Conan Graham is a great friend, a teacher, a writer and a San Francisco Giants aficionado. Our friendship started in the fall of 2010, when the Giants went on an unexpected run to the postseason, ending in championship glory.
Every Opening Day, the sights and sounds of baseball bring to life the hope of spring and the joy of summer. When baseball returns. Opening Day brings the promise of another season, the notion that this could be a pennant year. Everyone is poised to have a good year. A year not spent on the disabled list. A year that ends with career numbers. A year where their team makes a run for the postseason. A potentially historic season lies ahead of everyone. Sure, eventually reality hits and not every team or every player will have the season they imagined. This is baseball. It’s the longest season in all of sports and it’s the game that gives those of us who love it the optimism and anticipation of what will come next. Any day can be historic and any player might contribute to a win. It’s one of the reasons I love baseball.
Still, every year on Opening Day, I remember when I fell in love with baseball. It was an early August Friday. I was 10 years old. My mom’s boyfriend, who would later become my dad, told me that we were going on a road trip, from Fresno, to see his “friends” Jose and Rob. He suggested that I wear my Giants gear and bring my glove as his “friends” loved the Giants too and maybe we could watch the game with them when we got there. I assumed on TV. Not knowing the geography of the state of California yet, and neglecting to notice we were driving toward San Francisco, I had no clue where we were headed or where in fact his friends lived.
When his truck exited 101 heading toward the ‘Stick, I saw the stadium for the first time and realized who his “friends” actually were. A lump gathered in my throat. An unexplainable sense of excitement grew inside me. Once we arrived in the parking lot, I remember vividly that walk toward Candlestick. The stadium seemed to grow as we walked toward it. I had never seen a structure so big. The smell of hot dogs, popcorn, and beer filled the air. The sounds of batting practice surrounded us. Baseballs sharply hitting gloves and the snap of the bats hitting the balls, while vendors shouted, “Programs!” Others came around with hot dogs and cotton candy. I had never experienced such exuberance in my short life.
The moment I saw the green grass of the playing field, seeing all of my favorite players taking batting practice and playing catch, I was beyond any sort of emotion that I was nor still am able to describe. We stopped at one vendor to buy some hot dogs, a beer for my dad, and a soda for me, after which we took our seats. The next few hours I experienced the thrill of getting to watch Will Clark and Robby Thompson, two of my favorites as a kid, and the rest of my Giants play the hated Los Angeles Dodgers. I detested the Dodgers so much as a kid that I cried when I was selected to play on a t-ball team named after them, refusing to wear Dodger blue. The Giants beat L.A. that day on their way to the ’89 pennant, only to lose the Battle of the Bay in that year’s fall classic. But, the memories of that day remain with me to this day. The fog creeping over the top of the stadium, the wind swirling about, lifting our hats off of our heads, and the bitter cold of a summer night game at Candlestick Park. The chants of “U! Ree-Bay!” and “Beat L.A.!”
On that day, during that game, baseball became my favorite game and the San Francisco Giants my favorite team. It’s the game I remember every Opening Day as I anxiously and joyfully anticipate the start of the baseball season.