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Friday Fielders: The Dodgers Are in Town

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There are many things I could write about today. We have all sorts of weird things going on right now, from the Mirkarimi circus to development projects going sideways to battles with sports teams and every bloody state and local entity trying to figure out how to get their hands into our pockets. However, I will speak of none of these things.

The reason is obvious: The Dodgers are in town. I write this as I wear my treasured San Francisco Seals jacket. For those new to our little hamlet on the edge of the earth, the Seals were the first professional baseball team in San Francisco, albeit minor-league. Many of the names that are associated with San Francisco baseball are in fact Seals, not Giants. For instance we have that Lefty O'Doul fella, who before he was a Yankee or a Red Sox, was a Seal.

Born in San Francisco, O'Doul was a Seal, then went to majors, then back to the Seals, then back to the majors, and then finally became manager of the Seals in 1937. He had some players on that squad that turned out fairly decent, including some guy named Joe DiMaggio, who yes, was also a Seal.

The Seals played in a 18,000 seat bandbox at the corner of 16th and Bryant, and it was anchored at the corners by three breweries, Lucky Lager, Hamm's and Budweiser. In fact, I have a fabulous old photo shot straight down the first base line, highlighting these wonderful bookends.

The Seals reign ended when the New York Giants escaped west in 1957, and I will always point out that the man who started the whole ball rolling was of course a Christopher, then-Mayor George Christopher. But tonight, if you are at the game, you will still see Lou Seal, a subtle hat-tip by the Giants to the team that kept the crowd roaring until they arrived at Candlestick.

Ugh, Candlestick. To this day I still have a love/hate relationship with that place. On one hand, it was the ultimate home field advantage, with the fog and the wind. And that was for the opposing team. For the opposing fans it could be even worse. Friday nights in the bleachers used to be called "Fight Night," and the San Francisco Police Department would always have a phalanx of officers in the left field bleachers.

Fly balls would die in the wet, cold wind, and sometimes you would see the legendary "Candlestick Wall" appear in right field. This combination of wind and architecture would literally stop fly balls dead in their tracks, and a powerful majestic home run would seem to "bounce" off the wall of wind and end up in the right fielder's glove instead. Unless of course the right fielder was a sliding Candy Maldonado, but that is another disaster for another day.

Some brilliant Giants public relations person hit upon an ingenious way to turn this nightmare of a ballpark into a positive. The Giants created the "Croix de Candlestick" award for fans who made it through an extra inning night game. After enduring this test of will and outer-wear, the next day we would all troop down to the old Giants Dugout store on Grant, proudly show our tickets from the night before, and receive a button with the Giants logo on it... and a snowdrift on top of the logo. This ultimate badge of honor would wind up on our hats, and at the start of every game you would sit down, look around, and see who had more Croixs on their hats.


But the old grey lady held up her end of the deal when the earthquake hit in 1989. I was in the stands with the Chronicle sports department, and to this day I remember watching the quake make the upper deck wave and bow, a truly frightening sight. We had no idea how bad it was, isolated in our concrete fishbowl. Shouts of "wait till the Giants come to bat!" rang out, and we all assumed the game would go on. It was only later, as our buses snaked through the darkened streets of San Francisco, and we saw the orange glow of the Marina on fire that we realized the extent of the damage.

And now we have AT&T, our own little bandbox back in the city. When I first saw the architectural model of the park, the red bricks and green metal reminded me instantly of the new Scottsdale Stadium during Spring Training. Since that is my favorite ballpark in America, I couldn't wait to see what its big brother looked like. It didn't disappoint, and to this day it still doesn't.

So once again, it's the Giants and the Dodgers. They both fled West at the same time, a sometimes bitter rivalry that has spanned an entire country and generations in between. I will look down the right field line tonight, and imagine seeing the brewery signs and a young Joe DiMaggio starting his first game at shortstop. Yes, the future center fielder started at shortstop, which was the only way his old brother Vince could convince the Seals to start him. I may even wander up to Lefty O'Doul's after, and hoist one to all the players who have proudly worn the jersey, and taken the field on dark foggy nights to play for San Francisco. Its Giants and Dodgers... play ball!