News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Stephanie Salter

October 28, 2010

STEPHANIE SALTER: The black and orange clothes are not about Halloween

TERRE HAUTE — If I seem a little strange during the next week or so, cut me some slack. I’ve got a severe case of Giants Fever and am not quite myself.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I am not talking about the New York Giants football team. I’m talking about the National League Championship San Francisco Giants, who are in the 2010 World Series of baseball with the Texas Rangers.

Instead of the fairly dispassionate observer of professional sports I tend to be, I have been plunged by the Giants into the throes of fandom. I am exhibiting behavior I normally frown upon — specifically, living vicariously through the physical feats of well-paid male athletes and engaging in such activities as festooning myself in the team’s colors and wearing a pair of “lucky” earrings I made several years ago out of two San Francisco Municipal Railway tokens.

When the Giants clinched the NLCS late Saturday night in Philadelphia, I sat in front of my small television, smacking the heels of my hands together and whisper-shouting, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Four times. Just the way Russ Hodges yelled into his radio broadcast microphone in 1951, when Bobby Thomson hit the shot heard ’round the world to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers and ensure that, indeed, the Giants did win the pennant.

I was heel-of-hand clapping and whisper-shouting because it was nearly midnight and my fiancé was asleep in another room. Bill’s sweet, old dog was my only conscious company, and he raised his head from the floor, blinking in confusion at the sudden outburst of activity from the sofa. As a nod to his age, I refrained from making him dance with me.

Then I got on the phone and called several friends in San Francisco, where it was only 9 p.m. Like me, all had watched in agony — pitch by pitch, at-bat by at-bat, out by out — as the Giants managed to hang on and wreck the World Series hopes of the Phillies and their loyal fans. In the background of our calls, I could hear fireworks, car horns and sirens going off all over the City by the Bay.

Thanks to conservative politicians and much of the news media, a lot of Americans think they know plenty about San Francisco. They focus on the occasional weird ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors, the city’s annual gay pride day celebration, the ghosts of Haight-Ashbury and the Summer of Love, and the entire region’s high tolerance for self-expression.

Meanwhile, reality is a different and much more nuanced picture. Mutli-ethnic though its citizens may be, San Francisco is decidedly a United States city, small by comparison in size (49 square miles) and population (about 800,000) with Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Phoenix.

People who live in the city pay taxes (lots of them), shop at chain supermarkets, attend religious services, show up at their kids’ school recitals and soccer tournaments, visit friends in the hospital, watch “Dancing with the Stars,” shop for bargain clothes, vow to lose weight and exercise more, play video games, drink beer, eat apple pie and follow high school, college and professional sports.

When the Giants or NFL 49ers make it into post-season play, San Francisco shrinks even more and becomes like a small town. Jobs are worked around game schedules, babies are dressed in team jerseys, homemade banners are hung from third-floor apartment buildings, businesses give away promotional tchotchke and ministers offer prayers for victory.

In other words, over the past few weeks, San Francisco has been just like any other American city with a team in contention for the big prize — and I have been among the many fans on the bus.

When TV cameras pan the crowd in what the locals call “Telephone Park” — so named because its communications industry sponsorship keeps changing — I look for people I know. When the focus switches to the blimp-cam to sweep the skyline or San Francisco Bay, I can smell the air and hear the traffic grinding on the nearby Bay Bridge.

When a close-up shot comes in on longtime Giants clubhouse manager Mike Murphy, I get a regulation-size major league hard ball lodged in my throat.

I have known Murph for 35 years. An ex-cop, he was an eager assistant when I was covering the Giants (and Oakland A’s) during my early years as a San Francisco sportswriter. Now, he is the eminence grise of the club.

Born and raised in the city, Murph started as a batboy with the old San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League and continued in that capacity for the Giants when they moved west from New York in 1958. In 1960, he became the visitors’ clubhouse attendant for the Giants’ then-new home, Candlestick Park, and has been clubhouse manager for the team since 1980.

Reflective of his status — and the Giants’ front-office value system — Murph has a pub in Telephone/AT&T Park named after him.

Along with team president Larry Baer and general manager Brian Sabean, Murph is one of the few human elements of the team who have some years in the city under their belts. None of the current players was on the roster the last time the Giants were in the playoffs, in 2003. All but four guys have joined the squad since 2007.

That new, Barry Bonds-free makeup is just one of the many things about the 2010 Giants I like. Some other things are that catcher Buster Posey began the year in Triple A, that the handsome left fielder Pat Burrell became a Giant only in May after Tampa cut him loose, and that the club was in fourth place in the NL West at the All-Star Break.

To tell the truth, there isn’t anything I don’t like about the Giants. I don’t care if they can’t steal bases, hit copious grand slams or rack up (and hold) wide leads through nine innings to give their fans a break once in awhile from the usual torture. I love their who’s-that-guy starting lineup, Pablo Sandoval’s weight problem and the entire bullpen. Tim Lincecum I could watch pitch every day for the next 50 years and not get bored.

In fact, I like the Giants so much, I don’t care if they win the World Series. All I ask is that they play the kind of baseball that got them here. If they do win, I promise you, Giants Fever will make me crazy enough this time to dance with the dog.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

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