Bay Bridge baseball gestalt: A region gathers for group therapy

Giants, A’s put on a show as crowds return to Oracle Park

Jeff and his buddy Robert were about to retake their upper deck seats mid-inning, nachos in hand and waiting for a break in the action. They didn’t seem to be in any rush, enjoying the beautiful view of a packed house, the Giants and A’s doing battle on the diamond far below.

I just happened to be standing there, waiting on a friend. And I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation.

“I just met the two nicest guys waiting in line,” said Robert. “The one guy was from Sweden. The other guy was an A’s fan.”

Jeff couldn’t resist: “You met a nice A’s fan?”

It was a golden little moment during a magical weekend at Oracle Park, where Bay Area baseball fans roared back to life, filling seats and screaming their heads off for their respective teams during the three-game Bay Bridge series. Having just recently returned to full capacity at games, the ballpark finally looked like the ballpark again. It felt like group therapy for the region. Baseball gestalt, so to speak.

Everyone was thrilled that the crowd was at full capacity at Oracle Park in the first game of the Bay Bridge series on June 25. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

Everyone was thrilled that the crowd was at full capacity at Oracle Park in the first game of the Bay Bridge series on June 25. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

The teams certainly put on a show. Which makes sense. Johnny Cueto pitched a gem for the Giants Friday night, giving the home team a jump in game one. Going into Saturday night’s game, the Giants were 23 games over .500, had the best record in baseball (49-26), and, best of all, held a five-game lead over the hated Dodgers in the NL West. The A’s were 14 games over .500 and had just recently given up their season-long stranglehold on first place in the AL West, ceding ground to the red-hot Astros.

By the end of the night, the Giants had yet another win, making them the first team to reach 50 for the season. Buster Posey’s understudy, Curt Casali, delivered a clutch, run-scoring double with two outs in the bottom of the 10th to trigger a raucous walk-off celebration on the field and pure bedlam in the stands. It was a helluva game, with more lead changes than a failing Broadway play.

Sunday brought another big crowd, with over 38,000 in attendance. And the A’s avoided the sweep, pounding out a 6-2 win behind the red-hot pitching of Cole Irvin.

But it wasn’t about the wins and losses, or even braggin’ rights, at the ol’ ballyard. It was about a return to normalcy. There was a tipsy, celebratory feel all around The City. With Pride weekend going on simultaneously, it felt like every bartender in town was making up for lost time, pocketing well-deserved tips after a barren year of misery.

“It’s really nice being back in the ballpark,” said the aforementioned Robert (Pizante of Watsonville), a longtime Giants season-ticket holder. “I came a couple of times during the reduced capacity crowds and it wasn’t the same. We couldn’t get our usual seats. It didn’t feel right.”

The aforementioned Jeff (Walters, of Aptos) chimed in: “I came to a few games before the crowds came back. I have a picture of me laying on the upper deck ramp with nobody here. This is just great, man. A’s versus Giants.”

“This is great,” said his buddy. “People are so happy to be back.”

They sure were. And they sure brought their appetites. Food lines remained long; you wonder if it’s going to take some time for the Giants to get their food act together. But no one was complaining. And no one was wearing a mask (except for Giants employees). Unlike other parts of town, it seems that the ballpark gives people COVID confidence, for better or worse.

As I sat there, looking out on to a field that holds so many memories for a lot of us, my mind wandered off to the joyous era that started back in 2010. As a sports editor and columnist, I covered some of the biggest moments in Giants history. Scutaro in the rain. Bumgarner marching out of the bullpen in Kansas City. Romo shutting the door in Detroit. Lincecum’s Cy Youngs. Buster’s arrival and ascendance. Pandas and Giraffes and Steve Perry serenading us during big playoff games.

Some of those same folks are still around. Brandon Crawford is having one of the best seasons of his career. Buster is back, as my colleague Chris Haft wrote for The Examiner, but sat out the first two games of series with lower back tightness. There’s also a ton of new blood, many of whom may not be familiar to the crowds that returned to Third and King over the weekend.

That’s OK. Nobody knew who Cody Ross was, either. And look how that turned out.

This Giants team has the earmarks of some of those magical Bruce Bochy teams. But it’s early, and we’ll see.

“I love the new regime,” said Pizante. “I like that (Giants GM Farhan) Zaidi is quick with the trigger. If it isn’t working, he brings in someone else. He tries something different. The regime is different, but the DNA on the field is the same. Kind of unknown names playing together as a team. Good pitching. It’s very similar to ‘10 and ‘12. Those were not big-name teams. Those were just guys playing together.”

Pretty good analysis there. Maybe these Giants do have some pixie dust on their jerseys. Saturday night was their first walk-off this season. Something tells me there will be more.

I bid my new friends goodbye and started making my way down the ramp when I heard the crack of the bat. Lamonte Wade Jr. had just homered to give the Giants a lead. You’d think they’d won the World Series. A pent-up roar went out that filled the air, even as wisps of fog slithered over the right field upper deck. It was so San Francisco, it tasted like chowder.

San Francisco Giants first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr.	hit a home run in the fifth inning off of Oakland Athletics pitcher Frankie Montas at Oracle Park on June 26. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

San Francisco Giants first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr. hit a home run in the fifth inning off of Oakland Athletics pitcher Frankie Montas at Oracle Park on June 26. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

Giants right fielder Mike Yastrzemski (No. 5) greets first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr., who hit a home run in the fifth inning against the A’s at Oracle Park on June 26. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

Giants right fielder Mike Yastrzemski (No. 5) greets first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr., who hit a home run in the fifth inning against the A’s at Oracle Park on June 26. (Christopher Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

I turned and smiled to myself, thinking of all the good times, past and present. Standing in front of me were two more guys, one in A’s garb the other in Orange and Black. Turns out they were buddies, too.

“I think it’s going to be another Bay Bridge Series this year. And we’re going to go 2-0,” said Daniel Terrill, of Martinez, sporting a Yonder Alonso jersey.

His friend, Pittsburgh’s Richard Porrras, countered with fan logic: “I love my Giants. We won three in five years, and A’s fans can’t say that.”

Daniel Terrill, left, of Martinez, attended the Giants game against the A’s on June 26	with his good friend Richard Porras, of Pittsburgh. (Al Saracevic/The Examiner)

Daniel Terrill, left, of Martinez, attended the Giants game against the A’s on June 26 with his good friend Richard Porras, of Pittsburgh. (Al Saracevic/The Examiner)

The A’s, of course, won three straight championships back in the 1970s, but who’s counting?

This was a weekend for seeing old friends and rekindling our love of baseball.

asaracevic@sfexaminer.com

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