Five Decades Of Memories At The Stick
It’s rather like the passing of an old friend when a stadium goes away, as anyone who ever attended a game at the old Honolulu Stadium well knows. So it is for me and the final game played at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on Monday night, when “my” 49ers took on Atlanta. And given geography and team allegiances of many Islanders, I suspect I’m not the only one in the 50th State who took Monday’s game personally.
I couldn’t help getting choked up a bit, remembering all of the family, friends and cordial strangers (and a few boorish drunks) with whom I shared the place over five decades, the two teams I cheered (Niners and baseball Giants), and the players I worshipped as a boy and whose skill I admired as an adult.
OK, and then there’s Willie Mays, of whom I am still worshipful as the greatest all-around baseball player ever. No amount of “growing up” is going to change that.
It started in June 1961, Candlestick’s second season (and the Giants’ fourth season in San Francisco after moving west from New York), when our family of four drove down to San Francisco from Oregon. I was 12, and had already been to two college football stadiums and two minor league baseball ballparks with my Dad, but there was something special about Candlestick-by-the-bay. More than the beautiful setting, it was the Big Leagues! And because San Francisco was experiencing a rare heat wave, I didn’t get an inkling of the outrageously cold, windy, foggy weather I would later endure there, reminding me too often of Mark Twain’s classic line: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
On that trip, Dad took me to three games – two against Leo Durocher’s Dodgers and one against the Milwaukee Braves of manager Chuck Dressen, one of Brooklyn’s “Boys of Summer.” And Willie went wild – five hits in 12 at-bats, with a double, two home runs, five RBI and five runs scored. That included going 2-for-4 with a home run, scoring two runs and driving in three off the Braves’ Warren Spahn, the game’s greatest left-handed pitcher who six weeks earlier had no-hit the Giants. (A tip of the ball cap to baseball-almanac.com for the official stats to fill in my still-colorful memories.) Hank Aaron went 0-for-4 against the Giants, and I remember a joking quote from “Hammerin’ Hank” in the San Francisco papers, about how Willie was hitting the ball all over the park and making Aaron run more than he would have preferred.
Thus was a lifelong Giants fan created, and a lifelong worshipper of Willie Mays.
There were a few other games at Candlestick during my collegiate years, including seeing a Tom Seaver shutout interrupted by a streaker in April 1974. My recollection is that the Mets’ “Tom Terrific” was working on a no-hitter until his concentration was interrupted by the streaker, who actually slid bare-okole into home. Ouch.
Two years later I was working at the San Jose Mercury-News, and Giants and 49ers games at Candlestick became a regular part of my life. After moving to Hawaii in 1979, games in San Francisco remained a favorite vacation destination, including in July 1984 when I took stepsons James and Daniel Andrade to their first MLB game. We saw the Houston Astros hit back-to-back-to-back home runs, and S.F. fans respond by pelting the team’s ridiculous crab mascot with whatever debris they could hurl. In October 1989, the late restaurateur Henry Loui, who I called “my Chinese father,” and I were in San Francisco and had watched the opening game of the World Series at Oakland through pukas in the out-field fence, and then scored tickets to the infamous “earthquake game” at Candlestick – but my then-bosses at the Advertiser wouldn’t let me take two more days of vacation, and I flew home the day before the quake, missing a chance to report on one of the biggest natural disasters of my lifetime up to that point; it would have been right up there with covering the Mount St. Helen’s eruption and lava over-running Kalapana.
In September 1999, I got lucky – during a trip to the Bay Area to interview racer Mario Andretti at Laguna Seca raceway for a MidWeek cover story, I took in one of the Giants’ last games at Candlestick. And then in November 2012 I got to say a formal goodbye, when the 49ers hosted the Rams on a sun-splashed bayside day. (That, by the way, was the game Colin Kaepernick took over for concussed Alex Smith as the Niners’ No. 1 quarterback; it ended in a rare overtime tie.)
Walking out of the stadium after the game, knowing it was likely my last visit to “The Stick,” well, it was emotional. There in the gloaming I turned back for a last look, raised a cup of beer in remembrance and gratitude. And the Anchor Steam was good.
Thanks for the memories.