Barbecued chicken, quesadillas and garlic fries all figure prominently in my personal history, but the sustenance I receive from the game goes well beyond food. Simply put, baseball brings me joy.
Double-Header Chicken Dinner
Today I am a Giants fan, but I grew up in St. Louis, listening to Cardinals games on the radio. Every summer, on Sundays my father and my maternal grandfather would have the game on while barbecuing chicken in our back yard. My mom and grandmother fixed side dishes in the kitchen and my job was to bring cold beers out to the men. Over the years, I spent more and more time outside, asking questions and learning about the game from two ardent fans.
When my mother would ask when dinner might be ready, Daddy would report, “It’s only the bottom of the sixth” or “We have to break this tie first.” Some Sundays, when the Cardinals played two games back to back, our “double-header chicken” took all afternoon to cook.
Bob Gibson, who played for the Cardinals from 1959 to 1975, often pitched both games of a double header, but I admired him for more than his formidable skill. My grandfather, not otherwise known for his racial tolerance, thought Bob Gibson was a god, “capable of walking on water,” Daddy always said.
Fowl Play at the Ballpark
My son wasn’t much of a baseball fan until the early 2000s, when he converted after moving to the San Francisco Bay Area for a job. At the time, Barry Bonds was routinely knocking ‘em out of the park – at least when the opposing team pitched to him, instead of intentionally walking him. My son and some of his friends invested in rubber chickens – 3,000 of them, as I recall – and sold them at sports bars so fans could wave the chickens when Bonds was cheated out of opportunities to hit.
When my grandson was just a toddler, I started teaching him “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” my favorite hymn and one his older cousins knew well. Early on, he would join in on just a few phrases, but soon he knew how to sing the whole song. Next, he started providing insightful color commentary when we watched Giants’ games on TV. Then he started incessantly quizzing his parents on the players’ jersey numbers, which he had memorized. Now he likes learning stats and historical facts, and we all talk baseball a lot, year 'round.
The Lure of the Turkey Leg
So how did a longtime Cardinals fan morph into a Giants fan? When I was in high school, my favorite team won the World Series in 1964 and 1967. When I got to college, I was busy studying journalism and protesting the Vietnam War. Later, as a young wife and working mother, I didn’t have a lot of time for baseball. Then early in the 2000s, as restaurant critic at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I was sent to the ball park to write about the new culinary offerings.
Seated behind home plate at Busch Stadium, I dutifully sampled the quesadillas and nibbled on a smoked turkey leg, but what really caught my attention was Mark McGwire, who looked like a Greek god inexplicably clad in a uniform. More important, watching him play reminded me that I knew baseball. I was eager to get back under the spell of the game, and started scheduling frequent watch parties with friends.
During the off-season, I watched baseball movies and read books about baseball. Two favorites to this day are Lawrence Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It” and “You're Out and You're Ugly, Too! Confessions Of An Umpire With An Attitude” by Durwood Merrill and Jim Dent. I also bought Cardinals’ shirts, red socks, even baseball earrings.
No Harm, No Foul
Some friends in St. Louis considered me a traitor. “You have to love the one you’re with,” I told them. I donated my Cardinals wardrobe to Goodwill and I bought the equivalent in orange and black. Later that fall, I danced in my living room as I watched the 2010 Giants team win the World Series.
http://latetothehaight.blogspot.com/2012/02/smile-youre-in-giants-commercial.html) I was in the TV commercials that summer and also the following year, and was even recognized on the street because of it. The Giants won the World Series in 2012 and again in 2014.
Since then, the pace has slowed, but my loyalty has not wavered. I go to a game or two each season and I watch or listen to the rest. I wear my team's colors, including an orange T-shirt with the words "Garlic Fries" (a local delicacy) printed all over it, another that pays tribute to Lou Seal, the team mascot, and one that depicts four Giants players in Beatles' wigs, a souvenir from the game played on my 70th birthday last summer.
This month, my favorite team has started to coalesce, just as that rowdy group did in 2010. Since the All-Star Break early in July, the Giants have climbed up from the bottom rung and now are being talked about as Wild Card contenders. Baseball, as I’ve said, is unpredictable, but right now Giants fans everywhere are keeping the faith.