Saturday, August 9, 2014

A's stage manager/catcher reunion in wake of 25th anniversary of world championship

OAKLAND – Two weeks after the Oakland A’s celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1989 World Series championship season with much pomp and circumstance, the A’s staged another 25th anniversary reunion of sorts in the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday night.
It happened during the ceremonial first pitch when two grown men hugged.
Newly inducted Baseball Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, skipper of the A’s world champions in 1989, was selected to throw out the first pitch on Tony La Russa Bobblehead Night. But the guy who was chosen to catch it, wearing a Minnesota Twins uniform, was Terry Steinbach, La Russa’s All-Star catcher who was more a mastermind than bobblehead on that glorious A’s team 25 years ago.
Steinbach, now in his second season as the bench coach for the Twins, is trying to follow La Russa’s footsteps into the managerial world. That’s like Jimmy Fallon following Jay Leno’s footsteps into late night.
“There is a lot to learn,” Steinbach said.
Not only can Steinbach get on the job training with respected Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, but he can draw on his nine full years of experience playing in Oakland for La Russa and managing one of the best pitching staffs of all-time. During his stint with the A’s, Steinbach learned how to win and how to play together as a team on the field and hang together off it.
“We used to call ourselves the Alameda Barbecue Club,” Steinbach said.
Of course, one of his former teammates, Jose Canseco, wound up grilling some of the A’s – most notably former “Bash Brother” Mark McGwire -- in a tell-all book years later. Canseco recently returned to the Oakland Coliseum for the 25th anniversary celebration, but Steinbach was unable to attend because the Twins were home in Minnesota playing the Chicago White Sox and he didn’t feel comfortable asking to leave the team again for a couple of games. In May, Steinbach had left the team to attend his youngest son’s college graduation in Duluth.
So Steinbach didn’t get a chance to see La Russa or Canseco. In fact the last time Steinbach saw Canseco was when the Twins bench coach checked into a team hotel room late at night one night on the road and saw Canseco among exercise freaks and weight loss gurus acknowledging he had low testosterone in a TV commercial for a high testosterone supplement. In Steinbach’s eyes, Canseco admitting to low testosterone is the equivalent of Pete Rose admitting to a slight gambling problem.
“He used to hit 500-foot home runs here and now he is in an infomercial for testosterone?” Steinbach said, shaking his head and smiling.
Steinbach has fonder memories of his other Oakland teammates and of the team owner, the late Walter A. Haas Jr. The unassuming and humble team owner was the foundation for the A’s success in the late 80s and early 90s when the team acquired talent from all over unlike the current Oakland team which gets a great deal of its talent by way of Boston.
“I can remember Mr. Haas would actually ask Tony if he could visit the clubhouse and say hi to us,” Steinbach said. “Tony would say, `Walter, you own the team. You can do what you’d like.”
On rare occasions when Mr. Haas would venture into the clubhouse, the admiration and respect the team had for the team owner was evident. He would make his way from locker to locker and each player would turn and shake his hand as if it was the pope coming down a receiving line.
It was a veteran clubhouse filled with superstars – MVPs, Rookies of the Years and Cy Young Award winners. It was easy to overlook Steinbach’s contribution because on a team with larger than life personalities he was a mainstay behind a mask. He was the unheralded, productive starting catcher calling the pitches for a staff that went to three consecutive World Series.
A’s fans from that era haven’t forgotten. The ovation Steinbach received from the near sellout crowd (that included New Jersey Governor Chris Christie) on Saturday night when he was announced for the ceremonial first pitch matched the adulation A’s fans voiced for La Russa when a Hall of Fame banner  honoring him was unfurled in leftfield.
From a team that yielded the Bash Brothers, three Hall of Famers and a starting four rotation that averaged 19 wins that season that’s saying something for Steinbach.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Seventeen years in the making 49ers new football stadium debuts with a soccer match/traffic mess

