Please bear with me on one more sports related post…but it actually goes beyond sports.
(Just so you know, I’ll soon be on my way to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest and blogging about it wherever and whenever I can. I’m also planning a post about an awesome hidden place near Santa Fe, so this will become the travel blog it’s mean to be again. Promise)
People often ask me why I’m such a sports fan, and why do I remain so loyal to the Bay Area (really San Francisco) teams that I grew up with, even though I haven’t lived there in more than a dozen years. A corollary to that is: why can’t I root for the local Denver teams that I’ve come to know during that same time? Why am I not United in Orange with my fellow Coloradans, who are overwhelmingly Bronco fans and to a way lesser extent Avalanche, Nuggets, Rockies and Rapids fans?
It’s simple…I have my dad Tommy to thank for this crazy love. What would’ve been his 90th birthday on May 11th, and Father’s Day coming up in a few weeks made me think about him more than I have in recent years.
Dad has been gone from this earthly plane for almost two decades now. But my image of him relaxing in his rocking Barcalounger, covered in scratchy earth-toned tartan tweed and snacking on bland shortbread cookies or homemade custard, is just as vivid as when he was with us.
That started with the first Giants game I attended with him, my stepmom and my brother at windswept Candlestick Park in 1970, when I wasn’t even in elementary school yet. Not having played softball or baseball at all, I don’t remember what the game was all about, the intricacies of a curveball versus a fastball, the importance of sacrifice bunt, or why did the players spit all the time (and I still don’t get that one).
But I was intrigued enough to keep going through the next decade and a half…even through the sub-Arctic conditions of a July night and wisps of fog so thick, we sometimes couldn’t see the outfielders. I suffered through frigid contests where the Giants were so bad, I secretly rooted for the opposing teams to win, just so we could leave early. Dad never seemed to mind, though, and his devotion and faith in a hapless and hopeless team amazed me.
It wasn’t until 1989 when he got to see them in their long-awaited World Series against the Oakland A’s, the infamous Bay Bridge Series that was cut short and rendered insignificant in the wake of the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake. He and my stepmom witnessed the ground undulate and falling cracked concrete from the top of the stadium. It took them nearly nine hours to get back home. He did eventually get to see that first Series game, but at that point nobody – even in the Bay Area, where the two hometown teams were in the spotlight – seemed to care who won. Oakland did, sweeping San Francisco in four games.
Things were a little better for my dad as a 49ers fan. He was with them from the start, when they began as an All-America Football Conference team in 1946, playing at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. I remember his telling me that he needed to bring an umbrella whether it was raining or not, because of the masses of seagulls hovering around.
Just like the Giants, most of his years supporting the Niners were a Job-like test of patience and accepting futility. Again, I thought what other teams could I root for instead of the perpetual losers of Candlestick (yes, the Giants and Niners did share one field for decades, something that no longer really happens in pro sports now).
But then, the miracle of Joe Montana/Bill Walsh/Jerry Rice rained down from the football gods, and the 49ers became repeat Super Bowl champs four times during the 1980s, and once during the 1990’s.
That year, 1995, was a mere 18 months before he passed away from a rapid-growth sarcoma invading his intestines, at age 71.
He never got to be here with us to see the Giants experience their own miracle of the 2010’s, their even-year three-peat of World Series championships. But I am pretty sure he was lucky enough to see it from, as my one of my sisters said, his heavenly Barcalounger, whooping it up in ways we’d never see otherwise from such a reticent man.
Following sports was pretty much the only way Dad and I would connect. We truly didn’t have too much else in common. I could talk to him about Barry Bonds and his amazing swing, or The Catch against the despised Dallas Cowboys, and his eyes would light up. They rarely ever did with any other subject I mentioned…or if I talked about hockey, a sport he never even pretended to like (“They just go back and forth. That’s not very interesting,” he’d explain in his typical understated way when I asked him if he ever wanted to go to San Jose Sharks game).
More than anything, I wish he and my kids would’ve met and been a part of each others’ lives. I’m sure he would have been bursting with pride to have such beautiful, smart and spirited young women as granddaughters. And they would now be talking sports with him, just as I did years ago.
Today, I watch a game, either live or on a screen, and I think about how my dad would be also looking at it somewhere. Then we could find that place where a father and daughter could really enjoy conversation and being together.
Maybe someday again, I’ll get the chance to do exactly that.