• Otter Views: Giants Fans from Afar

    It was a tale of two cities this week as San Francisco’s pro football and baseball teams squared off against their respective rivals in St. Louis.

    Thanks to a last-minute interception, the Niners squeaked out a Monday Night Football win over the St. Louis Rams, so we know the outcome there. But as of this writing, the two cities’ baseball teams were still battling for the National League pennant and a shot at the World Series.

    Go Giants!

    My formative years took place far from the U.S. mainland, so I didn’t know one Major League team from another. The cities were equally baffling. Where were Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Chicago? They could have been on the moon for all I knew. I had been to the other side of the island, but Brooklyn? Fuggedaboudit.

    Then in 1954 or 1955, my dad took a trip to New York City for some professional reason. My kid brother Mike and I eagerly awaited his return, not to throw our arms about him and drape leis around his neck, but to ask the question greedy little children pose to all returning travelers: “What did you bring us?”

    From his satchel he withdrew two wool baseball caps sized for young crew-cut heads. To my brother he handed a dark blue cap onto which a fancy white letter D had been stitched. “Brooklyn Dodgers,” he said, showing Mike how to tug the cap down by the bill.

    My cap, also wool, was pitch black. On its front panel three bright orange letters intertwined to form the logo NYG. I thought it might be something for Halloween, but my dad said simply “New York Giants.”

    Tugging my own cap down, I became a Giants fan by default, and a remote one at that. Living a continent and an ocean away from my adopted team ruled out the sort of rabid, live-or-die fealty enjoyed by fans who actually got to see their teams play. I was a fan from afar.

    Mike and I had a lot of catching up to do. He had to learn about the Dodgers, and I had to do a crash course on the Giants. Luckily for us, the local library carried baseball almanacs and history books, and other neighborhood kids had baseball card collections. Soon we, too, were spending our chore money on flat, dusty rectangles of bubble gum, each packet containing one player’s card.

    “Bats right, throws right,” the cards might say, or “bats left, throws right.” On the front of each card, the player would be pictured in some staged action pose – throwing, catching, batting, or crouched to field a ball. If I recall, no one was ever shown chewing or spitting, though some had suspicious-looking bulges in their cheeks.

    The back of the cards listed in print as small as shaken pepper all the statistics baseball fans love – batting averages by year, on base percentages, career totals of singles, doubles, triples and runs scored, earned run averages for pitchers, and so on ad infinitum.

    As we neared Little League age, Mike and I and other street ball urchins would gather to trade cards in the room of the neighborhood’s foremost baseball fan, our friend Peter. Unlike the rest of us, Peter had not only been to the Mainland, but had actually lived for a time in the mysterious, faraway city of St. Louis.

    As a result, his room was a shrine to that city, and his mind was a repository of Cardinalia. He knew the team’s current and former lineups and its storied history going all the way back to the St. Louis Browns. His walls displayed action posters of Stan “The Man” Musial and the famous pitching brothers Dizzy and Daffy Dean. To Peter, the Cardinals were the best team in baseball, not Mickey Mantle’s Yankees.

    When not crouched over baseball cards on Peter’s floor, we nascent fans could be found listening to recreated radio broadcasts of Major League games. The announcers in Honolulu would get inning-by-inning box score printouts from Mainland cities over their teletype machines. Using this meager data, some pre-taped crowd noise, and their own very florid imaginations, the broadcasters would stage entire fake games. A pencil tap on the microphone signaled a hit. If it was a home run, the crowd noise would be cranked way up.

    From radio broadcasts, trading cards, library books and sports pages, I finally cobbled together a rough working knowledge of the Giants. I stayed with them when they and the Dodgers moved west. Outfield star Willie Mays was my favorite player. My brother’s was Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella or Peewee Reese, depending.

    Nowdays I stop in at Joe Rombi’s Pizzeria to watch an inning or two on the big TV. In high definition, the Giants look very orange and black; the Cardinals, very red and white. Wish I still had that NYG cap.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on October 17, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views

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