Willie (Nov 2, 2010)

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By Dave Perry on November 2, 2010

I dreamt of Willie Mays last night. It was the first time in many years Mays’ slightly bowlegged visage showed up in my sleep, but there you are. It was a strange dream, the greatest baseball player cast in newsreel black-and-white, in full San Francisco Giants uniform, including the turtleneck that probably kept him alive as he roamed the frozen tundra of Candlestick Park. I thought of my father, too. This is what we do in moments like Monday’s. The Giants brought home the first World Series to San Francisco.

Fifty-six years. My, my. I was born into Giants fandom, in Santa Rosa, Calif., two years after the Giants last won it all in New York, two years before they packed up for Baghdad by the Bay. We, too, moved. Dad was a Navy pilot, so every year or two we made a new home. Florida; Washington state; Coronado Calif.; Hawaii; even Texas, where Marc Brown used to chase me home from sixth grade each day, because I wasn’t from Texas. Always, the Giants were an emotional anchor, something to remind me I had roots. Marichal, McCovey, the Alous, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Davenport, sweet Tito Fuentes, and of course, Mays.

Over the past decade, when we visited San Francisco each summer, a former boss got me the MediaNews seats two rows behind home plate. AT&T isn’t a ballpark, but another architectural dream in a city overflowing with them. I got my father there twice before he died in September 2007, thanks to my old boss Kevin. During a particularly confused time in my younger life, my dad and I drove cross-country from Connecticut to California. I was defeated by college, then factory work, and was returning west to resume school. He had timed our trip to coincide with a Cubs/Giants doubleheader at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Four summers ago, we were at AT&T Park. Best seats in the house. His grandsons sat with him. There are no words for things like this.

Another time at AT&T park, we were ushered down into the hallway that runs beneath the grandstands. Shea Hillenbrand, the former Lowell Spinner, had been traded to the Giants, and had adopted a child with his wife. My wife bought a baby blanket as a gift, and greetings from Lowell, and there we stood in the dank hallway, waiting for Hillenbrand to cross from the locker room to the field entrance. I kept thinking, I could die here. I nearly did. And down the hallway in the distance, an usher slowly led a piece of machinery. “We’ll need to move aside as much as you can,” said the usher with us. “Mr. McCovey is coming through.” And toward us came Willie “Stretch” McCovey, an immense man with baseball’s most disarming smile. I froze. All I heard was my heartbeat, pounding in my eardrums. An usher asked if Willie would sign autographs for a couple of kids, my sons. McCovey smiled. I backed up to the wall behind me. Where could a guy get a new pair of pants, I thought. “You ain’t no kid,” McCovey said with a smile to my oldest son, Ben. He signed. My old job took me to plenty of places where I met celebrities. Never once a problem, save for meeting Steve Cropper, my favorite guitarist at the Grammys. But Stretch? I tried to form words, but could not. I made little groaning noises, I think, as McCovey drove off, smiling.

Being a Giants fan never felt like suffering, or torture. It was more like glee, something that connected me and my dad when nothing else did. Yes, there was heartbreak when they lost. But you knew they would. So last night crept up on me, slowly. I wore out Giants caps for years. Sometimes, folks around here offered kind glances, but the sentiment attached to them was certain…pity. Others held me responsible for the sins of Barry Bonds. I listened to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Baseball Canto” before the final game Monday night. There was always poetry in baseball, but not baseball in poetry until Ferlinghetti wrote this brilliant poem about sitting in the stands at Candlestick, watching black and Latin players turn the old order upside-down. Everything is political in San Francisco. Everything. Expect a parade like you’ve never seen.

So there was Willie Mays in my dream, and I was on the field next to him, and he smiled, and was chatting with someone. I was a reporter, I guess, and had a few questions with him. And then he walked off, slipping his arm around another man, who never turned around but from the back looked very much like my father. Then I woke up. Of course, Marc Brown, the Texas bully who chased me home each day, he only saw the back of me. And I was mostly fast enough to beat him home. Mostly. But Marc, that skinny little corduroy butt you chased back in Texas? Today, you can kiss it, my friend.

2 Responses to Willie (Nov 2, 2010)

  1. David Daniel says:

    Nothing like a bit of baseball lore to warm a chilly day. Dave Perry, as ever, delivers up a perfectly aimed pitch of memory, wisdom, and truth. Thanks, amigo.

  2. Steve O'Connor says:

    I was never a huge baseball fan for some reason, but I’m always a fan of Dave Perry’s writing–drew me right in.