dibs on two seats at every home game during the post-season. He brought his wife to the home games throughout the NLDS series against the Braves, but today the game was during the work day, so she offered her ticket to me. When we got to our seats, the woman who owns the season tickets for the seats directly behind Timmy asked me, “Where’s his wife?” “I’m his wife today,” I answered, and then gave her a high-five.
I have never been to the playoffs. Truth is, I’ve never had a team that I really like even go to the playoffs. I’m still pretty new to baseball. I first realized that I like the game about 7 years ago, while I was working on my masters at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. I’d keep the Orioles on in the background while I studied and graded papers, and I really enjoyed it. I went from enjoying baseball to falling in love with baseball when I moved to San Francisco by watching the Giants. The team was moving away from the Barry Bonds era and into a new era, rallying behind a freakishly small pitcher and a rockstar relief pitcher and mediocre batters that you can hardly ever rely upon. I’m in my fifth season as a Giants fan. I’ve lived in other baseball towns, but didn’t care for the sport then, so I cast off the chance to be a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, a Washington Nationals fan, and even a Philadelphia Phillies fan. Those teams didn’t draw me into the game. I wasn’t ready to be a fan yet.
But the Giants have shown me what there is to love about baseball. We have a spectacular ballpark, our local commentators are about as good as you can find in the business, and we offer up some truly authentic heartbreak. There is no heartbreak like the heartbreak of baseball. I think it is the heartbreak, as much as the heroics, that have made this game our national past time, a game that has captivated our nation for over a century. I love that there is no clock. There are just nine innings. In any other sport, you can waste time and run out the clock if you’re winning. You can’t do that in baseball. You have to get those final outs, even though the effort to get them could lead to disaster. And I love the tradition behind the game. As I sat in my seat and watched the guy two seats down keep score on his well-worn scorebook, my memory ran away with me, and I thought of all of the people who have scratched out the balls and strikes into their own scorebooks while huddled around their radio to soak in a game over the ages. It’s a beautiful part of this country, this funny game, played by grown men, swinging at a small ball with sticks.
The Giants sucked when I first started watching them. They don’t suck now. They’re in the NLCS. And I went to the game today, the 3rd game of a best of 7 series and the first one at home, with the series tied 1-1. I won’t labor over the details of the game. To be brief: we won. We won 3-0. We won off of big hits from veterans and arguably over-paid and overrated players, and we won off masterful pitching from Matt Cain, who spent years pitching masterfully but losing games when he’d give up 3, maybe 4 hits, because the Giants offense couldn’t do anything to help him out. It felt so good for those guys, to win big when they have deserved to win big, and haven’t had the chance to do so over their careers. And now we’re up 2-1 in the series.
Timmy and I got to the game early, and jawed about stats and starting pitchers out in the arcade above center field while we watched the Phillies warm up. It was a beautiful sunny day, and it felt so comfortable and familiar. Fans were coyly flirting with the opposing team’s outfielders in order to convince one of these Phillies toss a ball out into the crowd, even though these same fans would, throughout the rest of the afternoon, hurl insults at the same guy every time he stepped up to bat. One fan in the left field bleachers had rigged a variation of a fishing line to get himself a baseball. He tossed a cup out onto the field, which was tied to a string, and he would reel the cup back in, trying to knock the ball to get closer to the wall. He cast over and over again, and finally got the ball just below the wall, and eventually scooped it up into his son’s eager hands. That’s a part of the magic of baseball.
It was a big game. The teams were called out to stand on the first and third base lines, while some lucky fans unrolled an American flag that covered the entire outfield. Ben Hibbard, the lead singer of Death Cab For Cutie, sang the national anthem, and two fighter planes did a ceremonial fly-by over the stadium when he finished. I had the chills. Barry Bonds threw the first pitch. Cheering at a baseball game is a wholesome and pure feeling. I didn’t care about anything except whether a team of people I don’t know would be able to beat another team of people I don’t know, in a game that I only played until 5th grade and was never really good at. And it felt great and important.
I bit the nails off of each of my fingers during the first three innings, when the Giants couldn’t hit anything that Cole Hamels was pitching. I lost my voice in the 4th inning, when we scored two runs. I had to pee during the 5th inning, and when I heard about Rowand’s double, I warned the guys nearby me at the urinals that if we scored while I was peeing, I might spray innocent bystanders. Luckily, I was back in my seat for our third run. I high-fived more people today than I actually know in real life.
Walking the long walk down the side of the stadium on the way home felt like doing countless victory laps. The crowd kept spontaneously erupting into cheers, different cheers on different levels. Sometimes it was “Let’s Go Giants!” or else an “U! Ribe!” or “Cody Ross!” or whatever. They all morphed into the chaotic, indecipherable sound of glee. It’s a long walk from the upper deck to the ground floor when it’s a sell-out crowd, and you lose track of how many loops you’ve done. But I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to keep walking around in circles to cheer with strangers over a big win.
I had my first real baseball moment today, the first one that counted at least. Today’s win counted, and I was there to absorb all that it meant to me, and to a city of baseball fans, and to a country. The Giants are not supposed to beat the Phillies in this series. They are supposed to lose. Of course, I want them to win. I want them to go to the World Series, and to win the World Series, and to win every other World Series after this year’s.
But what counts to me is that I had my baseball moment. I got to love and enjoy this victory and to be a part of it, in the flesh. I biked to the stadium, and I biked home with my bright orange Giants snuggie wrapped over my shoulders like a cape. People honked at me and fist-pumped out their windows and we yelled “Go Giants” to each other as my orange fleece flapped in the wind behind me. If the Giants lose this series, or in the World Series, I’ll be disappointed. But I’ll have gotten my moment, the first one in my nascent career as a baseball fan, and that will hold me over until next season.