Years of privation can induce a strange sort of madness in a sports fan; that which should elicit anger or shame is repurposed into a sick sort of pride. So it was for Giants backers and Candlestick Park. For decadeslong stretches, we convinced ourselves that following underachieving teams in a barren, windswept, wholly unsuitable stadium alongside truly menacing drunks was a mark in our favor.
Even now, with two championship banners fluttering over a gorgeous, transit-centric ballpark nestled along the waterfront, Candlestick memories trigger vestigial, conflicted emotions.
It requires a concerted effort to admit that summers spent fleeing brawling bleacher bums, being eroded by wind-propelled infield dirt, and slowly re-enacting the plot of “To Build a Fire” while gradually freezing in the upper deck may not have rendered me an inherently superior fan to people not forced to put up with all that. Rather, it indicated that we the fans, The City and the Giants themselves were, in essence, hoodwinked when the team moved west — and the ballpark we occupied was a monument to that.
So, while a goodly chunk of my favorite childhood memories are housed in this cavernous stadium, it’s also fair to say that getting there often was, de facto, half the fun.
You’d ditch the car somewhere in Little Hollywood and hit Piccolo Pete’s for a sandwich the size of a rugby ball and a bottle of anything. And then you’d start the long walk: Go past the guy with the chickens in his backyard, under the overpass, up the exposed concrete and rebar into the first parking lot, into the second parking lot, down the driveway, onto the sidewalk, past the dirt lot, over the teeming pedestrian bridge and into the stadium.
For Giants fans, it was an experience as humbling as it was tiring. That’s because the sign by the pedestrian bridge read something like: “WELCOME TO CANDLESTICK PARK, HOME OF THE SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS, WORLD CHAMPIONS 1981 AND 1984.” In the lower right corner, crammed into the scant remaining space, was: “HOME OF S.F. GIANTS.”
The team was an afterthought on the far corner of the sign, just as the stadium was an afterthought in the far corner of The City. My Candlestick memories, for the most part, make me happy. But it also makes me happy that they’re memories.