Storytelling & Community: Giants, and narratives there pertaining

I don’t know if you heard, but on Monday, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series.  I know what you’re thinking. “Holy Schmikes, he’s going to post about baseball.  Again.  What is his deal?”  Or, if you’re from Utah, “What is his dill.”

But. Okay.  Here’s the thing.  I know that it’s ridiculous, to spend so much time and energy cheering for a professional sports team.  Like they care, these preposterously well-compensated, hopelessly overprivileged mesomorphs whose main skill in life involves being able to toss a ball in a hoop, run really fast with an oddly shaped inflated pigskin, or hit a small ball with a stick.To what end, this emotional investment, this misplaced passion, this obsession with arcane statistics and obscure strategies?  Dude, grow up. 

I get all that.  And I’m a fan of the San Francisco Giants, called that because, in 1910, while in their New York iteration, they happened to have a few guys a little taller than normal. Someone said, “wow, they’re all a bunch of giants.”  The nickname stuck.  They moved to San Francisco in 1958, a town I have never lived in.  I’m from Indiana, some 2200 miles from the city by the bay.  But they’ve been my team since I was 10, when my friends made fun of me because I didn’t root for the Reds like a normal person.

There’s a reason why I’m a Giants fan–I’m saving it for the end.  And yes, I know fandom is arbitrary. I know players come and go, are primarily loyal to paychecks. I know, rooting for the Giants, I’m cheering for a uniform.  I’m essentially rooting for laundry.

But isn’t passion good?  Doesn’t passion feed passion, isn’t the ability to care deeply for something a learned skill, and transferable?  My wife doesn’t really care about baseball, but she cares about me, and she watched a little with me.  And then asked if I wanted to watch Castle.  And we did, and I thought it an emotionally enhanced televisual experience.

So I get that that hasn’t been your experience, some of you.  So try this–baseball is, sure, a game, but also this huge overarching narrative, encompassing American history and race relations and unionization and heroics and villains and big finance and the corrupting influence thereof. So baseball’s not the Civil Rights Movement, but Jackie Robinson mattered, and played for the Dodgers seven years before Brown v. Board–didn’t he, in some ways, prepare the way?

Plus this.  I became a Giants fan in the ’60′s.  From 1961-1969, the Giants won more games than anyone.  They finished second every year, and it was always close, and it was always painful.  They had 5 Hall of Famers on that team for most of those years, including Willie Mays, probably the greatest player who ever lived.  But they also had Hal Lanier, probably the worst major league baseball player the Good Lord ever fitted for a jock strap.

I think that’s when you fall in love with a team, when they’re super good every year, and never quite good enough.  If your team just stinks every year, it’s hard to sustain fandom.  You start to feel like a masochist.  It’s when they’re really really good, and fall just . . . this much . ..  short.  Not to go all Father Lehi on you, but isn’t that what he’s talking about, opposition in all things, knowing pain so we can know joy?

But mostly I think we love baseball for the narratives.  We love good baseball stories, because we love good stories.  And baseball, I think precisely because the best players fail 66% of the time, lends itself to great story telling. Like this: the Giants Juan Uribe, a mediocre journeyman most of his career, hit a late inning home run early this season.  When he hit it, he did this jazz hands gesture.  Someone pointed it out to him–he hadn’t known he’d done it.  But he watched film of it, and decided that making jazz hands indicated a good follow-through on his swing.  So he kept doing the jazz hands, and had his finest season.

I love the stories about this team, the 2010 Giants, a team of cast-offs and vagabonds, a roster full of guys no one else wanted.  I love the rookie pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, who got married last summer and whose prospective mother-in-law had ‘em play ‘Take Me Out To the Ballgame’ instead of the wedding march.  I love skinny Tim Lincecum, the team superstar pitcher, whose Dad, a mechanical engineer, invented a new way to pitch that maximized effectiveness and minimized injuries, because his kid wanted to play Little League and Dad didn’t want him to get hurt.  I love Aubrey Huff, whose wife gave him a red thong for a gag birthday gift, which he kept wearing because he thought it brought good luck, and so ‘the rally thong’ was born.  (I have a friend from the Bay Area who reports that a plumber she hired was wearing one.)  I love Edgar Renteria, who’s going to retire at the end of the season, who, with his last swing as a major league baseball player, hit the game winning home run in the World Series.  I love Pat Burrell, our team leader.  In the playoffs, we beat the Braves, largely because of three errors by a rookie named Brooks Conrad, who had to play second base for the first time all season because of injuries to teammates. After the game, Burrell went over to Conrad, told him how much he respected him, told him to keep his head up, that baseball humbles us all.  And then, in the World Series, Burrell didn’t get a hit, and suffered that indignity with his usual class and calm.

