On a cool, windy night in San Francisco, forty thousand people gathered together in the chilly evening air to celebrate America's pastime, a game played on a green field where opponents compete without malice (most of the time). Baseball is one of this country's oldest excuses for people to come together, and in troubled times the game can serve as a framework for our collective desire to look back in mourning, and to look forward in hope.
I wasn't at Pacific Bell Park for the Giants' first game since Barry Bonds hit three home runs a lifetime ago Sunday. I did watch on television, as I watched yesterday's Day of Remembrance from San Francisco's Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. That ceremony was typical of the City — multi-faith, multicultural, a bit of political sniping and a warm embrace for the diversity that makes this country so unique. If America is a melting pot, San Francisco is one of the most American of cities.
The pre-game ceremonies tonight were part church service, part patriotic observance. It was a community sing, and a tribute to fallen heroes. I've never heard that many people actually singing the national anthem. The San Francisco police and fire departments were represented, and the crowd expressed its newly heightened appreciation for the job they do, and its gratitude for the sacrifices made by their counterparts across the country.
The game itself got off to a low-key start. Because everything these days is filtered through the lens of recent history, it appeared that the crowd needed a reason before they were ready to cheer. They got one, from a 40-year-old first baseman from Venezuela, one of the most popular players on the team even though he's been a Giant for less than two months. In the second inning, Andres Galarraga hit the longest home run ever hit at Pacific Bell Park, and the crowd (as they say) went crazy.
From then on, it was a baseball game first, and I think that's a proper tribute to the spirit of the nation. It still wasn't the entertainment extravaganza we're used to, with bombs exploding on the scoreboard and strains of AC/DC played to introduce the players as they come to bat. Since I wasn't there, I don't know if they did the "cap dance" or the "cable car race," but I'm guessing something a little less garish was shown on the Jumbotron screen between innings. (And with any luck the unfortunate Lou Seal mascot will be put in permanent mothballs.)
The crowd never got as loud as I'm used to, but there were arguments on the field and boos from the stands over bad calls. There were high-fives, and dives after foul balls, and most likely spilled beer, and mustard smeared all over someone's brand new T-shirt with the flag on the front and the team logo on the sleeve. On the field, we saw brilliant plays and daring attempts, blunders on the bases and pitches thrown wildly in the dirt.
There was also Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra singing "America the Beautiful" (but not together).