Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book review: A Band of MiSFits.

Still working on turning my notes about the books I read this summer into blog posts...

I let my inner fangirl choose a book, and she enthusiastically chose A Band of MiSFits by Andrew Baggarly.

Oh my goodness, what a JOY it was to read this book!

This is the story of the 2010 San Francisco Giants' Championship season. Of course, I knew there was a happy ending coming, since I experienced the playoff wins and the World Series wins and the celebrations!!!1! (Well, not live and in person, but on TV and with my family, geographically in Dodger country but proud Giants fans.)

My story as a baseball fan begins when I was six years old or so, when my family began attending California Angels games.  The General Admission seats were inexpensive in those days, so we used to go over there on a regular basis, buy tickets at the stadium, and enjoy the game from the upper deck on the first base side.  My dad taught me how to score games during those years.  I knew all of the players' names, numbers, and positions by heart.  I listened to the radio broadcast every night as I fell asleep.  Girly little me, oh how she loved those Angels!

Fred Lynn, Don Baylor, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew.
I loved these guys.

My favorite player was Fred Lynn.  I drew pictures of him, and I think I mailed them to him at the stadium.  (I think??)  One year in the All-Star Game, he hit a grand slam home run!  You should have seen my celebrating in my family room! 

 Fred Lynn, California Angel.

We were at the game when Reggie Jackson hit his 500th home run.  The Royals beat the Angels 10 to 1 that game:  September 17, 1984, which was not long after I spent two solid weeks attending volleyball and gymnastics events at the Olympics here in LA (another hugely formative experience for me - deserving of a post of its own).

My dad slept in line to get us tickets for the playoffs in 1982 and 1986.  My kids could never picture him doing something like that based on how they know him today, but I keep trying to tell them how many great experiences he gave his children when we were their age.

Fred Lynn went to play for the Baltimore Orioles, which was a loss-of-innocence experience for me.  How can you just go play for some other team?  What was a young Angels fan who loved Fred Lynn supposed to do?  To which would I keep my allegiance?  Then, I hit the teenage years.  I was busy with theater and I seemed to shed some of my "childhood" loves.  I stopped watching and listening to baseball games, and my show schedule meant I couldn't attend the games any more. 

I still hate it when players switch teams, and I know that I have never since let myself love a player like I loved Fred Lynn, because I know that that player might leave in a few years to play somewhere else.  Psychological walls.

After several baseball-free years, which I spent rooting for my high school basketball team (I nourished an unrequited crush on one tall, thin red-headed player in particular), I started college in the Bay Area.  That Spring, someone in my freshman dorm arranged an outing to a San Francisco Giants game.  There, I found a new team to root for, and a new favorite player:  Will Clark.  As he was a slugger like Fred Lynn, I kind of couldn't help it. 

Will Clark, San Francisco Giant.

Also breaking down my baseball-related psychological walls was the guy in our group (from New York) who clearly thought that because I was a girl, I must know nothing about baseball.  I found his 'helpful' lessons about baseball on the drive to the stadium both hilarious and insulting.  I was determined to show him what a jackass he was to be making the assumption.  Somebody had a scorecard (or book), so I proceeded to score the game (thanks, Dad!).  The guy was shocked that I knew how - clearly this blew his mind.  To further prove myself, I talked about my Angels - the players I loved, the games I attended and scored, the nights spent listening to the radio broadcast in the dark in my pink room.  Those feelings came back and I wanted to follow a team again.  The Giants and Will Clark were there for me.  (It also helped that I had recently fallen in love, with a cute boy who was a big Giants fan.)

I enjoyed those first two seasons as a Giants fan very much!  Then there was a players' strike, and I also discovered the NHL and focused my attention on the Sharks - my pro team of choice in those years.  (Underneath all of this is my never-ceasing love for my college teams.  Stanford players don't often leave school early for the draft, and don't leave for other teams like pro players do.  I feel safe being a Stanford fan, and I watch every football game, every year.  Those players make my inner fangirl happy.  Go Cardinal!)

