Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bay Bridge Series

This weekend marks what we here in the San Francisco Bay Area call "the Bay Bridge Series." The A's and Giants play each other the last few games of spring training, but here in the Bay Area, in each ballpark. This is a tradition that has lasted since 1982, and has its roots in the 1981 players strike.

In '81, when the strike was ended in mid-summer, a date was set for resuming the schedule. With quite a bit of fan dissatisfaction, the A's and Giants decided to play a pair of exhibition games against each other just prior to the season resuming, one game in each park. This was designed to get the fans back into baseball, and to offer some real game practice to the players. It was so successful that they decided to do this the weekend prior to the '82 season. It also formed a new kind of rivalry because interleague play had not entered the scene yet.

The series took the form of two games, one in each park. But unless there was a sweep, a series tie could result. So they introduced a post-game homerun derby in case of tie. Later on, sometime in the 90's I think, the series was extended to three games to guarantee a series winner. Each year the teams alternated in hosting two of the three games. The series remained a success, was drummed up in the media, and the fans enjoyed it. Some couldn't take sides because they liked both teams and created two-way hats with both logos, and the like. It was a tailgate party's paradise. It could be fun for fans of both teams, because prior to interleague play, the teams never played each other when it really counted, and playing each other in the World Series was not even thinkable. (Then 1989 happened!)

Then in '97, the series fell in importance. This was because of the introduction of interleague play, with the two teams being among the "special" metro area rivals each year, playing each other in real games. One complete three-game series would be held in each park each year, regardless of rotating divisional matchups from year to year. Bragging rights meant something different. The pre-season version of the series also suffered a few other setbacks on occasion. The Giants, acting arrogantly toward their cross-bay rivals upped and scheduled games against other teams one year ('96 I think), leaving the A's hanging. The year 2000 also brought the opening of the Giants new ballpark, PacBell Park, as the villain. The Giants scheduled games against the Brewers and Yankees to christen their new yard, leaving only one game against the A's, if I remember correctly.

This decade, the series still exists, but with two games in SF and only one in Oakland. The Giants have taken advantage of their new ballpark's favor among all fans in scheduling three home exhibition games each spring end, two against the A's. Attendance is almost guaranteed to be greater in SF, so more ticket revenue is in view. Last night, the teams played to a 2-2 tie in 10 innings before quitting (spring training doesn't allow taxing of players when it doesn't count) and at the time of this writing, they had a 4-4 tie in the 5th. Tomorrow's game is in Oakland. I don't care who wins, as it is only exhibition, but it can still be fun.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Exhibition Coersion

As a full season ticket holder, I am required to buy the three exhibition (okay, well, spring training) games the Giants play in San Fran the weekend before opening day as part of the ticket package. They're full price, too. Many teams return home just before the season to play rivals or interesting matchups in the last few games before things count.

The Giants have a 10 year tradition of playing one home game vs. rotating opponents, then two games vs. the A's in SF, then one last game in Oakland. Tonight's game was vs. Seattle. Often, this team is the A's opening day opponent if the A's open at home. They're already in the Bay Area, so travel is minimized.

But the thing that sucks about this is that we can't get rid of these tickets to save our lives. We can't sell them. Nobody wants them. Tonight, there were about 5000 people actually there. Yet we pay full regular season ticket prices to watch pitchers jog on the warning track.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Short Winter

Opening Day is almost here. At the end of last season, I thought I'd have a lot more posts than I have. So much to write and all winter to do it. But it didn't happen that way. Maybe if I brought a laptop to the game...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ugly St. Patty's Day Uniforms

We're watching the Cubs/Padres game on WGN, and each team is wearing kelly green hats for St. Patrick's Day. But the rest of the uniform is the usual, so it looks stupid. I like the old Cincinnati Reds uni's where every piece of red was changed to green.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Almost Here

Less than 3 weeks until Opening Day.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Willie On Willie

"For fourteen years I had the best seat in baseball." - Willie McCovey on getting to view Willie Mays' at bats from the on deck circle.

This is pretty amazing when you think about it. Think of all the fans who had front row seats between the dugouts. But they usually only saw home games. Or all the players sitting in the dugout. But they were only marginally closer than the fans. The catcher and umpire were closer to Mays, but they had to concentrate on the ball, and were only there for the series. Willie McCovey had the most consistent and intimate view of Willie Mays' career of anybody. He hit directly behind him in the batting order for 14 years, so that's maybe 4 times a game times 150 games per year. We're talking like 8,000 plate appearances from 40-60 feet away. Closer than the pitcher. And he got paid.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Baseball Traditionalists

Sometimes it's hard to tell what a baseball traditionalist believes in because traditions have changed over time. Which tradition or group of tradition is in view? Often, traditionalists will point to the 50's as the ideal for such things as fan rowdiness. "Back in the good ol' days, fans were polite and had manners and never said bad things to the players." But just 50 years before that, things were even more rowdy than they are today. Gambling and organized crime were rampant, fans threw bottles, fruit and vegetables at players on the field during the game, and umpires were routinely targets of death threats. The clubhouse wasn't dreamed up yet, so fully uniformed players took the trolley from the hotel to the ballpark, where youngsters lined the rails to throw mud at the invaders. In my expert opinion, fan drunkenness, rowdiness and the like peaked in the late 80's, and have been in steady decline ever since. Last year while mildly heckling some visiting players, my friend Mike noted that if we attempted to yell some of the things we routinely did in the 80's, we would end up in jail.

My favorite reference to tradition was when the Cincinnati Reds offered to sign Rollie Fingers to a contract near the end of his career. A condition of the contract would be that he would have to shave off his trademark handlebar moustache (acquired in his days in Oakland when Charlie Finley allowed his players - he actually offered them $50 - to grow long hair and facial hair) because of the Reds' policy against wearing facial hair. "We're a traditional team" was the reason given. Naturally, Fingers turned them down. What was so hilarious about this pretension of traditionalism, was that the Reds were a team that was owned by a woman, wore double knit polyester uniforms with pullover tops and pants with elastic waist bands, and played in a cookie-cutter multi-purpose stadium with artificial turf. But a look at old tobacco playing cards would reveal that ballplayers of that era sported facial hair, especially moustaches, far more regularly than today.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

I'm So Happy I Could ______

The Giants are on the radio, and it's the first inning right now. I'm so excited I can hardly think. Dave Roberts led off the top of the 1st with a hit, and he scored later in the inning. The Giants are going to win the World Series, I can just feel it. Next update.... bottom of the 1st.