Jonathan Sanchez's No-Hitter Reminds an Estranged Giants Fan What Fandom Is Like
As a Giants fan, I couldn't be prouder of Jonathan Sanchez.
There wasn't a guy on this team who needed this moment more.
After all the tough starts this season, amidst all the trade rumors that had been centering on him since June and with his Major League career possibly on the line in a meaningless game against the last-place Padres in July, Sanchez was perfect on Friday night.
Yet despite his record feat, this isn't a column about Sanchez's no-hitter. Sanchez's no-hitter is part of the story, but it is only a piece, not the crutch of the tale.
This rather is a story of a fan's relationship with the Giants team itself.
For as most people know, being a fan of a team is similar to being in a serious relationship.
There are ups and downs. There are good times and bad times. There are moments when you can't feel happier. There are unfortunate periods where you are just completely miserable.
My relationship with the Giants has been estranged for two years.
I hadn't quit on the Giants or given up on the organization though.
Rather, for the past two summers, I was in a different state studying and working at my college, Gonzaga University, which is located in the state of Washington.
Let's just say it isn't exactly a state that bleeds orange and black.
For the past two years, watching Giants games had been a chore and a luxury. If I could find a bar that had the MLB Extra Innings package and was playing a Giants game, I thanked my lucky stars.
Rarely did that ever happen, though. I think it only happened on one occasion, and by that time the Giants were already out of the NL West race.
Instead, most of my summer nights the past two seasons were spent at college bars where there were barely any televisions at all, let alone one that would be showing a Giants game.
On some nights, I was cooped up in a cubicle on the fourth floor of the Spokesman-Review newspaper building recording box scores of American Legion baseball tournament games until 11 p.m.
The only way I was able to follow the Giants was through Gamecasts and postgame recaps on ESPN.
Let's just say watching a Gamecast didn't exactly satisfy my yearning for Bay Area baseball.
In some ways, for the past two years, the Giants and I were apart much like a husband and wife going through a separation period.
We weren't divorced, but we were certainly keeping a distance from each other.
Deep down, as those two years passed, I still loved the Giants.
That being said, I couldn't be with them, and during that time span, I wasn't sure when I would be back with them again, either.
My future with this franchise was unpredictable, much like a separated couple that had fallen on hard times, unsure what to do with their relationship.
When I came back home after graduating college, with no plans until August, I was able to once again watch Giants games on television.
It was refreshing to finally see commercials on television of Giants players like Brian Wilson and Tim Lincecum rather than ones of Mariners players like Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre.
Yet for some reason, it was hard to get back into the groove of things as a Giants fan.
After all, I was two years removed from watching, following and being exposed to the Giants on a regular basis, so it was safe to say it took me back a little simply because I was prepared for it after such a long hiatus.
I enjoyed watching the games again, but as I watched the games, I questioned how deep my love for the Giants really went.
It wasn't a question of whether I was going to stick with the team, it was a question of how my love for the Giants compared to other teams I liked in other sports.
Was I as big a Giants fans as I was a Niners fan? Was I a bigger fan of my alma mater, Gonzaga? Did I like the California Golden Bears above all my favorite teams?
In the beginning of this summer, I was unsure. I certainly liked the Giants, but where they stood in the pantheon of my favorite teams was hard to determine.
In the past, I always considered the Giants my favorite sports team without question. Yet when the baseball season started to take full swing, I found it more difficult to fully stand by that notion after years of up-close exposure to Gonzaga basketball.
Then, in late June, two days after Father's Day, I took my Dad to the Oakland A's-San Francisco Giants game.
Randy Johnson pitched the Giants to an easy 6-3 win, yet the victory was not as important as the feeling I got after Wilson shut the door in the ninth.
For the first time since my senior year in high school, I went to a Giants game and once again recaptured the joy of watching Giants baseball in person.
Furthermore, I also realized that I loved this 2009 team.
As strange as this sounds to a lot of baseball fans, this is the kind of Giants team I always wished for. They have a scrappy, fun, no-name lineup, and a rotation that includes two budding aces and a legend.
Then again, it's not just the talent that endears me so much to this year's squad.
Every year there were guys on the team that I didn't like who prevented me from fully embracing the Giants that respective year.
