You Stay Classy, Bay Area

Dock of the Bay's Weekly Jaunt

Barry Bonds’s 714th home run—and the celebration that followed—caught me off guard on Saturday.

I was surprised by the homer itself, of course, since thirteen days of off-balance swings had led me to expect, at the most, a flip shot to the opposite field.

I was surprised at Barry’s emotion, how he pointed to the stands as if, beyond all else, he were admitting that this chase had weighed upon him terribly, weighing in the way that the past—or at least the baseball dead—tend to drag down the momentous events of the present.

And most of all, I was surprised at the overwhelming sense of excitement that the crowd, replete with enough crazy A’s fans to start a riot, showed toward this moment of history.

Honestly, I expected the fans in Oakland to voice their derision of Bonds as loudly as anywhere else. They are a strange franchise, these A’s. They lack a natural rival. They have an athletic elephant for their mascot. They play in a football stadium graced with the garish, green-faced summit of Mount Davis.

And if you’re a Giants fan, crazy people in green and gold are some of the least friendly out there. I’d rather find myself in a dark alley with a guy in Dodger blue than face-to-face with a pack of A’s aficionados foaming with their Marxian hatred of San Francisco.

No other place is this more apparent than in Phoenix, in Spring Training. Whenever I think of the desert, I remember all those A’s fans and their humorless predation toward the Giants. You can’t even talk to them, they’re so distrustful, expecting all people who dress in orange and black to pull out a knife and stab them, without mercy, in the back.

Not that such suspicions are unfounded. I hate the A’s, along with their organization’s smug approach to baseball. They ain’t no better than nobody, I says...and regardless, I expected nothing less than voiced derision on Saturday, when Bonds hit his historic homer. The stadium itself had been cinched into piddling capacity, ensuring a lesser number of visiting San Francisco fans. The night before, the boos had been palpable.

But when the home run was hit—a no doubter, of course—something happened in the foothills of Mt. Davis: the A’s fans seemed to step back from all of the controversy and, in overwhelming unison, enjoy the moment. I would say that their hearts had grown three sizes, if in fact a snake-shaped elephant snout didn’t actually beat in each of their ghoulish chests.

But man did they stay classy. And I was mightily impressed by their showing.

There is something to be said about the real-time experience of this home run—an experience that was lessened afterwards by the sportswriters who weaved around it the existing themes of steroids and embarrassment. Which is what reporters always do. Their recaps—like the contemporary storm—are always bound to the loudest issues of the day.

But the moment itself...the embrace between Bonds and his son at the plate, the two curtain calls, the continued standing ovation, and the announcers silence toward it all, reminding me of Cal Ripken Jr.’s night more than a decade ago...I couldn’t help but marvel at how well it went—how much I enjoyed it as an event both predicated upon and independent from the weight of so much past.

Afterward, still caught up in this moment, I watched SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight over and over again, hearing for the first time Duane Kuiper’s radio call, marveling at the slashing contact of the swing, the flight of the ball in a crisp, insistent line.

Ah, video poetry. This is what the moment becomes, in the end—in the future—apart from all the rest. And really, the arcing memory of baseball usually selects an instant from these clips: Hank Aaron rounding second, accosted by two fans; Mark McGwire at first base, embracing Sammy Sosa; and the grainy side view of Roger Maris as he swings.

Now this new image: Bonds in road grays, the Bay Area afternoon light, his swing heavy with extraneous motion as he pivots and extends...

I’ll take this moment, along with the other Bondsian moments from the recent years—the World Series home runs, the walk-offs in August of 2003 against the Braves, and all the rest. Because that’s how I roll.

But toward the end of the night, when I went online and read the Chron’s doomstruck take on it all, I couldn’t help but feel as if this very moment I’d been waiting for had already become part of the wider history of the game—that I wouldn’t be able to access it, in the goosebump-inducing way that I’d like, until all this controversy has been contextualized by the natural ascent of years.

Right now, in this strange and bewildering 2006, what happened on Saturday might be as good as it gets. There are indictments on the horizon. More revelations. I’m reminded of the story of Babe Ruth’s final three home runs, how he hit them all in one day in Pittsburgh, and how afterward he was too tired to even walk the distance to his own dugout.

Maybe 715, if it is hit at home, will be even grander. Maybe this is just the beginning of a beautiful resurgence, one that will end in a dignified, if not controversial, retirement.

The day after Bonds tied Ruth, Barry finally seemed to relax, smacking two clean singles. Watching, I couldn’t help but feel that the proverbial other shoe is about to drop—that the moment of 714 has been a gift Giants fans in the midst of so much more bad news to come.

A gift presented to us, with care, from the classy fans in Oakland, from the history of baseball and its wonderful chain of records, and most of all, from the man himself, the hated home run hitter who seems overwhelmingly relieved to find himself creeping past the game’s most prominent ghost.

Baller of the Week:

Matt Cain, fo sho. My favorite part of his one-hit shutout on Sunday was what happened afterward:

“His veteran teammates—Sweeney, Todd Greene, and Jamey Wright—called him over to a couch in the crowded visitor’s clubhouse for a drink to celebrate the shutout and his return to the rotation. Cain has only been old enough to legally partake since Oct. 1.”

I love this year’s team. Brawlin’, drinkin’, and crazyin’ it up is my kinda crew. And they’re not just behaving like ballers—they’re indoctrinating new ones. If I could tell Cain one thing, it’d be to always listen to his baller clubhouse leader, The General Todd Greene.

Meathead of the Week

A. J. Pierzynski, for his role in the fight at home plate with Chicago Cubs catcher, Michael Barrett.

Pierzynski is like that kid in grammar school who throws rocks at teachers, bites his friends, and who, when someone finally snaps and punches him in his smug stupid face, holds his palms to the sky and paints himself as the Great Victim, as if the aggression aimed at him was not only unfounded, but completely perplexing.

There’s a reason you got smacked, A. J. Because, as your proved in the next game after the brawl—when you homered and then mocked the equally-crazy Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano by pointing toward the sky—you are that guy.

And man I hate that guy. It was nice, for once, to turn on the television and hear the word “embarrassment” mentioned alongside his name—instead of alongside Big Poppa’s.



Tim Denevi is a die-hard Giants fan. Please e-mail him with your opinion on any issue at denevi@hawaii.edu

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