While Candlestick Park hasn’t hosted a baseball game since 1999, that it’s going to be shuttered/imploded after this 49ers season has me reminiscing about all my childhood memories from there. I never attended a 49ers game. But I attended Giants games from 1986 through 1999 and had season tickets from 1988 through 1994 (the baseball strike that year killed my habit).
My mom and I spent many summer afternoons, and quite a few summer evenings, at The Stick. Keeping score. Talking. Trying to stay warm. Going through our ritual of only eating in odd-numbered innings. Eating Cheetos on the drive home. I started off as a kid making sure to hit all the giveaway days which had things I wanted. I went through an autograph collecting phase where I forced my mom to get there early so I could hang out by the dugout* and hopefully snag a signature or two.** Eventually though the point was to settle into our upper deck seats, watch batting practice, get the lineups, and just pay attention to the ballgame.
*I always went to the visitors dugout. The few years I was really into autographs, we were also going to Spring Training. By the time the regular season had rolled around, I already had all the Giants’ autographs.
**The highlight was Billy Williams. I also remember getting Ron Gant and Moises Alou.
In many ways it’s not the specific memories which I treasure but rather the entire experience. In 1986 when I went to my first game—a 16-inning marathon—I was 8 years old. I attended the last night game with some college friends. I pretty much grew up there, marking time with the baseball seasons and the baseball teams. Was the place a dump where I froze my ass off despite bringing the tundra kit* to every game? Absolutely. Were those nights when the fog rolled in over the stadium rim and soaked my scorecard to the point where I could no longer write on it miserable? Pretty much. Did I love being there despite all that? To the point where I have no idea where I’d rather have been. Following baseball and rooting for the Giants was part of who I was. Of course I’d rather have been there than anywhere else.
*Sweatpants over shorts. Sweatshirt and Jacket. Gloves. Hot chocolate.
A large part of my mentality about sports formed in the upper deck* of Candlestick. It was often lonely up there. I remember crowds of 12,000 at some games—and that was paid attendance in a 62,000 capacity stadium. My mom and I would be the only ones up there besides the occasional vendor. We’d arrive before the first pitch and stay until the last out. Every time. Anything less was cheating. We’d go regardless of how well the team was playing and always root for them to win. I learned to appreciate good baseball and the fundamentals. Being so high forced me to look at the entire field and pay attention to everyone’s positioning.
*Upper Reserve Section 1, Row 8, Seats 1 and 2. Section 1 is right above the plate. Anything below Row 8 was obstructed by people walking along the aisles. Our seats were right on the stairs.
I saw fairweather fans come and go—both with the Giants’ fortunes and the actual weather. I became proud to be a diehard. I learned to appreciate winning but not to expect it. I learned how to discern true fans of the opposing team from trolls looking for a fight. And how to apply those same lessons to fellow Giants fans. I learned to appreciate the sport for what it is and take it seriously at a personal level. I didn’t grow up with religion, I grew up with baseball. I agree with Annie Savoy.
As beautiful as Pac Bell—or whatever it’s called now— is, part of me died when the Giants stopped playing at Candlestick. The timing was good since I was moving from being a college student to becoming an adult. But it was still me losing a major part of my youth. I always held out hope that there’d be one last turn-back-the-clock game at The Stick just to fuck with the Dodgers. Now that flicker is gone too.
In terms of specific memories. I’ll never forget my first game and being thrown into the deep end of how a baseball game can keep going forever. The sense of both hope and fear that each night game could result in a Croix. Dave Dravecky coming back from cancer. Riding out the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Scott Garrelts losing his no hitter with 2 outs in the 9th. The last game of the 1992 season when we all believed that the team was moving to St. Petersburg. The first game of the 1993 season full of renewed life and joy. The two-game series versus LA in 1997 where we leapfrogged them in the division race.*
I loved watching Will Clark play and Rick Reuschel hit. Matt Williams, despite becoming a slugger and gold-glove third baseman, will always be the shortstop who swings at the first pitch and pops up. I miss Bob Brenly’s postgame radio show. I miss Rod Beck and closers who could throw double play balls. I still expect to see trash blowing around in circles in the outfield and third basemen to chase pop-ups to first-base foul territory. The sound of a fog horn means “play ball” to me. And I’d love to see Tommy Lasorda make the long walk from the right field corner to the visitors dugout again, the stadium full of boos while he blows kisses to the crowd.
So long Candlestick. You were the best home-field advantage any sports team could hope to have. I’m wearing my hat covered in Croixes today in remembrance.