Monday, November 3, 2014

Across America with the Giants

The 2014 World Series was a unique experience as my wife and I were traveling and we enjoyed the entire event while on the road. We watched Game One in Santa Clarita which is, surprisingly, the third-largest city in Los Angeles County. It was only recently incorporated (1987) and is composed of several former separate communities like Newhall, Saugus, and Valencia. At 1200 feet elevation it sits on the southern edge of the Transverse Ranges before the descent into the San Fernando Valley. It is probably best-known for Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park. We had planned to avoid the downtown LA traffic by crossing the city later in the evening and hoped to stop somewhere along I-5 to watch the game. If you have ever driven to Southern California along that route you know there's not much to choose from. I had identified a likely spot, a sports bar called the Tilted Kilt, which turned out to be in one of those boulevard lined mega-shopping complexes that are no more attractive than the box store strip malls that blight our country's mid-sized towns. The restaurant itself was big and clean and horribly modern with over two dozen televisions. The food was the usual fare but decent overall and the beer selection was passable. It's a "guy" place with scantily clad cute waitresses in tartan halter tops and mini-skirts. Madison Bumgarner and the Giants kicked ass so it was really quite pleasant despite the characterless setting. And we missed the infamous LA rush hour and made it to our South Bay destination in good time. We noticed one or two other Giants fans in the place who actually left before the end. No Dodgers fans seemed to be present--at least none were sporting their blue, and no one else seemed particularly passionate about the event.

Game Two we spent in the home of our dear friend BRZ in Lomita and that was good as the Giants got a whipping by the Royals. It's always nice to have true fans around to commiserate with. We endured Fox and Joe Buck as best we could and had a splendid visit before our train trip. Taking walks around the area we of course wore our caps but LA fans had already forgotten their season and had turned their thoughts to the myriad of other distractions that abound down there. Game Three happened while we were on the Southwest Chief heading to Chicago and we had to depend on text updates from JCP and various bits of info from other passengers. We didn't encounter any real baseball fans although one of the dining car attendants made a point of lamenting the tough loss with us the next morning. I was not prepared to fully follow the action but I was relaxed and philosophical about the disconnect as that is very much part of my travel outlook. Spontaneity and serendipity are really what journeys are all about. We pulled in to Kansas City the morning of Game Four and I saw a few Royals caps on people in the station but once again did not encounter any baseball fans on the train. That evening after we were settled in our hotel in Chicago we took a walk around the neighborhood and discovered Kitty O'Shea's Pub and Restaurant in the ground floor of the Hilton just across the street. We ate dinner and drank to excess and had a grand time watching the epic come-from-behind Giants victory. We spent the first half of the game talking with a lively gentleman whose mother was a devoted Royals fan. He was an intelligent student of the game and knew quite a bit about the Giants and their players. He left before the onslaught but the bartender, who was from Dublin, had a rooting interest for KC. It seems he won a bet from his "bruddah" on the Super Bowl and rather than a payoff had doubled down on the Series. I love the Irish version of the "th" sound in English--you get everything from "t" to "d" and lots in between. Let's just say if an Irishman calls you "tick" it's not a compliment.

Game Five we watched in our room after a long day of walks exploring the city. Madison Bumgarner was sensational of course, and we got to enjoy it in comfort. We wore our Giants gear around town but there was a Blackhawks game happening that evening and the sports fans around seemed focused on the young hockey season. We did talk to a couple in Grant Park earlier in the day who saw our colors and knew we were tourists and gave us some pointers about where to go and what to see. We were on the train for Game Six and had to rely on text updates once again. No one had any interest as far as we could tell which was fine as that contest was decided early as the Giants were trounced. We made it to Philadelphia for Game Seven after an exhausting journey and once again watched it in the comfort of our room. The Giants were brilliant (that Bumgarner fellow was pretty good again) and we celebrated quietly together before collapsing from our extended travel ordeal.

Philadelphia, we found out, is a real baseball town. Strangers would see our SF garb and say "congratulations" or "you guys must be pumped" and whatnot. It was fun. Lots of people wanted to talk about Madison Bumgarner, Panda, Hunter Pence, and even rookie Joe Panik. There was still a buzz about the Series even though the long season was over and there was little or no rooting interest in either team. At NoirCon (the crime writing conference we were there for) we met one of my literary heroes, Eddie Muller, who is from San Francisco. He saw our caps and came over to gush about the championship. We enjoyed several fun and fruitful conversations with Eddie over the next few days. He was charming and approachable as well as a passionate and intelligent fan. Several of the conference attendees were also baseball types and we would chat in the elevator in the hotel or at breaks in the proceedings. Drinking beers (and eating pirogies) with the British writer Richard Godwin and his wife after the conference ended was great as he was very interested in Raising Matt Cain and wanted to know what I attributed the team's spectacular run to. For an Englishman he had a fair interest in our national pastime and knew more than I expected. I told him about the great job the team had done drafting amateur talent, the wisdom of picking Bruce Bochy to be the field manager, and the club culture of valuing players and their contributions. It was a thumbnail sketch and off-the-cuff but I think I hit the key points. Obviously it has been a lot of fun to bask in the glory of the orange-and-black.

