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Having A Ball in San Francisco

Story and photos by Lee Juillerat   June 1, 2011

  The first thing you need to know is that I was a little twerp and a San Francisco Seals fan in 1957 when the New York Giants announced they were moving West the following year. The front page of the San Francisco Chronicle showed Willie Mays giving his signature "Say Hey!" to his new home, The City by the Bay.  
  Seals 1957 team photo  
Seals 1957 team photo
  Seals 1957 yearbook   All about Albie  
Seals 1957 yearbook
All about Albie
  The love affair wasn't immediate. I missed the Seals players - especially Marty Keough and Albie Pearson, who like me was a jockey-sized, left-handed centerfielder. But the Giants, stuck in tiny Seals Stadium the first two years, struck an immediate chord. Mays was quickly surrounded by an incredible cast of rookies - Jim Ray Hart, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Davenport, Willie Kirkland - and, a year later, Willie McCovey. Between McCovey, Kirkland and Mays, the Giants trio gave opposing pitchers the Willies.  
  Juan Marichal   Jim Ray Hart  
Juan Marichal
Jim Ray Hart

I still remember McCovey's stunning first game and, a soon after that, surreptitiously listening in bed to my radio as Juan Marichal made his Giants debut, yielding a single hit, thus pitching a "Juan hitter."

When they played poorly my Dad called them the Midgets. I heard nearly every game, sometimes with my bedside radio tuned low, from our backyard speaker, the car radio on family trips or on my transistor radio while riding my bicycle delivering newspapers. Play-by-play announcers Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons cheered Giants' homers with, "Bye, Bye Baby!" and "You can tell it Goodbye!" and made even woeful games fun with their banter.


The Giants came close, but never won it all. I was in high school watching television in the locker room when McCovey lasered a line drive that found the mitt of Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the 1962 World Series with the tying and winning runs on base in Game 7. There was the humiliating 1989 Series when the A's swept the Giants in the Earthquake Series. And there was manager Dusty Baker's controversial pitching change that led to the Giants falling in seven games to the Anaheim Angels in 2002.

When the Giants entered the 2010 post-season, expectations were low. But they survived a torturous season, then thumped the Atlanta Braves, surprised the Philadelphia Phillies and, with their crew of misfits, advanced to the World Series against the favored Texas Rangers. When they won in the decisive fifth game I experienced a thrill I never really expected in my lifetime - a World Series championship. When Brian Wilson struck out the final batter, I celebrated quietly, dazed, stunned and slightly damp-eyed.

Celebration time
                Celebration time
  Flash forward to a chilly early spring morning this year in Medford, the only Oregon stop for the World Series trophy, designed by Tiffany's and formally known as the Commissioner's Trophy. To celebrate with fans spread throughout the nation, the Giants shuttled the trophy throughout Northern California, Arizona, New York City and Medford. For my trophy visit, I donned my T-shirt with the Chronicle's celebratory front page and my Christmas gift, a Giants jacket emblazoned with 2010 World Series champions. When it was my turn to go one-on-one with the trophy, I'm told my smile was ear-to-ear.  
Lee with the San Francisco Giants 1957 World Series Trophy
  Giants momentoes  
Lee with the Giants' 1957 World Series Trophy
Giants momentoes
  Against all logic, I bought a ridiculously overpriced photo of me and the trophy, and splurged for a coffee cup with the same picture. Hey, I don't even drink coffee. I have no regrets. The cup occupies the place of honor, outdoing my Will Clark rookie mug, collection of 1950s and 60s Giants baseball cards, Willie Mays figurine and autographed Willie McCovey photo.  
Ticket to the game
  Bill Soliday and Lee Juillerat  
Ticket to the game
Bill, third from left, and Lee, far right
  In April I made a pilgrimage to the ballpark known as AT&T Park. (It opened in 2000 as Pacific Bell Park and later was SBC Park.) Bill Soliday and I arrived early enough for batting practice. I had followed Bill, who was two years older than me, as the sport editor at Palo Alto High School . I hadn't realized it but he stayed two years ahead of me at San Jose State, where we both were sports editors for the Spartan Daily, and later at the Fremont News-Register. He stayed in the San Francisco Bay area as a sports writer while I escaped to southern Oregon to write features. We hadn't been in contact for 50 years until he spotted my name on a friend's Facebook page and sent me a message. I scheduled a San Francisco visit, he rustled up some tickets and that morning he picked me up outside my downtown hotel for the short drive to AT&T.   Alex Simon, Giants fanatic  
Alex Simon, Giants fanatic
  Giant sized baseball glove   Waiting in line to enter - it was giveaway day for flag-sized pennants - we met Michael Simon, a Giants fanatic and season ticket holder. Once inside he and his son, Alex, were seated only a few rows away. Michael told us to tell the ushers his name, which led to views of batting practice from seats above the dugout. Then Alex toured Bill and I around the park. Alex spouted an encyclopedic knowledge of ballpark trivia on things like Splash Hit home runs into McCovey Cove, provided recommenationson the best ballpark eats and told about Vladimir Guerrero's batting practice shot that nearly reached the Giant-sized glove in left field.  
Giant sized baseball glove
  Baseball park food concession   Cruising the baseball park  
Chowing Down
Cruising the park
  Seats honor Giants' past   Gearing up at the baseball game  
Seats honor Giants' past
Gearing up

