Saturday, June 26, 2021

The New Normal Of Bay Area Baseball


So this is what the so-called new normal looks like in Bay Area baseball?

The San Francisco Giants are suddenly relevant again though they seem irreverent everywhere else despite being the first team in Major League Baseball this year halfway to 100 wins. They are somehow putting a safe social distance in the NL West standings between themselves and their filthy rich rivals, the Lo$ Angele$ Dodger$ and the $an Diego Padre$.

 The Oakland A’s are once again in playoff contention for the playoffs, yet the closest they come to getting their own waterfront ballpark is visiting the Giants’. As a baseball entity, the A’s continue to get about as much respect as Hudson, Mulder and Zito in “Moneyball.”

 Nevertheless, by the sound and feel of things, they are beloved in the Bay Area by their baseball-starved fans.

 After a nearly two-year pandemic-related sabbatical from the ballpark, I decided to take the temperature of these Giants and A’s fanatics on Saturday night and I didn’t need to use a digital forehead thermometer. They were gathered in bunches outside Oracle Park three hours before first pitch, a long line of which we have not seen since the toilet paper troll outside Costco in the spring of 2019. Oracle is now open to full capacity and as near as I can tell the only people required to wear a mask anymore are the two guys who crouch behind home plate because the pitcher throwing in their direction evidently may still be carrying a virus because he is checked every inning as if he is passing through TSA at the airport.

 Emptiness, eeriness, and bland cutouts at the ballpark are a thing of the past. When the gates opened here on Saturday, the buzz of real fans rushing to their seats sounded like kids getting off the bus for a field trip to Disneyland with a case of Red Bull. There was happiness and healing all at once and it’s not too surprising.

 There is a lot for these fans to like about their teams. In fact, if Dusty Baker didn’t have the Houston Astros playing out of this world right now this Bay Bridge Series would be the Mid-Season World Series.

 Not that anyone east of Stockton would care. Nightly discussion about Bay Area baseball nationally stops in the Central Time Zone and fades into Quick Pitch. Maybe ESPN, MLB Network and the Joe Buck Network ought to wake up and start paying attention to what’s going on out here instead of focusing on pitchers using spider tack. The last time there was this much controversy about sticky fingers it was 1971 and a Rolling Stones album cover.

For starters, Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi is a baseball baby yoda right now yet he’s getting about as much credit as a street sweeper in a circus parade. Zaidi took over the Giants for the 2019 season and cleaned up this mess and started turning over the roster. Of the 32 pitchers on the Giants at the end of the 2019 season, only one – Johnny Cueto – is currently on the team’s active roster and yet Giants pitchers lead the major leagues with 11 shutouts. The only Giants player in the starting lineup on Saturday who was in the Giants’ starting lineup exactly one year ago on the same day was Brandon Crawford.

The Giants are winning because of free agents like Kevin “Under The Radar” Gausman who would be the National League’s starting pitcher in the All-Star Game if not for the Mets’ Jacob deGrom who gets more coverage than the British Royals. Their offensive hero Saturday night was back-up catcher Curt Casali who for the second night in a row subbing for the injured Buster Posey, drove home the winning-run with a walk-off RBI double capping a two-run rally in the bottom of the 10th inning for another come-from-behind victory.

 Meanwhile, as the team’s president looks at more than a dozen potential places to build a new desert-front ballpark in Las Vegas, the A’s routinely trot out contending teams on a Dollar Tree budget with a manager, Bob Melvin, who might be the most underrated skipper in baseball history. Melvin was ejected from the game in the eighth inning for arguing balls and strikes, which only added to the delightful drama of the game which was indisputable.

The gritty A’s are like the Little Engine That Could 2.0.  They have four viable candidates for the All-Star Game this month – first baseman Matt Olson, catcher Sean Murphy, pitcher Chris Bassitt, and outfielder Mark Canha, now on the 10-day IR.  And, best of all, struggling third baseman Matt Chapman had his biggest hit of the season – a tie-breaking opposite-field two-run home run in the seventh inning that raised his fist in celebration – and his biggest RBI of the season with a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the 10th. Both lifted the spirits of A’s fans who desperately need some good news out of Oakland and Alameda County where they can’t agree to build their team a new home.

 What was amazing at Oracle Park on Saturday night is that so many A’s fans crossed the Bay Bridge from the East Bay to attend the game in San Francisco. Afternoon traffic was jammed to the point they could have called this the Bay Bridge Metering Lights Are On Series. The combination of A’s fans gravitating toward the home park of Giants fans created an incredible atmosphere and dynamic in the stands around two excellent baseball teams on the field. During the game the rival fans became engaged in a Chant-Off – “Let’s Go Giants!” versus “Let’s Go Oakland” – as if it was a high school cheering exercise. You know “We Got Spirit, Ye We Do. We Got Spirit ‘How Bout You?” This went back-and-forth like the score of the game.

Simply put there was a feel-good vibe in the ballpark where the end result was totally cool and fun evening of extra-inning entertainment. The fans were into the game and the moment, intoxicated by the opportunity to come together in the great outdoors and cheer and jeer and clap and whistle and sing and dance at anything other than Netflix and HBO Max. Together they belted out “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and “Livin’ On A Prayer” louder than ever.

Whoa-oh this new normal.