SF Giants ready to hit diamond, but issues still loom 

The sound of baseballs popping into mitts, the smell of garlic fries, the bustle outside of AT&T Park at Third and King streets.

It is baseball season again, and the San Francisco Giants are eager to put 2011 behind them and rekindle the magic of 2010 that brought the first World Series championship to The City.

Perhaps it is fitting that the boys in Orange and Black open this season today on the road against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team that supplanted the Giants as champions of the National League West Division. The challenges facing the Giants are many.

Where do they fit into the NL landscape? Can they generate enough offense to not be so pitching-reliant? Is Magic Johnson the savior co-owner for the Los Angeles Dodgers? Will Barry Zito put together a productive season?
So even though it is Opening Day, Giants fans are smart enough to know not everything they wish for can come true.

But in some ways, this could be one of the most important seasons in recent history. Why? Veteran club official Larry Baer is now at the helm of the team, having replaced Bill Neukom as the executive face of the organization. Gone is the wishful thinking that everything a ballclub does could be written down in a book and distributed to everyone from players to secretaries.

Baer’s first major move was to sign pitcher Matt Cain — who was set to be a free agent after the season — to a contract extension. But that comes at a cost. Gone is the payroll flexibility for next season. The Giants already have seven players signed for a combined $80 million — including three pitchers at nearly $60 million — and are a sure bet to surpass this year’s payroll of $125 million. That doesn’t even address slugging catcher Buster Posey’s soon-to-be-expensive contract situation and Cy Young-winning pitcher Tim Lincecum’s long-term status.

There is no other major revenue source available, with the team already a stakeholder in the local cable channel that televises its games and sellout crowds flocking to AT&T Park on a nightly basis.

Another move Baer and the Giants should make is letting the A’s build a stadium in San Jose. The East Bay team would have to write the Giants a tidy check in exchange for surrendering their territorial rights. Even with the A’s in what used to be Giants land, it wouldn’t have any real impact on the team that calls San Francisco home.

Fans fleeing the Giants? C’mon. Anyone knows that fans are extremely loyal in the Bay Area, especially when it comes to the Giants and A’s. Different sets of folks.

Winning draws fans, and the A’s can’t envision even fielding a competitive team for another two or three years, much less one that can win the World Series. A slight impact to future generations, maybe. San Jose envy, definitely. That is more of an issue for the San Francisco mayor and Board of Supervisors to take care of. (Can some sort of multipurpose arena be built so The City becomes a sports destination?)

But none of that matters today, Opening Day, when dads typically pull their kids out of school early to take in the late-afternoon first pitch of the season — even if it is on TV or at a viewing party at AT&T Park — and dreams of fly balls soaring into McCovey Cove are rampant.

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