The game against the Atlanta Braves was unremarkable, even with two-time Cy Young Award pitcher Tim Lincecum throwing for the Giants. His control was erratic, the Giants were sloppy in the field and they wasted scoring opportunities at the plate. The final: 5-2 bad guys.


* * * *

Unlike Seals Stadium and Candlestick Park, the Giants' longtime home until moving in 2000, AT&T Park is an attraction. Located along San Francisco's waterfront, it pays homage to Giants past, with statues outside the park of Mays, Marichal, Cepeda and, at McCovey Cove, Willie Mac. Less known is the Seal Statue, behind the park at the Marina Gate.

  Orlando Cepeda - The Baby Bull   Posing with Juan Marichal   Willie Mays, forever young  
Orlando Cepeda - The Baby Bull
Posing with Juan Marichal
Willie Mays, forever young

Bill and I lingered after the game, savoring the atmosphere and checking out the sights. Bronze plaques decorate the Giants Wall of Fame on King Street. So far, 46 Giants have been honored, including Mays, Marichal, McCovey and Cepeda along with Felipe Alou, Bobby Bonds, Rod Beck, Will Clark, Gaylord Perry, Tom Haller, Mike McCormick, Robby Thompson and Matt Williams.

Outside the park, beyond the right field wall, are another collection of plaques. One commemorates opening day at what was then Pacific Bell Park. Others celebrate the 2000 and 2002 National League West Division Championships, the 2003 100-win season, Rob Nenn's 300th save, Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter, the 2007 All-Star Game and other highlights. Several honor Barry Bonds: his 500th, 600th, 660th (which tied Mays), 700th, record-setting 715th and career ending 756th home runs. The most creative is Bond's 500th homer plaque, with the slugger's hand-prints and autograph pressed into the surrounding concrete. But the best celebrates the 2010 World Series championship.

  Sanchez's no-no   The "Nenth" inning   Honoring Barry Bonds  
Sanchez's no-no
The "Nenth" inning
Honoring Barry Bonds
  Eventually, long after the sell-out crowds had vanished, we worked our way back to Bill's car and a downtown dinner. The Giants didn't win that day, and it might take another 50-plus years to claim another title. But the glow and sense of joy remains, now and forever.   Giants 1957 championship plaque  
Giants 1957 championship plaque
  About the author  
  Lee Juillerat lives in Klamath Falls, Oregon, where local radio stations used to broadcast Giants games. He writes for the Klamath Falls Herald and News and is frequent contributor to Northwest Travel, Range and Horizon Air's in-flight magazine. He can be contacted on Facebook or at  
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