Well, friends, I married that Giants fan, and even though I wasn't terribly passionate about the team anymore, he sure was.  And has been.  And ever shall be.  You know the kind of fan who reads everything he can about his team?  Checks the radio (now the internet) as soon as he can, to get a score update?  Reads about them all off-season?  No?  Well, I sure do.

Then the steroid stuff happened.  Times were ugly in baseball, between the missed season and then the steroid scandals.  Who would want to admit to being a baseball fan?  Not me.

Time heals, though.  I got to the point where I was happy for The Hubby when the Giants were doing well.  I was kind of annoyed when the Giants were not doing so well and it was affecting his mood, but he was okay at hiding that from me. 

In the summer of 2010, we were at a friend's wedding, chock full of Giants fans (so much so that one of them is a Giants employee).  They were all talking to the Hubby about the team.  What was going on here?  One of the guys told me that my husband was refusing to say they could make a run at the pennant - was he protecting himself from getting his hopes up?  Hmmm.  I started to pay a little more attention.

The end of the season was a nail-biter.  The Giants managed to steal the pennant from the Padres, but it didn't happen until the very last game of the season.  I convinced my husband, who had been staying at home to watch the games to witness it if they did it, that maybe they would win if he didn't watch.  And I was right!  They were headed to the playoffs!

At this point, I became adamant that he be able to watch every Giants post-season game on TV.  I love him, and he has always loved the Giants, so this was important to me!  I did all of the driving-kids-to-practices-and-picking-them-up.  I kept up to speed on all of the games by either checking my smart phone ESPN app repeatedly or listening to the radio in the car.  Somehow, against the odds, they beat the Braves, and then the Phillies, and were in the World Series!

And I had become a fan.  I knew all of the players' names, and I had lots of favorites.  Buster Posey, Brian Wilson, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Freddy Sanchez, Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff...

As a family, we watched the World Series games against the Texas Rangers.  The kids made "Go Giants" and "SF" decorations for around the TV.  We won Games 1 and 2 in San Francisco.  We lost Game 3 in Texas. 

Game 4 was Halloween, and the series was 2-1 SF.  My son insisted that he wanted Daddy to take him trick-or-treating, and in the best display of fatherhood I have ever witnessed, Daddy did.   

Mommy stayed home to hand out candy, and watched the heck out of that game.  What a game!  Madison Bumgarner, age 21, gave an amazing pitching performance.  Daddy made it home in time to see the Giants win, making the series 3-1. 

On Monday, November 1, 2010, in Game 4 of the World Series, in Arlington, Texas, was a pitching showdown between Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee.  The Giants batters managed to get some guys on base, and Edgar Renteria homered to bring in three runs.  Closer Brian Wilson finished off the Rangers, and it had actually happened!  The first Giants championship since 1954.  The first since moving to San Francisco.  Beautiful!  Glorious! 

The Giants fans called this season "Torture."  This is because the Giants didn't win easily.  They won messily, but they never gave up.  The team consisted of rookies, freaks, has-beens, and waiver acquisitions.  Nobody thought he was better than his teammates, not even Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, or two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, or media-attracting weirdo Brian Wilson and his magical beard.  The clubhouse chemistry was remarkable.  They were good guys, there for each other and for love of the game.  The perfect bunch of guys for that crazy city of San Francisco, and they knew it, and they loved it, too.

I found that the more I watched those guys play, and celebrate, and share it with their fans, the more I felt my psychological walls weakening.  I had to admit that I was a fan, and I had to admit that I wanted it that way.

Just look at the way they support each other!

The 2011 baseball season started, and found that I wanted to watch every game.  No one was more surprised than my husband that every night I wanted to watch the game after the kids went to bed, rather than our usual TV.  Every baseball season of our marriage up to that point, I had rolled my eyes at my husband and told him it was stupid to follow so closely during the first months of a 162-game season, and now I was the one putting the game on.  He just silently enjoyed it, not wanting to jeopardize whatever was going on with his wife by pointing it out.

We knew things weren't going to be easy.  Giants baseball = Torture, after all, and we fans love it.  But we couldn't have foreseen what this season would have in store.  On May 25, catcher and reigning Rookie of the Year Buster Posey's leg was severely fractured during a collision at the plate.  His season was over.  We were watching (of course), and we felt sick.  The Hubby and I were planning to spend the majority of 2011 watching Buster's second season in the bigs, and in one moment that was no longer an option.  Yeah, first world problems, but we were sad, okay?

