May 2011

Short thoughts from short Giants series in L.A.

Friday, May 20

Because each game featured final-at-bat dramatics, this week’s pair of encounters between the Giants and-Dodgers featured enough thrills for a series twice as long.

But before the late innings, it didn’t feel like a Giants-Dodgers series at all.

Though the Giants-Dodgers rivalry isn’t as intense as it once was, the fans still generate some noticeable excitement, anticipation, “juice” — at least in San Francisco. This week at Dodger Stadium, however, there was virtually no buzz in the hours leading up to the first pitch and in the early innings. Willie McCovey once famously said of the atmosphere at Giants-Dodgers games, “You can hear the electricity.” That’s not a malaprop. That’s an accurate description, courtesy of the wisdom of the great Willie Mac. By contrast, early on Wednesday and Thursday nights, you could almost hear the crickets chirp.

My Dodgers counterparts and confidantes told me that such ennui has enveloped Dodger Stadium much of the year. If that’s so, it’s sad. Is it the sub-.500 baseball? The stigma of the Bryan Stow beating? The McCourt-vs.-McCourt snafu? This is one of baseball’s crown jewel franchises which, as such, should never lose its luster, even during losing seasons. Now, the Dodgers appear to be a Rolls-Royce with a rusty undercarriage in need of a paint job and an overhaul.

Maybe it’s just me; maybe I’ve romanticized the Giants-Dodgers rivalry a little too much (I’m one of those weirdos who deems it historically superior to Yankees-Red Sox). I received my Giants-Dodgers indoctrination on an afternoon in 1969, when my interest in baseball had just taken root and I was searching for the game broadcast on my little transistor radio. I came upon what I thought was the station (KSFO 560, remember, folks?), but all I heard was static. As it turned out, it wasn’t static. It was crowd noise. And all that was going on was a trip to the mound by the Dodgers pitching coach. I instantly figured that if people got this worked up when nothing was happening, imagine what it’s like once the action started. I was hooked.

Let’s be thankful it’s still that way at AT&T Park. I do wonder what I’ll find when the Giants return to L.A. in September.

*****

Many people probably considered Matt Cain foolish for sprinting like Usain Bolt toward the third-base camera well in pursuit of a fifth-inning foul popup Wednesday night.

I considered Cain for what he is. A competitor. A winner.

Sure, Cain risked injury as he headed dangerously close to the railing and slid on the warning track to avoid a collision. But that’s what real athletes do. They play hard and they play to succeed.

For me, this further legitimized the comparisons between Cain and Hall of Fame right-hander Tom Seaver that proliferated at the beginning of the former’s career. Seaver also was known to pursue anything hit remotely near him if it would improve his chances of winning.

*****
It’s redundant to note that right fielder Nate Schierholtz made an outstanding play to end Thursday night’s game.

But I can’t say I was surprised. And that’s meant as a compliment to Schierholtz.

About the only time Schierholtz surprises me is when he strives to make a difficult play and can’t make the grab or throw out the runner. He has completely spoiled me. If he played regularly, he’d be a certain Gold Glove candidate.

*****

I emptied my piggy banks and purchased a shirt at the Robert Graham flagship store at Venice Beach before Thursday’s game. What the heck does this have to do with baseball, you ask?

Well, Giants left-hander Jeremy Affeldt piqued my interest in the brand. The shirts are colorful, comfortable and distinctive. And if you happen to be familiar with the Robert Graham products and you’re in the L.A. area, make sure to head for the store at 1326 Abbot Kinney Blvd. The staff is patient, friendly and helpful and the variety of clothing available is outstanding … about as outstanding as Nate Schierholtz’s diving catch.

Chris Haft

Torres, DeRosa activated

Tuesday, May 10

SAN FRANCISCO — As anticipated, the Giants activated center fielder Andres Torres and utilityman Mark DeRosa from the 15-day disabled list Tuesday.

Both were immediately installed in the lineup for the series opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park. Torres, recovered from a strained left Achilles tendon, returned to the leadoff spot. DeRosa, who overcame inflammation in his left wrist, was to bat seventh and start at third base.

The return of Torres and DeRosa had inevitable ramifications for other position players, since some had to be benched.

Still in, at least for one night: Cody Ross,right field; Aaron Rowand, left field; Mike Fontenot, shortstop.

Benched, at least for one night: Outfielders Pat Burrell and Nate Schierholtz, infielder Miguel Tejada.

Chris Haft

Saluting Willie Mays

Friday, May 6

SAN FRANCISCO — I’m officially off-duty tonight in the wake of the Giants’ three-city, 10-game trip, but I’m heading for AT&T Park anyway.

The Giants are celebrating Willie Mays’ 80th birthday with pregame festivities and video tributes (I’d bet anything that President Obama will do one), and I want to be there to soak it all in.

Think about that: I last watched Willie play 38 years ago, and I’m still drawn to the ballpark just to see him. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

We at MLB.com launched a Willie Mays Tribute Page today. Please check it out if you haven’t already. Here’s the link:

http://sanfrancisco.giants.mlb.com/mlb/events/say_hey_kid/index.jsp?c_id=sf

Chris Haft

Joining the Bin Laden celebration at the White House

Sunday, May 1
WASHINGTON — I had to see what it was like.

So I checked a map, left the comfort and quiet of my hotel room and strode a mile or so late Sunday night toward the White House, where thousands had gathered to celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden.

This was a significant chapter in history, and joining the euphoric masses was the most vivid way to cement this event personally in memory.

I walked mostly alone down H Street for about five blocks until I encountered two women heading for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. One of them, absolutely aglow with delight, informed me that her husband has been fighting in the Middle East for four years. This was a particularly special night for people like her.

With about six blocks to go I started passing groups of celebrants, mostly of college age, returning from the scene. They hadn’t quite had enough, though. Strangers were high-fiving each other and launching “U-S-A” chants.

Automobile traffic thickened as I neared 14th Street. Hundreds cheered as a fire truck passed, its horn blaring in triumph instead of warning. I passed a policeman who was speaking into a walkie-talkie; I overheard him saying something about “traffic control.”

Around 1 a.m. I reached the periphery of the White House, which gleamed in floodlights — in contrast, I had heard on TV, to its usual darkened evening state. I thought I had stumbled onto a frat party or a pregame tailgater. Virtually all of the revelers seem to have been trucked in from local college campuses. Men shimmied up lamp posts; women were hoisted onto the shoulders of male friends; dozens literally wrapped themselves in the U.S. flag. Groups spontaneously sang “God Bless America.” More “U-S-A!” chants rang out. Those with camera phones and flipcams took pictures of each other or simply trained their lens on the White House, which symbolized all that was good and great about America.

The last time I visited the White House was 2009, when I was fortunate enough to accompany the Giants on a special tour. During that excursion we met a couple of the sharpshooters who patrol the roof of the mansion to deter any sort of attack. So I probably was one of the few people who noticed that two of these ever-diligent sentinels stood atop the roof, surveying us. From a distance, they were shadowy and indistinct, but it looked like they were studying the crowd with binoculars.

The guards had no cause for concern. This was a boisterous yet well-behaved crowd. If you didn’t know Bin Laden had been killed, you might not have been able to tell what prompted all this fuss. “God Bless the U.S.A.” was the prevailing mood, not “Good riddance, Osama” — though everyone certainly was overjoyed to know that Public Enemy No. 1 had been taken down.

I didn’t stay long. A little less than a half-hour was enough to give me a memory for a lifetime.

Chris Haft

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