I think sometimes we want our stories to all work out neatly.  Baseball tells us it doesn’t always.  Fiction’s about truth, too, not just Truth.

This is my team, though it doesn’t make sense for them to be,  But I chose them, I chose, growing up in Indiana, to root for a team from San Francisco.  Agency: we don’t just choose whether or not we’ll sin, we also get to choose who we’ll give our hearts to.  And I gave my heart to San Francisco.

Sometimes love’s unrequited.  Man, it feels good when it all works out.  That’s also part of the gospel, I think.

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6 Responses to Storytelling & Community: Giants, and narratives there pertaining

  1. Wm Morris says:

    I only came to baseball as a teenager in the East Bay, but for several reasons gravitated to the Giants rather than the A’s, even once making the 2 hours by public transportation trip to sit in the cold at Candlestick.

    I quickly adopted the Twins upon the move to Minnesota as my AL team, but vaguely held on to my Giants fandom although I thought it much diminished. That all changed when the Giants made the playoffs and I begin to think about 1989 and 2002 and the heartbreak of other years of playoff futility or even not making the post-season and realized that no, I wasn’t on any bandwagon, there was a very real long(suffering) history there that I had been repressing. So I’m totally with you, Eric. And yes, it feels quite good.

  2. Th. says:

    .

    I’m a Pirates fan (I was raised in Idaho and California, and they’ve had the worst 15 years in proball history) but my boys have adopted the local teams (mostly the A’s but they like the Giants too) and this World Series is about the most fun I’ve had with sports.

    And to think when my wife thought when she married me she thought she’d never see sports on tv again. Little did she know that her father’s genes skip generations.

    You’re right, I think, that sports meet our narrative need. And I also think baseball tells our story much better than other sports.

  3. Scott Parkin says:

    While I love the idea of the Giants, I still hold Barry Bonds against them (sort of like I hold Jerry Jones against the Cowboys and Terrell Owens against whoever he plays for).

    The residual resentment will fade, but it hasn’t done so quite yet.

    Still, better the Giants than the Yankees.

    Besides, as a bitter Cubs fan of the last thirty-five years I’m not precisely sure what sports fandom means any more. I remember a warm, sunny afternoon at Wrigley when I was 12 or 13 where the Cubs scored 29 runs in a double-header against Philadelphia and still managed to lose both games.

    It scars a man…

  4. I think I may be the only male on the planet who completely lacks the sports-devotion gene. The whole thing is simply alien to me. I can understand enjoying playing sports; I can even (vaguely) understand enjoying watching sports, if you are into them enough. Back when I was the only boy in my (very small!) high school not on the football team, I even could feel an attachment to our team, because they were my friends and classmates. (Fewer than 50 people in a high school tends to put everyone on a first-name basis.) But like Scott Parkin’s (and my) colorblindness, devotion to a sports team appears to be a completely alien dimension to me.

    Can anyone suggest a parallel or way of viewing things that might make sense for me out of this perceptual blindness?

  5. Matt says:

    Nice Eric! From one avid Giants fan to another, I enjoyed this very much. Baseball mirrors life in so many ways, and that’s why I think it is more meaningful than a lot of the experiences we have with other sports. Its rich history and the lessons and memories passed on from generation to generation are a testament that the game truly is inspired.

    Here’s a couple Giants related postings from this perspective for you:

    http://www.raccoontoons.com/comics/2010-11-01-we-did-it

    http://www.raccoontoons.com/comics/2010-11-04-this-is-baseball

  6. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    "Still, better the Giants than the Yankees." Amen.

    I would remind you Scott and Giants fans, that it wasn’t San Francisco who embarrassed NY and saved the world from seeing the Yanks in another world series. Y’all are welcome.

    Signed, a devoted Rangers fan.

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