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Giant Embrace

My regular team is nowhere to be found [1] this October. I don’t have a temporary team at the moment. Some years I enter the playoffs with a cause. This year I’m just happy to be here as an unaligned onlooker. Some team will reveal itself to me as situationally mine soon enough.

Wednesday night, however, I was with the Giants. I had to be. I was with the Giants fans.

Not all of them, mind you, but as agreeable as a sample as once could find in their former hometown. The occasion was the previously scheduled fall meeting of the New York Giants Preservation Society [2], an organization whose stated mission is “To remember, treasure and preserve the storied history of the Giants of the Polo Grounds.” We keep talking about those Giants and those Polo Grounds because if somebody doesn’t, nobody will overhear what a team they were and what a place they played in. The New York Giants haven’t convened for a game since September 29, 1957 [3], yet when you get together those who remember, treasure and preserve them, they are not dead at the present time. They are as alive any other ballclub that’s idle today.

What made Wednesday night fortuitous was it turned out the New York Giants’ direct descendants (albeit 3,000 miles removed) were taking the field in Pittsburgh. Better yet, our meeting was a home game at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse [4] on East 11th Street. If you haven’t been to Bergino, deprive yourself no longer. It is baseball Shangri-La, no matter your affiliation. Jay Goldberg created a home plate away from home plate, a perfect destination to scamper toward when your official season is over. The Mets were done Sunday [5]. Jay always keeps the game going.

And there’s an even better “better yet” beyond the confluence of New York Giants lovers, San Francisco Giants rooters, Jay’s generosity and Jay’s TV. Our special guest speaker was Ed Lucas, a storyteller of the first order [6]…and whoa, what a story this man had to tell us.

Ed was twelve years old in 1951 (you meet a lot of twelve-year-olds from 1951 when you gravitate to the New York Giants). On tomorrow’s date that year, you might have heard, the Giants won the pennant, the Giants won the pennant. Young Ed in Jersey City was so happy with the result, he ran out into the street to do what twelve-year-olds in 1951 or 1975 or maybe even today somewhere do as naturally can be: play ball. Kids, bats, balls, Branca throws, Thomson swings. Perfect, right?

The only item that didn’t fit into this scenario were Ed’s eyeglasses. He decided he could see better without ’em, being twelve and all. So he took ’em off to pitch. A line drive came right at him. It was practically the last thing he ever saw. He suffered detached retinas in both eyes and went blind.

That should be the saddest story you’ve ever read, but Ed tells a much happier one. Baseball, he said, took his sight, yet gave him a life. With the aid of some remarkable and famous friends he made along the way, but surely very much through his own perseverance, Ed built a career as a journalist in baseball [7] and remains around the game today, working to help those for whom vision doesn’t exist. He told us all about it at Bergino Wednesday night.

If you thought the comeback in Kansas City the night before [8] was inspirational, well, you hadn’t heard nothin’.

It would be tough for any ballgame to follow Ed — not to mention the Royals and A’s — and the Giants and Pirates weren’t really up to the task, yet when you were lucky enough to grab a seat in Jay Goldberg’s Baseball Shangri-La and sit among a blend of hardcore NY/SF Giants fans and friendly onlookers whose sole rooting interest is for baseball itself, then the N.L. Wild Card game made for a helluva closing act. Brandon Crawford drove in four runs with one swing, Madison Bumgarner allowed four hits in nine innings and the team that blazed through two of the previous four Octobers ushered in this one in black and orange style.

If Ike Davis had been playing for Pittsburgh, I might have made my evening’s allegiances a little more malleable, but Bumgarner’s left arm rendered Ike’s Pirate presence superfluous, so I went with the crowd, which was basically a dozen folks who enjoy every Giant jaunt into the postseason like they haven’t experienced one since 1954. I love the New York Giants, but I honestly don’t get too terribly worked up on behalf of the San Francisco version. Inevitably, I draw a little subtle ribbing regarding my own contemporary loyalties. For instance, one guy enjoyed teasing me over how far in back of the Giants the Mets finished…in 1962. Yet, really, these guys couldn’t be nicer as a group. During a commercial break, the society’s nurturer-in-chief, Gary Mintz, even went so far as to volunteer a Giants fan’s perspective on sitting at Shea on June 14, 1980. For us, it’s the Steve Henderson Game [9]. To him, it was the Allen Ripley Game. To him, it’s a bit of a horror movie. For me, it’s the highlight of my adolescence [10].

This Giant victory over the Pirates, presumably overwhelming enough [11] to compensate for the Pirates sticking it to the Giants in the 1971 NLCS, involved no late-inning Thomson or Hendu magic. But there was a moment at the end that truly sparkled. When the final out fell into Buster Posey’s mitt, I found myself on the periphery of a flurry of hugs, the kind that say, hey, all right, we made it, we moved on, we’re gonna keep playing! These were the kinds of hugs I was a more active participant in at a different kind of Giants playoff game fourteen Octobers ago. The Mets had put away the San Francisco interlopers in the NLDS at Shea. We’d made it, we were moving on, we were gonna keep playing. On October 8, 2000. I was too happy not to hug [12]. To us, it’s the Bobby Jones Game. To Gary and the other guys, it was probably the Mark Gardner Game or something they consider best forgotten, though it probably isn’t, because when you’re a fan like we’re all fans, you don’t forget your heartbreaking losses.

Which is what makes the resounding triumphs that much sweeter.