Saturday, October 30, 2010

Giant Steps

My father's baseball team - the New York Giants - departed the earthy confines of the Polo Grounds approximately one decade prior to me taking out a full page ad in the trades to announce my arrival. Among the many phases of Dad's life that had been played out completely by the time I got here was his passionate support of his Giants. I knew him solely as a two-fisted fan: on his right hand he tattooed the words "Yankee Hater" and on his left hand "Red Sox Fan". As a small boy I never quite understood how a lifelong New York City kid had become such a fan of a team from Boston (or for that matter why my godfather was a man who I think was from Boston and who I have no recollection of ever having met). I must confess that having been born into an era when New York was simply a two-team town, I never fully understood either the source or the limitless depth of his hatred of the Yankees. When you get to the movie late, you miss a lot. It can be hard to catch up. Especially when the film features sparse dialogue.

A great deal of light was shone for me a few years back when I read Thomas Oliphant's book, "Praying For Gil Hodges". Oliphant chronicled the story of his parents and him - die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fans all - and the glorious fall of 1955. It was that October when the Dodgers emerged victorious in the World Series against the Yankees. While the two teams where neighbors in the Big Apple they matched up in the Series on a number of occasions. '55 was the only year in which the Dodgers won. That autumn, Oliphant was a 5th grader at the Browning School for Boys in Manhattan. His teacher? My father. In the book, Oliphant describes a young, energetic man passionate about many things - including baseball. He also describes a man who believed in the adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". Dad was a Giants fan. Coded into his DNA was a dislike for the Dodgers. Yet, according to Oliphant Dad rooted hard for the Dodgers in the '55 Series. It has been said that there is a fine line between love and hate. Apparently there is an equally fine distinction to be drawn between dislike and hate.

After the 1957 season ended, the Giants and the Dodgers made a joint great migration west, hopping on a couple of coast-to-coasters and flying clear over Levelland to California. In the fifty-three seasons since, during which the Giants have played their home games in San Francisco, the Giants have never won the World Series. It has in fact been fifty-six seasons since the Giants last won the Series, when a young man named Willie Mays outran a bomb launched by a fella named Vic Wertz and made a play that is as extraordinary to see now as it must have been on an October afternoon more than five and one-half decades ago.

Dad's Giants have made it to the World Series since they moved to California all those years ago. They have yet to win a title from their home on the streets of San Francisco. This year, two games into the Series they are halfway home. They shall play tonight in Texas against the Rangers up two games to none off of back-to-back performances in their ballpark by the Bay that were as dominating as the beat-down the Rangers put on the Yankees in the ALCS.

Somewhere, someplace the old man is smiling. And I hope for his sake - and for Giants' fans everywhere - that Scott Ostler has not poked fate in their collective eye.

Halfway home Dad. Halfway home.


1 comment:

Kelly said...

funny, as I was thinking the same, Dad's team, and background information provided via Mr. Oliphant's book.
It brought me to another thought about our father's state of mind, at the time it happened, as opposed to what we saw in the house growing up. I am referencing the framed ticket stub from Don Larson's perfect WS game.
Knowing what we know now, how happy do you think future Dad was as he left the stadium after the event that lived in that picture frame occured.
Thank you Mr. Oliphant for the mind's eye visual. What a planet