With the last 49er game to be played at Candlestick Park tonight, I have been inspired to recall my favorite memories of the cavernous, cold, windy, broken down old girl.
Though I grew up in the Bay Area, I was never a 49er fan, much to my family and friend’s chagrin. I always cheered for the Giants, but they were a distant second to my first love, all geographical permutations of the Angels. Still, being that my favorite teams were no where close by, and virtually all my friend and family were Giants and Niner fans, I spent a fair amount of time taking in games at Candlestick Park. A lot of good memories. Here’s the Top 7, in no particular order.
1. Since my dad and I were mostly fans of American League teams, Twins and Angels respectively, I had been to several Oakland A’s games as a kid. Besides our team allegiances, back in those days, pre-Mt. Davis, the Oakland Colesium was actually pretty nice place to watch a ballgame and was much more convenient to get to than Candlestick. So, I was already a veteran ballgame attender when my uncle Jeff took me to my first Giants game. They played the Cincinatti Reds. Thanks to Baseball-reference.com, I was able to pinpoint the exact date, September 19, 1987. We had probably the best seats I’ve ever had, five rows directly behind home plate. At not quite 10 years old, I was too young to really appreciate them. So that’s not the memorable part. In the bottom of the sixth inning, I had to go. My uncle asked if I could hold it. I said no. With the Giants still batting we got up to go to the big trough. As we were about to enter the restroom, the crowd let loose the kind of roar that can only be inspired by a home run. Specifically, a two-run home run by lightweight shortstop Jose Uribe. Anytime you miss a home run at a baseball game its a bummer, but when you miss a rarefied feat like a Jose Uribe home run, who hit only 19 in his 10 year big league career, it’s almost a tragedy. To this day I remember the look my uncle gave me when we heard that crowd erupt. It’s about the dirtiest look you could give a 10 year old and not have them burst into tears. He got over it I guess, agreeing to be my best man at my wedding 15 years later. The funny thing is, according to baseball reference, Will Clark also hit a home run in that game and neither my uncle or I have any memory of it.
2. I’ve only been to two 49er games. The first was in November 1998. It was a Monday night game against the New York Giants. It was raining. True Niner fans can probably remember what was significant about that game. Defensive tackle Bryant Young, an emerging star, broke his leg. My buddy Jon the Green Beret had procured the tickets from a co-worker. The seats weren’t great, field level end-zone a few rows under the overhang, but given the precipitation that night they were more than acceptable. Young’s injury is the only thing I remember about the actual game. The adventure was getting there.
Jon and I left early enough to stop in San Francisco for dinner. Jon parked his baby blue VW bug in a surprisingly convenient parking spot near the restaurant and we went inside. We should’ve known our fortuitous parking was too good to be true. When we returned to the car, it was gone. We hand’t noticed the “Loading Zone Only” sign. There was a phone number for the tow yard on the sign, but these were the days when only high-powered executives and drug dealers carried cell phones. We hiked around in the rain looking for a pay phone, when we came upon a tow truck and its driver ruining someone else’s day. The driver directed us to the tow yard and we trekked the 15 blocks. Being the only one of us with a credit card, I paid the $150 fee and they released Jon’s bug from car jail. Amazingly, we got to Candlestick in record time and were just sitting down in our seats the same instant as kick off.
3. Earlier that same year, 1998, Jon, myself, and Jeff his wife Jody all purchased a small season ticket package for the Giants. It was called the Six Pack. You got six games, plus a seventh game against the Dodgers for free. The seats were in right field, in what they called the Family Pavilion. Theoretically, a family friendly area of what could occasionally be a pretty unruly stadium. This is where we, along with my buddy Josh the Rev, were sitting for one of the most entertaining and memorable baseball games I’ve ever attended, for both on and off the field reasons.
First the on field stuff. Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, JT Snow, Russ Davis, and Glenallen Hill all homered. Rodriguez injured Jeff Kent’s knee sliding into second base. Fans in left field were mercilessly taunting Hill, possibly the worst left fielder in the history of the sport. He misplayed two fly balls my five year old daughter could’ve handled. A fan jumped out of the center field bleachers and ran around the outfield. He circled Griffey a couple times, slid into second base, then laid down on the outfield grass. Security initially sent out their apparently oldest and slowest security guard, to nab the fit 20-something. It was like watching your grandfather trying to catch Barry Sanders. Finally they sent reinforcements and they were able to take the kid down. The Giants ended up with a 7-6 win, despite all the long balls surrendered.