The Giants soldiered on without Buster, guys were called up and rose to the occasion, but there were more setbacks to come.  Freddy Sanchez's season soon came to an end.  Guys were on the DL left and right.  But the pitchers continued to dominate while the offense was struggling.  Added to my list of favorite players was Ryan Vogelsong, back pitching for the Giants after years playing in Japan and showing that a guy in his mid-thirties can reinvent himself.  Game after game, these guys continued to support one another and were focused on improving.  They played well enough to occupy the top spot in the NL West for most of the season, but injuries and a hitting slump proved to be too much. 

For me, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to call myself a Giants fan this year.  The grit, the integrity, the love for the game, the team mentality, the unwillingness to start placing blame in the face of setbacks:  I am so proud of my team.  They didn't let their difficulties get them down, but came out there every night and enjoyed supporting each other.  This team mindset paid off for them in 2010, and I was sorry I didn't watch that whole season unfold in 2010.  I made up for it in 2011, watching nearly every game (via the internet).  I was quite the spectacle to behold for everyone who knows me!  What also helped was reading A Band of MiSFits - I was able to experience the entire 2010 season through the book!  It was written in such a way that   1) I felt like I lived through the season, and   2) I was able to get to know the players' personalities and back stories.  I had warily noticed that I was starting to feel about them the way I had felt about Fred Lynn, but the book made me want to feel that way!  I let my fangirl love continue to grow.

So thank you, Giants players.  Thank you for allowing me to feel like a kid again, and for helping me to strip away years of cynicism toward pro baseball players and psychological walls, and to remember what baseball used to mean to me.  I am so glad that the Showtime series allowed others to get to know you, and it's no surprise to me that so many of them became new fans.  You already had a huge, proud SF fan base that packs AT&T Park, and you guys have always acknowledged its role in your successes.  What a great example of the right attitude to have as a true team of pro athletes.

I never stopped watching your games, even as you struggled through some difficult losing streaks, and I'm watching game 159 right now.  You've got three more, and I'll be there.  It's not just my way of thanking you.  It's also for me - I just like watching you play!

Buster Posey:  love you.  Miss you.  So sorry you've been away from baseball so long due to this injury (probably the longest time you've ever gone without playing baseball).  Glad you got to spend it with your newborn twins.  Can't wait to watch you again next year!

Cain, Vogelsong, Wilson, Sandoval, and Lincecum:  2011 All-Star Game
Giants pitchers:  You guys were awesome this year.  You know it, the hitters know it, and we fans sure know it.  Because of you, I vastly prefer a game with a good pitching performance over a high-scoring game. 
Panda:  the way you play shows that you are in this sport for the joy of playing the game.  It does my cynical heart good to watch you.

Timmy:  I love the way you pitch.

Brian Wilson:  people think you're crazy.  I say yes: crazy like a fox. 

You want to have a long baseball career, and you believe that having a star personality will help you achieve that goal.

You want to have a long baseball career, and you believe that will take hard work.  You are some kind of goofball (we're not sure what kind), but you take your career seriously.  You put in the discipline and the effort, and you have an intellectual approach to working on your baseball skills.

 (He's smart.  You can tell.)
 (See what I mean?)
And I just like lookin' at ya.

Definitely better with the beard.

But the big question this year is, why did I become such a big Nate Schierholtz fan?  He's not one of the big stars, but I always looked for his name on the starting lineup.

He got a lot more playing time than usual this season, since a lot of guys were on the DL.  And what did he do with his at-bats?  Pretty consistently, he got himself on base.  Plus, he's great defensively - a strong (muscle-y...  :-) ) outfielder.  He gets to the ball quickly and has a great arm. 

And...  I'm a little sheepish to admit it, but...

Look at those shoulders.  The long name highlights them nicely, doesn't it?

And... hmmm... maybe there's something else as well...

Nate batting

Fred Lynn batting

Nate fielding

Fred Lynn fielding

Full circle. BOOM.