I remember telling many of the folks we discussed the season with that I pinch myself every morning about the recent dynastic success of our beloved ballclub. It's an amazing time to be a Giants fan and a great payoff for decades of loyalty. It's particularly rewarding because I started this blog near the end of the 2007 season and the team's ascendancy coincided perfectly with us hitting our stride as bloggers. I hope I have thanked all of you who have been reading along with us enough over the years for being a part of RMC. It's nice to know people are reading when you write something and the discussions and arguments and everything have been great. Some of you out there in comment land are my friends and we've shared the ups and downs over the years. Some of you I only know virtually from our internet encounters but I feel we've been through a lot together and I hope some day to buy you a beer and shake your hand if we ever meet in the real world!

We are just at the start of our cross-country train journey back home to California. And there's wifi! What's up with that? Where was this connection when I needed it?

I'm sure we'll have much to talk about in the off-season, like always, but I'm going to take it nice and slow and put some energy into my other projects over the next few months. I hope my fellow authors will chime in and post up their opinions on the things the team needs for 2015 and beyond.




Zo said...

We will, but not quite yet.

nomisnala said...

The off season is just a place/time in the time/space continuum from when the last out is made in the world series, and Spring training officially starts. In the good old days we did not have to worry about the off season wheelings and dealings but today if one wants to stay in tune they can follow the off season moves. Otherwise, try your potluck and see what the lineup is on opening day 2015.

Brother Bob said...

It's now Sign Pablo Season.

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Nice post. I always thought that Phillies fans were tough guys, nice to know that they can appreciate other's success.

Sabean is focusing on Pablito first and foremost. I'm OK with signing Pablo only if the contract seems fair within the parameters of how other top 3B have been signed to in recent years. But Pence Plus is not realistic, in my mind, so I would pass if that is what is necessary to keep him.

If he does sign, most probably there won't be many other signings, of significance, other than maybe Vogelsong. Even if he doesn't sign, I don't see a lot happening, maybe LF.

And they will probably try to sign Romo, but I expect him to move on, especially to Dodgers, his family are True Blue bleeders, and he probably was that growing up, so I expect another sickly press conference where an ex-Giants is crying his eyes out about joining the team of his boyhood.

He is probably also looking for closer money, if possible, and the Dodgers had been doing that with Wilson even though he's not a closer. Of course, Ned isn't in charge any more, and with a new regime of propeller hats in place, who believe relievers are fungible, maybe LA won't be so beckoning, but lots of teams could use a pitcher with closer experience like Romo.

Luckily, I think Kontos is ready to take Romo's place, plus Strickland should be ready as well (as long as his confidence isn't messed up by all the long-balls in playoffs), so we got two possible replacements already in place.

Zo said...

I understand that Wilson's contract had a player option for $9 mil. So he exercised that. I have to disagree that Kontos, or for that matter, Strickland is ready to take Romo's place, however, unlike 3rd basemen, there are quite a few closers/set up guys on the market, so that suggests that Romo may not get closer money.

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Yes, Wilson had a players option, but that contract was also for 2014, and, if they weren't OK with having a non-closer make that money, they wouldn't have given him that option in the first place.

About Romo, my point is that he's looking for that money, and that's one reason why the Giants will move on from him.

Here's what I was thinking re: Kontos=Romo. If you are saying he's not like Romo, then yeah, I see and concede your point.

What I was trying to get at was that Romo had a relatively meh season, and that I think Kontos can at least match that, if not exceed that. Kontos had a bad 2013 because he had a bad off-season celebrating too much, and that cost him his spot. But he was great for us in the latter stages of 2014, he was pretty much back to where he was in 2012, though I would like to see more K's.

Plus, even if he is not, I think between him and Strickland, somebody will do well enough to match up with the ROOGY that Romo was for us.

And according to this research, Kontos is platoon-neutral, which overall works better for us in setup, because while Romo is great vs. RHB, the last two season, LHB has killed him, high 700 OPS.

And pay no mind to Strickland's problems in the playoffs. He said the right things but it's the playoffs, it's the World Series, and not that long ago, he was pitching San Jose. It had to have affected him somewhat.

Look instead at how great he was in AA, not only striking out so many, but more so, not walking that many. Control like that translates well to the majors, as well as stuff. Believe me, he's going to be good up here, not that good, but good enough.

I think between the two of them, they can replace in 2015 what Romo and Gutierrez (as he is who I think Strickland will replace) did for the team in 2014, if not exceed.

nomisnala said...

Would like to see another decent lefty starter, and another decent lefty reliever added to the mix.

obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

Okert is doing extremely well in AFL, enough to get mention as top performer by's Pipeline. He also did well in AA as well, even though he was relatively young for the league (though SSS). I have to think that he's going to be competing for a bullpen role in spring training 2015.

I see no need to focus on a LHP starting pitcher, we just need to continue to focus on getting good starting pitchers and have the cream rise to the top.