SANTA CLARA – I never thought I’d envision this place, this moment, this day.
On June 5, 1997, I was covering an election event in the Longshoreman’s Hall off the Embarcadero near Fisherman’s Wharf that ended with then San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown standing atop a table swigging champagne and proclaiming the greatest victory ever by the San Francisco 49ers.
Or at least one that did not involve a Joe Montana or Steve Young touchdown pass.
San Francisco voters had narrowly passed Measures D and F  – by the margin of a whisker on Willie Brown’s mustache --  that at the time paved the way for the 49ers to build a brand spanking new $325 stadium  complex – including a $200 million, 1.5 million square foot Eddie DeBartolo stamped shopping mall – that would open in Candlestick Point next to Candlestick Park in the year 2000.
“There’s an old Chinese proverb,” 49ers president Carmen Policy said that night, “one ugly victory is better than 1,000 glorious defeats.”
Well, 1,000 defeats seem to follow. The 49ers evolved from the Bill Walsh/George Seifert Dynasty Years to the Dennis Erickson/Mike Nolan Errors. While the 49ers built a bridge of quarterbacks – from Tim Rattay to Ken Dorsey to the unforgettable Cody Pickett – to arrive to Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, the new stadium was struck in a proverbial Alcatraz.
Now, 17 years later and 14 years after a new 49ers stadium was first to be built in San Francisco, I sit in the front row of the plush press box on the eighth/penthouse top floor of a new 49ers stadium on August 2, 2014.
In Santa Clara, not San Francisco. Beside an amusement park, not a shopping mall. Watching a futbol match, not a football game.
Except for traffic, it is not ugly. Levi Stadium is, well, a stroke of jean-ius. Hallelujah! It's not a 10. It's a button-down 501 masterpiece!
The honor of playing this inaugural night in the new stadium was given to the MLS’ San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders and 40, 000 plus fans/crash dummies who were so many mice in an experiment leading to the ultimate discovery – trying to figure out how to soon get an additional 30,000 people into Levi’s Stadium for a 49ers game. That’s right, USA World Cup star Clint Dempsey was simply a guinea pig here.
From the press box perspective, the first thing that needs addressing is you can’t fit a foot-long hot dog (excuse me, it's listed as frankfurter in Levi's Stadium) into a six-inch roll, no matter if it’s home baked. And the giant big mega video screens at both ends of the stadium are easier to see and hear than the TV sets directly above the front row. Either move them or hire a chiropractor for halftime and post-game.
And, catering to the media’s image as fat slobs, there are more desert items in the press box than 49ers on the police blotter. I should also note that there may be more restrooms in the press box than the entire Candlestick Park.
Other than that, the press box at Levi’s Stadium is a significant upgrade over the press box at Candlestick Park if only for the fact that it doesn’t leak, though it does have a new stadium smell that resembles fresh kettle corn.
As for the stadium itself, I didn't have a chance to walk around and check it out because there aren’t enough bread crumbs on earth to allow me to retrace my steps to the press box. The last time I was at this site, which rests up against the 49ers training facility at 4949 Centennial Way, it was a huge vacant parking lot where CHP trained its motorcyclists.
Now it’s a concrete jungle out there and, as of right now as far as I know, there is only one elevator in operation to take selected fans/media/VIPs to one of eight floors.
All in all, Levi’s Stadium is going to take some getting used to. Like this trivia question: Who was the first player to score in the 49ers new stadium? Answer: Midfielder Yannick Djalo from Lisbon, Portugal.
Traffic for the inaugural soccer game was a nightmare, the worst I have been involved in since after Game 3 of the 1989 World Series and the Loma Prieta Earthquake. The media lot was supposedly filled a half hour prior to kickoff and we were blocked and misdirected and nobody with a uniform knew where to put us. They were like umpires waving us foul. I ended parking on a residential street almost a mile away.
Nevertheless, the Quakes/Sounders soccer match drew a curious crowd of 48,765 to the dry run for football in the 49ers new stadium.
One small step for man, one ugly victory for 49ers’ mankind.