Noe Valley Voice June 2003

Let Bylines be Bylines:
Missing the Stick

By Mary Ann Stein

In the late '80s, my husband and I were going through terrible financial times. We had been living and breathing the business of selling and servicing franchises for 15 years. At one point, we owned 10 lucrative hair care salons--those were indeed the good old days. But by 1987, our business was heading toward bankruptcy and we were living in a dark, limbo land of never having quite enough money for rent, payroll, or even office supplies.

One day, someone gave us tickets to a Giants baseball game. At that game, the Giants had one of their frequent promotions: free tickets to the next home game. After that, we were hooked. We bought half-season tickets the next year. Since the tickets were not expensive, we attended many additional games, establishing our own ballpark routine. Baseball was something other than work for us to think about. No phones, no creditors, no employee problems, and no worries for four solid hours. We could concentrate on who was pitching, how the lineup had been switched, and who was playing right field. Baseball became our hobby and our salvation.

What's funny is that neither one of us grew up as a huge baseball fan. It was pure luck that we found the Giants, and boy, did they need us. Baseball games at Candlestick Park (known affectionately as the Stick) were windy, foggy, cold, and just plain miserable, especially at night.

Very few people went to the night games. On some nights, only about 5,000 fans were there. Not only were we miserable, we also felt sorry for the players on both teams, especially for the outfielders who were closest to the bay. They wore earmuffs, mufflers, and wetsuits under their uniforms. Often, the sportswriters at the Chronicle and the Examiner would write about the poor fan turnout and the horrid weather before describing the actual game.

But despite the wind and fog, the Stick became our second home. We got to know the parking attendants, the ushers, the food servers, our seatmates, and the names of every player on every team. We felt very special and close to all those people.

We always drove to the park and parked in the same place, for easy in and out. We always carried two large duffle bags--promotional giveaways plastered with Giants logos--one to hold the radios, binoculars, and extra clothes (scarves, gloves, sweatshirts) and one for the food: sandwiches, Cracker Jacks, peanuts, candy, and coffee. We also lugged a small cooler for water and Cokes. At night we carried a heavy Pendleton plaid wool blanket.

Part of our ritual was to arrive early to watch batting practice before moving to our cheap seats way upstairs. This gave us an extra hour and a half to be together outside the house and away from the pressure of our business.

Once inside the park, we headed for the AAA booth, to pick up our free coke coupons for being "designated drivers"--not drinking beer at the game. Then we bought some delicious garlic fries and sat up front in the expensive seats behind our team's dugout. For a while anyway, we were right on top of the action.

A half-hour before the first pitch, we went up to our seats, located in Upper Box 20, Row D, above third base. After greeting our neighbors, we discussed the opposing team and the players on the disabled list. Everyone stood for the national anthem. Soon our radios were on, and we were listening and chuckling with the play-by-play announcers.

On very rare occasions, usually a night game, we received a discount coupon to the old-fashioned hofbrau upstairs at the Stick. During batting practice, we ate hot, juicy roast-beef sandwiches with huge dill pickles while we watched other baseball games on television inside the hofbrau where it was warm. All the other fans were wearing their Giants colors, too.

I had a baseball cap covered with Giants pins. It must have weighed seven pounds. People always commented on it. The days I didn't wear the cap, our team would lose, so it was important to wear it. But it was by no means comfortable. When friends started giving me their pins, I started to get headaches!

The Giants gave away pins for every occasion, and I collected them all. There were pins to commemorate opening day, closing day, Barry Bonds Day, AIDS Day, Mother's Day, even interleague days. We received dozens of "Croix de Candlestick" pins, for sitting through extra-inning night games. These were cheap, metal pins. You can hardly see the orange and black now.

There were lots and lots of promotional gifts in those days: snow globes, T-shirts, calendars. The Giants also had a Rewards Club, designed to build attendance at the park. We would stand in line to receive points for attendance and then go to the special gift window for our reward. We received caps, seat cushions, radios, and then the ultimate (for attending 50 games): big, heavy, quilted, and very expensive Giants warm-up jackets.

Gradually, over our 12 years at the Stick, we learned about RBIs, ERAs, "Tommy John" elbow surgery, pulled hamstrings, the split-fingered fastball, and the rare and exciting suicide squeeze to home plate. We could predict who was going to hit into a double play and who would swing at the first pitch.

Somedays, we hopped in the car and drove to Candlestick on the spur of the moment--our duffle bags always half-packed and ready to go.

Sept. 30, 1999. The final game at the Stick. There was a big and very sad ceremony following the game, with the recorded voice of Frank Sinatra singing, "There used to be a ballpark here...." Lots of old-time Giants players from years gone by were there. It was a very emotional day. So many memories, all of them good, even the losses.

Of course, we were excited about Pac Bell Park, and we bought season tickets the first year. It truly is a beautiful ballpark. But it isn't Candlestick. And with all the new fans, we aren't really needed there now. We endured the inevitable bankruptcy of our business, and we no longer need ways to escape.

We watch lots of Giants games on television now, and we go to a few ball games. But we are still loyal to big, cold, ugly old Candlestick. And we miss it. h

Writer Mary Ann Stein and her husband Bill have lived in Bernal Heights for the past 30 years. Her piece "Halloween Hell" appeared in the spring issue (#7) of Morbid Curiosity magazine.