The last time there was this much anticipation for the start of a San Francisco Giants season, it was (cue futuristic keyboard sound effects) the year 2000. The Giants started the year on the road (of course), going 3-4 in Florida and Atlanta, which at the time was considered about as successful one could hope for an eastern road swing. Then, the Giants finally opened up their new shrine, Pac Bell Park. And they lost to the Dodgers on their home opener, a beautiful sunny day that was ruined by three home runs by Kevin Elster.
Then they lost again. And again. The Giants kept losing at China Basin until their 6-game homestand was over, packing their bags and heading to Cincinnati before christening their new home with a single win. The Giants won five games in a row to end their roadtrip, giving them a 9-11 record and new hope heading into their second homestand against the Montreal Expos (R.I.P.).
It was April 28, 2000, and it marked my first time at Pac Bell Park. I made the drive from Santa Cruz, and my buddy Carp met me after a longer journey from Eureka. We couldn’t have been more excited, and then we took our upper reserved seats in left field. Now, everyone knows Upper Reserved seats in Section 333 are terrible, but we had no idea at the time. This was back when we believed everything Larry Baer said, and he told us that at Pac Bell, no bad seats exist. So when we sat down and realized we couldn’t see the Giants bullpen or a good portion of left field, we were a little concerned. And when every Pac Bell newbie entered the stands from the concourse area, turned around, and stood for what seemed like 5 minutes trying to figure out where their seats were (directly in our sight line), we realized we couldn’t stay in the seats we had purchased.
So we left Section 333 and spent the entire game walking around the arcade, checking out the ridiculously huge glove and the cola bottle slide, and making plans to buy seats in the bleachers the next chance we got. But the Giants were a very talented team, they had won five games in a row, and the 2000 Expos were a bad team. What a great night this would turn out to be…
Then Chris Widger hit a home run and drove in 5, and the Giants lost 9-3.
I’ll always remember making that gloomy loser’s walk down the long, switchback-filled ramp to 2nd and King with Carp, both of us ready to trade Pac Bell Park for Candlestick. “Pac Bell is cursed,” we said. “What I wouldn’t give to go to the Stick right now,” one of us muttered. The Giants were 0-7, and in our minds this strange new park was more about some goofy robot-like thing called Rusty in right field than the revenue stream that would hopefully propel the Giants to perennial contention.
As we drove away to drown our sorrows in Coors Banquet Beer and discuss how it could be possible that these Giants could be 9-12, with an 0-7 record at home, we had no idea we had just witnessed the
valley canyon before the peak. San Francisco ended the year at 97-65, the best record in baseball. Even more shocking, the 2000 Giants went 55-19 in their remaining home games.
Baseball’s a game of constant individual pressure. Each pitch, at-bat and defensive chance brings an opportunity to embarrass. Team pressure, in theory, is spread out over 162 games. So when one team is facing remarkable expectations and scrutiny early in April and it isn’t Opening Day, it’s not just rare. It’s damn near paralyzing, because in most cases they’re going to be facing a team treating each game as simply another early-season contest.
Sports Illustrated predicted the Red Sox would face (and beat) the Giants in the World Series. Currently, those teams’ combined record stands at 1-8. If you’d like to take that as evidence that both teams are fraudulent and will struggle to win 75 games this year, send me an email and I’d love to make a friendly wager with you that the opposite occurs.
The Giants are working a rookie into their lineup, forcing Aubrey Huff to play out of position with very little preparation. Infield grounders have proven nearly impossible to field cleanly, especially ones between the mound and home plate. Buster Posey started the season battling a virus. Cody Ross, a player whom the Giants wouldn’t have gotten through the National League playoffs without, is stuck in the dugout. All while the team is playing with World Series patches on their sleeves that probably feel as if they were made of lead right about now.
Cheers, celebration, trophies and World Series rings loom on the horizon. Once they get past their first homestand, and become just another Major League team trying to win one series at a time, we’ll see how good this team really is.