This past fall, I spoke to my little brother far more often than I normally do. He’s away at college, I work, and we live on opposite coasts, so our schedules rarely seem to match.
When he left for school in August, I knew we might talk or text only a few times before I saw him at Thanksgiving. But then, the Giants played the Padres for the National League West title on the last day of the season, and he called me when Brian Wilson took the mound in the top of the ninth. Being on the East Coast, far removed from the baseball fervor of San Francisco, the game was not being broadcast on television so he needed me to give him the play-by-play.
“Ball three. Full count. Struck out swinging.” I relayed the inning pitch-by-pitch, sitting on the floor of my family room and nervously wringing the laundry I was folding, adding more wrinkles than clean creases. And when the final pitch was thrown, I yelled into the phone, and he yelled back, yelling for our first playoff berth since 2002, yelling for a chance to play in the World Series, yelling at Brian Wilson for making almost every ninth inning of 2010 so unbearably nerve-wracking, yelling for our beloved Giants.
Our hometown Giants have been part of our lives since we were born. Baseball was the first sport we played, as t-ball starts at a younger age than most other youth sports, and we fell for the game, hard and irreversibly. My dad used a magnifying glass and the sun to burn our names into our gloves, which we have both had since we were nine years old. We cheered for J.T. Snow, emulated Omar Vizquel (me) and Benito Santiago (him) and were awed by Barry Bonds. I wrote my senior honors thesis about the Giants and AT&T Park; he wears his Giants jacket to class to annoy the significant contingent of Phillies fans that attend Lehigh University. We love the Giants. We always have and always will, no matter where life may take us. And our Giants, a few weeks after beating the Padres on the last day of the regular season, just won the World Series.
San Francisco had never won a World Series. The Giants had, back in 1954, when Dwight Eisenhower was president and with great names like Willie Mays and Leo Durocher, but those were New York’s Giants. Our Giants, San Francisco’s Giants, had yet to win it all despite a slew of talent that had spent time in an orange and black uniform. We had come close on a few occasions, blowing a five-run lead with eights outs to go in 2002, dropping four straight in 1989, a series more remembered for the earthquake than the matchup of crosstown rivals, and in 1962, many years before my parents arrived as freshmen at Stanford and nearly half a century before I did.
The 2010 Giants were special though. These were not Barry Bonds’ Giants, who had flash but lacked soul. Nor were they Jeff Kent’s, who were talented but hardly empathetic. They were not J.T. Snow’s, who won over hearts only to wrench them apart in the devastating implosion against the Angels.
It took a cast of self-proclaimed castoffs and misfits to win San Francisco its world championship and bring joy to the city that had suffered so much heartbreak. Cody Ross had been released by the Florida Marlins; Pat Burrell by the Tampa Bay Rays. Aubrey Huff of rally thong fame spent the offseason waiting for his phone to ring. The best deal offered to Juan Uribe was in the minor leagues, and Andres Torres had been signed and let go by six separate teams before the Giants took a chance on him.
Instead of Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, we had Tim Lincecum, who looks more like a young version of Harry Potter’s Professor Snape than a professional athlete and Matt Cain, the best pitcher in the major leagues with a losing record. Instead of Ryan Howard and Josh Hamilton, we had a baby-faced Buster Posey and a nearly decrepit Edgar Renteria, who played the last chunk of an injury-riddled season with a completely torn bicep, but he still hit the series-winning RBI—13 years after he did the same thing with the Marlins in 1997.
And in the ninth inning, we entrusted the ball to closer Brian Wilson, whose uniform includes facial hair that looks like it has been dipped in oil and bright orange cleats that were deemed illegal by Major League Baseball because, according to their owner, they had “too much awesome.”
This team may have been cobbled together from players past their prime in tandem with extraordinary young phenoms, but this ragtag crew had plenty of talent. It takes more than talent to win a championship, though, and this team also had guts, faith and a lot of fun, and that is precisely what made them so lovable. We could all see a part of ourselves in them, their joy in a sport they loved to play and we loved to watch was apparent and endearing every time they took the field.
They were San Francisco’s Giants, and those who could not tell before could see it when the players and coaches celebrated the clinching win over the Padres with a spontaneous victory lap around AT&T Park. Those in uniform reached high to slap the hands of loyal fans, and the fans in turn reached down to touch the greatness that jogged around the warning track below them.
In the weeks during the playoffs, people dug deep into their closets to find their orange and black articles of clothing. A sense of kinship spread through the city and the suburbs, a Giants t-shirt often eliciting a smile or a nod from a like-minded passerby. Coffee houses started televising the games instead of playing soothing soundtracks, and “Go Giants” signs sprung up in store windows and front yards.
People grew playoff beards and dressed up as Brian Wilson for Halloween or carved his likeness on front porch pumpkins. Baseball fever spread quickly and ignited a love affair with this team of underdogs that defied odds and kept on winning. When it is so easy to slip into the anonymity of city life, the Giants gave us a team to root for, a common cause to bring us all together over the course of one magical season.
I watched the final game with my dad, who taught me how to play baseball, and my mom, who loves Buster Posey even more than I do. I barely watched the postgame celebration because I raced to catch the train with my friends to celebrate in San Francisco that night. We drank champagne and high-fived strangers and took pictures at the ballpark, our happy faces shining in the orange light that bathed the stadium. My brother called me when I was on the train, and I teared up when neither of us could find anything to say besides repeating “we won, we won” to each other over and over again.
Joyful delirium spread throughout the city that night, but as the clock ticked deeper into the morning and the “Let’s go Giants” chants became irregular and then nearly quiet, the crowd began to disperse, leaving ashes and broken bottles in the streets that had been shut down to traffic minutes after the last pitch was thrown. My friends and I did not want it to end though, implicitly realizing that if we went to bed, it would no longer be the night we won the World Series when we woke the next morning. We ended up in the Happy Donuts a block away from the ballpark, choosing a late night snack to prolong the celebration one hour longer. I don’t even like donuts, but chocolate sprinkles have never tasted so good.
I snuck into work at 7:58 the next morning, with bleary eyes and mussed hair and wearing the same jeans and same Giants t-shirt that I had worn the night before. My coworkers were not as impressed as I was that I made it to work on time looking mildly presentable and in a semi-functioning state the morning after going to sleep on my friend’s floor and in her roommate’s sweatpants and waking up a few hours later to catch the early train home from the city. My head ached with too little sleep, and I probably made even more accounting errors than usual that morning, but these are the sacrifices we make for our teams. The great thing about sports, though, is that our teams give us so much more than what we give them.