Fresh Legs of Winter

As you would not ordinarily find me in a San Francisco Giants cap, I feel driven to explain how I came to be wearing one, especially since it’s all about the beauty of baseball and that’s the sort of thing that’s right in my wheelhouse. The sort of thing, you might say, that I turn on like Michael Conforto on an outer-half fastball. It started five years ago, when my family took a trip to San Francisco. For some reason, everywhere we wanted to go was closed, and one day, we found ourselves on the waterfront with nothing to do, and decided to finally act on my long-disdained suggestion to swing by AT&T Park.

It was late March, but before baseball season. There was no baseball game. We were going — at least, I was going — because we had nothing to do, and better to be near a ballpark than not. This was before the 2016 Wild Card game turned me off the Giants in brutal fashion. So I didn’t bear any ill will toward the Giants, even if I wouldn’t have called myself a fan. This was also before I started buying official hats at every stadium I visited, so I left AT&T Park without a hat, but with happy memories of the giant sculpted baseball glove and coke bottle in the outfield, and the viewing areas through the right field fence that harken back to stories I’ve heard about Ebbets Field. I also left with excitement that the 2013 Mets were about to start their season, which was, shall we say, severely misplaced.

Now fast forward five years, and my brother, then six and now eleven, announced that he wanted to go to AT&T Park again. We were back in San Francisco, and again had a wide-open schedule. The thing about San Francisco is that it wears you down. After walking up and down those godforsaken hills for a few days, you can’t do anything but groan — or maybe that’s just the noise of your bones aching, reaching breaking point as you force them up yet another ridiculous incline. But my brother is young and energetic, and even though by now I hate the Giants with a passion, I figured the same logic from five years ago applied: better to be near a ballpark than not. So I endorsed my brother’s plan, and we walked from the ferry building down the water, towards AT&T Park in the distance.

It was warm and sunny as we walked toward the stadium, and I mentioned to my brother that we should have brought our baseball gloves. Cool, breezy and sunny, perfect baseball weather. The waterfront, unlike most of San Francisco, is completely flat, and my legs were working again. The exhaustion that had plagued me for days was gone, but whether it was the easy terrain or the feeling of baseball in the air, couldn’t say. You can see the top of the stadium from a distance as you approach: first the lights, then the brick façade, then more and more of the building. And as we got closer, all of it together…the warm air, baseball on the mind, plaques honoring baseball legends on the wall, with several former Mets in the mix…suddenly I wasn’t hating the Giants so much anymore.

The question I’m asking goes something like this: how can a team that plays in AT&T Park, maybe the most beautiful stadium in the league, be so worth hating? I’m not sure they can, anymore. They used to play in New York, after all, which means they’ve got more local roots than 27 other MLB teams. I was thinking, as we walked around the stadium, looking at the field through the outfield fence and the boats anchored behind center, that maybe the Giants just aren’t a team worth hating.

They’re just baseball players, after all. They’re not empires of evil like the Yankees or the Cardinals, or even a division rival. They play ball in a city that’s always sunny in a park that gleams, and they haven’t done much worth hating besides winning more than any team deserves. And fairly quickly, sitting on a bench behind the outfield at the edge of McCovey Cove, I realized that I wasn’t sure I could hate the Giants anymore.

So I kept up the tradition that I’d sworn I would break. I bought a Giants cap, black and orange, just like they used to wear at the Polo Grounds. I didn’t wear it for long though, because across the street from the stadium there’s a store called Baseballism, which, it turns out, basically exists on the business of people like me. I more or less picked up a new wardrobe: a few t-shirts, a belt, some socks that look like a scorebook, and a fantastic cap that shows the outline of the United States, filled in with the pattern of a baseball.

Isn’t that what it comes down to? We all love baseball, which makes us all Americans in spirit, whether we’re from here or not. Giants fans, Rockies fans, Astros fans…and Mets fans. Divided by team, but united by this wonderful game.

This wonderful game, by the way, that is on its way toward starting anew. As Greg Prince of Faith and Fear in Flushing was thoughtful enough to point out, the Baseball Equinox passed yesterday morning. Today, Opening Day of the 2019 season is closer than Closing Day of the previous one. For the Giants, sure — but especially for the Mets. We’ll be back home in a few days, and my Giants cap will go up on the shelf, replaced, obviously, with old, faded, blue and orange that I’ll wear until Opening Day, 87 days from now.

I walked out of Baseballism into the sun loaded down with baseball gear, legs feeling fresher than Jose Reyes’ after a triple, exhaustion gone. Baseball is on its way back, long as that way may be. I can feel it, as they say, in my bones.

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