Now the off field stuff. It pretty much all started with Griffey’s home run. He hit it over the center field bleachers, into this sort of no-man’s-land between the bleachers and the right center field stands where we were sitting. This no-man’s-land was off limits to fans, filled with scaffolds and beams supporting the bleachers. A few kids ran down from the stands into the area to try to grab Griffehy’s home run ball. I’d be lying if the thought hand’t crossed my mind too. A rather girthy security guard waddle-ran into the area to shag the kids out of there and tripped. He went down like a giant sequoia. Without bracing himself at all, he landed throat first on a scaffold pipe. As other security guards and medics gathered to help him, two idiot fans at the top row of the bleachers kept pointing down at him and laughing. The guard, now on his back, even in his injured state, pointed right back at them and yelled a few choice words of his own. After a few minutes, two SFPD officers grabbed the two idiots and started to lead them down the back stairs of the bleachers. One of the idiots tried to pull away from one of the cops and ended up getting a face full of bleacher and a new set of steel bracelets. As we were sitting behind the bleachers on the other side of no-man’s-land we literally had a front row seat to all of this.
An inning or two later, we saw a whole squadron, maybe eight to ten, SFPD officers on dirt bikes ride up behind the bleachers. They saw on their bikes for a few minutes, then dismounted and all walked up into the bleachers. They stood in the back row, just watching the game. Then they left. It was very odd.
A little bit after that there was some sort of commotion near the right field foul pole in our section. About 50 cops emerged out of nowhere, all swarming to that location. We found out later a drunken fan being lead away by police had tried to grab the cops gun. Bad idea.
And all of his took place in or near the Family Pavilion.
4. At one of the games during that 1998 season we witnessed history. The Giants were facing the Arizona Diamondbacks. Arizona had a 8-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. The Giants cut the lead to two and had the bases loaded with two outs. Barry Bonds, who didn’t start that night, came up to pinch hit. Now, keep in mind, this is 1998 Barry Bonds, as in pre-BALCO, expanding cranium, inhuman muscle bound freak Barry Bonds. Even before his embrace of the Cream and the Clear, Bonds was likely the best in the game at the time, and already a sure fire Hall of Famer. But, he hadn’t yet sold his soul to chemistry so his days of being routinely intentionally walked regardless of the situation were still to come. Which is what makes Arizona manager Buck Showalter’s strategy all the more amazing. Up by two runs, with two outs and the bases loaded, Showalter intentionally walked Bonds, sending a run to the plate and putting the tying run only 90 feet away. I had never even heard of anything like that, much less witnessed it in person. At the time, there was only one other known instance of that happening (it has since occured once more; Josh Hamilton was IBB’d with the bases loaded in 2008).
Ah, but did it work? Well, since the next batter was Brent Mayne, yes it did. Despite our best efforts to distract the right fielder, he made the play on Mayne’s low line drive to end the game.
5. The second 49er game I went to, I have virtually no memory of. All I remember is where our seats were (end zone, upper deck), who the opponent was (KC Chiefs), and who I went with (my wife). The only reason this one is memorable is because my wife’s cousin, who was living in Colorado at the time, saw us on TV.
6. Candlestick was well known for its inhospitable weather. Cold, foggy, windy nights were the norm during baseball season. Though, on the rarest of occasions, Candlestick could be quite pleasant for a night game. I remember one particular night, it was a game against the Dodgers. I was about 11 or 12. We brought sweatshirts and blankets, preparing ourselves for along cold evening. Not only was it a balmy 70ish degrees for the entire nine innings, but the Giants and Dodger fans were very cordial to each other. Friendly ribbings back and forth, pats on the back, smiles. It was a….weird night. Pleasant, but weird.
7. Jon the Green Beret, my buddy Mike, and I decided at the last minute to take in a double-header. The Giants were playing the Pirates. It was 1997. We got to Candlestick after the first game had already started. We brought a 12-pack of Mountain Dew with us, only to be told we weren’t allowed to bring it inside. Being poor college students who couldn’t afford to waste perfectly good soda, we started chugging them right there at the gate. We gave a couple away to a man and his young son, but we each drank at least three in a three minute span. I don’t know who we didn’t die. The Giants won the first game in 13 innings, 6-5. I don’t remember how.
The nightcap was a pretty dull contest. Until the ninth. The Pirates exploded for six runs, hitting two home runs in the process. The Giants were down 10-1 coming into the bottom of the ninth. The stadium had just about cleared out and the sea gulls were arriving en masse. We were in the uppermost of the upper decks. A combination of desperation, being pretty much the only ones left in the upper deck, baseball superstition, too much Mountain Dew and other baseball stadium junk food had us doing some pretty strange things to try to spark a rally. After JT Snow hit a two-run homer while I happened to be mimicking George Washington crossing the Delaware, my foot resting on the seat in front of me (no, really), we went berserk. Three batters later when Rich Aurilia hit a three-run homer after we all did some ridiculous dance, we just about lost it. When the next batter, Rick Wilkins, went deep after we did both the George Washington and the dance, we thought we’d found the formula for momentous comeback. Sadly, it was not to be. The Giants lost 7-10. But it was just about the best ninth inning I’ve ever witnessed: 12 runs scored and five home runs hit between the two teams.