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Lessons Learned From Giants/Blue Jays

(originally written 5/18/13)

The 2002 World Series Loss Still Stings

Winning World Series titles in 2010 and 2012 should have pushed any lingering pain of the San Francisco Giants 2002 World Series loss far into the stratosphere—especially since I was among the million at the purely joyous 2010 parade.
Laying eyes upon a villain from that 2002 series, however, proved I’m not fully healed—at all. Most of those Los Angeles Angels are long retired. As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.

The pain quickly flooded back Wednesday when the CSN camera locked on Toronto‘s starter—Ramon Ortiz, 40 years young, back in MLB after a two-year absence. He was the winning pitcher in Game 3 of that World Series (thanks to run support, it should be noted).
Just seeing his face brought it all back. Some folks lead very successful adult lives and still withdraw upon spotting an old high school bully at a reunion. This wasn’t much different.

To have the title all but ripped out of the Giants’ grasp that fall devastated me like the death of a loved one; I then knew how it felt to be a 1997 Cleveland Indians or a 1986 Boston Red Sox fan. 2011 Texas Rangers fans: I feel your pain and just know that it may never completely subside. Mine hasn’t.

Toronto’s “New” Uniforms Make Me Feel Younger

Over the years, I’ve watched countless players enter the major leagues, enjoy 15-year careers, retire and become coaches/managers. They are living reminders of just how much older I’ve become. I was 10 when I first discovered MLB—23 years ago. There are players today who didn’t exist when I caught my first ballgame. 
So, despite being one of about six people who actually liked the 2004-11 Blue Jays “steel” logo, I’ve enjoyed their conversion to a look reminiscent of the one used during my fledgling years as a hardball fan.

The Jays were the truth in the early ’90s; watching them in their old/new uniforms allows me to pretend it’s 1992 and my biggest problem is memorizing my class schedule rather than paying rent, repairing a shattered taillight and finding a competent preschool for my kid.

Damon Minor is One Scary-Looking Dude

The Giants television broadcasts occasionally jump into the wayback machine and come out with classic Giants (or Giants-related) highlights (such as then-Diamondback Randy Johnson accidentally donning a discarded Giants cap during a 1999 brawl in an eerie bit of foreshadowing or Dave Winfield charging the mound after being plunked by Mike Krukow in 1980).

Tuesday’s flashback: a four-hit game by the otherwise-forgettable Damon Minor the last time SF played in Toronto, back in 2002. I never realized just how much fright his face could generate when in mid-swing (answer: very). Now I must be extra-cautious when watching Orioles games; his twin bro Ryan was the starter at third when Cal Ripken Jr. ended The Streak.

I Will Probably Never Forgive Melky Cabrera

I’m skeptical and pessimistic by nature, and I never participate in fads—especially related to athletics. Slumps occur, bottoms fall out, players come back down to earth.
Wearing Panda hats and long, stringy wigs is all well and good when Pablo Sandoval and Tim Lincecum are succeeding. That’s how it goes in sports. You’re the man when you’re producing; you’re a bum when you’re not (see: Huff Daddy).

This brings me to Cabrera, who got the entire fan base behind him on the strength of a scorching-hot offensive performance (and some saucy defense as well). He had hundreds of fans donning idiotic dairy costumes in tribute. He was “The Man.”

Only, he really wasn’t. He was juicing the whole time. He was a fraud. At the time of his suspension, the Giants’ season seemed to be wrecked. He, not Buster Posey, had been their best hitter to that point. He’d been the league’s best hitter to that point. He got everybody to believe in him and depend on him, and then he got busted.
I know in the end, everything worked out, so logically I should be past what happened. But a re-marriage to a wonderful person doesn’t magically erase the bitterness and pain of an ugly divorce.

It’s my right as a fan and as a person to hold grudges—and it sure didn’t help that the guy abused the Giants’ pitching staff during the Giants/Jays series.

(Note: Don’t question why I hold a grudge against Cabrera and not Barry Bonds, Marvin Benard, Benny Santiago, Willie Mota or any other Giants PED noteworthies. I just do, okay? I still dislike the NBA’s Amar’e Stoudemire for showing up Golden State’s Adonal Foyle after a dunk seven years ago—even after since learning he’s not that bad a guy.)

AstroTurf Just Isn’t Baseball And Sloppiness is Contagious

Though I’m sure Angel Pagan didn’t mind, a standard major league base hit should not bounce over an outfielder’s head unless the outfielder is on his back napping or the outfielder in question is Emmanuel Lewis. (Google him; I’m not here to talk about the past).
But that’s exactly what happened in the third inning of the second game; Pagan’s single bounced off the Toronto turf over Cabrera's head and graduated to a double. Fortunately, there are only two of these wretched surfaces remaining in the bigs (as opposed to the 11 in use when I began following MLB in 1990.)

The following Giants made defensive mistakes during their 18 innings in Canada: Pablo Sandoval, Nick Noonan, Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro. (Furthermore, Scutaro and Brandon Belt allowed solidly struck balls to skip under them on the turf; these plays were ruled hits but may have been outs on a dirt infield.) They can’t all be blamed on the surface, but it didn’t help.

Giants Fans Should Emulate Jays Fans

Well, at least one of them.
One of the most annoying aspects of the AT&T Park experience (and most—if not all—other parks) are the fans who turn catching a foul ball into a Showcase Showdown triumph. They scream, hop up, throw their hands in the air as if at gunpoint and rotate around the park to ensure everyone in the park knows they did something any Little Leaguer can do—catch a baseball.

It’s pathetic at times. Such reactions are acceptable if the fan has caught the pennant-clinching home run ball or even made a difficult catch on a hard-hit foul. But our fans will ham it up on anything—even a popup that bounced off three pairs of kids’ hands first. The older the fan, the more drawn-out the celebration seems to be—sometimes lasting the remainder of the at-bat.

And of course, their “achievement” is instantly forgotten when the next guy snags one a couple of minutes later and repeats the cycle.
But I must give props to a Jays fan who calmly caught a bat flung from the hands of Pence in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s game. He snared it, grinned—and returned to his seat, as if he’d done it dozens of times before. To all AT&T Park visitors (and any of the other 29 parks) from now through eternity, please borrow a page from that guy’s book. Catch the ball and move on.

And of course, Go Giants.

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