Last season, they had Dave Roberts, a former Dodger. The season before they had the overpaid, overrated Matt Morris in the rotation.
This season however, there hasn't been that guy, that player that holds me back from fully embracing this team.
Sure, there are guys I expect more from, but I don't hate any of the players. They're all likable guys on and off the field, and it seems everyone on the team realizes that as well.
Because in all honesty, I don't think I've seen a Giants team this jovial in the dugout in well...ever.
Or at least in my lifetime.
That's how special this season has become to me.
When you think about it, being back in California after graduation was sort of the beginning of my reconciliation with the Giants (much like a couple calling a truce after a separation period).
Furthermore, going to the A's-Giants game was like that moment when the couple finally moves back together into the house.
Just because I was back in the house however with the Giants, it didn't mean everything was back to normal like it was when I was a fan back before I left for college in Washington.
This was a team I liked, but I still wasn't totally comfortable just yet.
Despite that being the case, I was doing my best to mend that rift that happened for two years between the Giants and me.
I watched games every day religiously. I studied this team, analyzed weaknesses, strengths, anything and everything about this Giants squad and organization as a whole.
Then I began writing about this team.
You see, after writing for three years for my college newspaper, I found myself in kind of a bind. I needed to write, but I had no subject.
I was away from the Northwest sports scene and away from Gonzaga basketball, so it didn't make sense to write about those subjects anymore like I used to.
So I started writing about the Giants every day.
Little did I realize though that it would bring me back together with this Giants franchise just like old times.
It was like couples therapy. I was actively doing my part, and was actively analyzing my partner, the Giants, in addition to myself.
I found out things about this franchise, this team and my own history as a fan of the Giants that were important, even if I didn't think they were very worthwhile before.
I got closer to this team. I got more involved than I ever could imagine as I started writing more and more, just like a husband and wife gets closer after those numerous sessions with a couples therapist.
However, it was not complete yet. The writing was great, but it was only buildup, not the ultimate goal just yet.
After tonight though, I found that completeness.
Once Sanchez's nasty curveball struck out the Padres' leadoff hitter Cabrera to end the game, there was nothing more emotionally I needed to do to try to regain what I lost after those past two years.
Sanchez's no-hitter finally brought me fully back to this team.
That moment reminded me why I continue to cheer for this team, despite the distance and challenges I faced those two summers I spent in Washington where I couldn't see a Giants game to save my life.
Is it selfish of me to think of Sanchez's beautiful moment as something personal for me?
Probably. And I admit that a lot of this column most likely doesn't make sense to the common sports fan.
However, being a true sports fan rarely ever makes sense. It shouldn't make sense why I should feel such elation, relief and utter excitement after just watching a no-hitter.
Yet it does.
The no-hitter symbolizes more than that for a fan as torn as myself.
Watching that no hitter from beginning to end for me was that final confirmation that I am a Giants fan, and that nothing can sever my relationship with this team.
The no-hitter proved that those two years of separation and frustration in being away from this team was preparation for the ultimate moment that happened tonight at AT&T Park.
Because if things were the same as they were a year ago, I would have missed that moment. I would have been busy with "something else" and had to wait for another game to see my first no-hitter from beginning to end.
It is quite special the moment itself, getting to watch the no-hitter from beginning to end as a fan. It's like winning the lottery.
You don't expect it at first. Yet when it happens, you just don't know what to think because you're so happy.
I hope this is the spark Sanchez needs to revitalize his season and perhaps his career in San Francisco. I hope all those fans clamoring for Sanchez to be traded maybe aren't clamoring as loudly as before.
Sanchez got a second chance, and showed us what to do when we get second chances: make the most of it.
This 2009 Giants squad has given me a second chance as well.
They given me a chance to love a Giants baseball team again as much as I did when I was a kid, when things weren't about stats and performance, but just about the team that took the field.
Some people don't get those chances. For whatever reason, they get distanced from a team and fade away either to a different team, or away from the sport altogether.
I'm not saying that was going to happen to me, but I saw myself drifting in that direction more than once.
Not after tonight though. Not after the no-hitter Sanchez pitched, the first for a Giant since 1976.
After tonight, I'll be damned if I don't take advantage of this second chance as a Giants fan.
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