Editor’s Note: Sometimes (most of the time) professional sports franchises don’t care. They’re for-profit corporations. Their job is to put as many of us — millions of us — in the stands as they can. Other times …well, other times — they do care.
Ms. Annemarie Hastings
Vice President, Client Relations
San Francisco Giants
24 Willie Mays Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94107
Dear Ms. Hastings,
May 25, 2013 will always be a day I remember and one of the best in my life as a Giants fan. You may recall it was the day the Giants were locking horns at home with Colorado. Zito gave up a four-spot early. Boch was ejected in the eighth. And the Rockies’ Tulowitzki went yard in the 10th for the go-ahead run.
And then, in the bottom of that inning, an Angel came up to the plate and hit a historic two-run walk-off inside-the-park home run. Perhaps the highlight of the 2013 campaign and, for the 40,000-plus who stuck around for the entire matinee, one of those I-was-there moments to reminisce about for seasons to come.
Well, I was there. And so was my family. All of us, in fact. My mother and father, my sister and brother-in-law and their two kids and my best friend since junior high.
I guess it’s not unusual for whole families to turn out and spend a summer Saturday at AT&T, queuing for garlic fries and souvenir-sized Cokes. My father and I had been going to games together since Uribe, to Thompson to Clark was a common call and Krukow was busy telling meat to grab some pine from the mound instead of the press box.
But there was something special about that day.
It was my father’s last game.
Two months earlier he was out swinging a golf club near his home on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe when he felt a pop. That pop turned out to be a broken collar bone. X-rays revealed a tiny, foreign orb circling that bone. A biopsy, an MRI and one dreaded family sit down with the oncologist later and he was given his options. They were: Do a few rounds of chemo and see if you can slow the spread, or do nothing and face the inevitable. While they’re not TV doctors and can’t give you a specific timeline, a lung cancer that has metastasized into bones and other vital organs usually gives the host a fighting chance to stay on the right side of the turf for about six months.
My father didn’t have much of a bucket list. That’s not to say he wasn’t an adventurous man or didn’t want to get out and make the most of it. It’s just that with his limited time, he wanted to do the things he loved most with the people he loved most. This included: driving his wood boat around the lake, eating burgers and pasta, visiting his great-grandparent’s old ranch on the Central Coast and going to a Giants game with his family.
So, between the side effects of chemo and the regular doc visits, the oncologist updates and just trying to get those burgers and smoothies down — even the mundane boxes on his list seemed to go unchecked. It wasn’t until about 10 minutes before the first pitch that last Saturday in May that my dad summoned the energy from his hotel bed to get up and get down to the ball park.
When we arrived at our seats, we were greeted by a representative from the Giants. She had two bags of goodies for my father that included the entire 2013 season of promotion items. From replica World Series rings, to Miller and Flemming wine cork stoppers to a bobblehead of the day’s would-be hero, Angel Pagan. There were calendars and license plate frames, hats and batting gloves, media guides and a scorecard.
Matt Cain, the Giants hard-throwing righty, and my father’s favorite player in this era of the franchise’s success (something he never thought he’d live to see), signed a baseball for my dad. When my father pulled the prize from the depths of the bag, suddenly he was 10 years old again.
The Giants representative read a brief note from the organization to my father for his more than half century of support and gave him a hug. A real hug.
To be clear, my father was never a season ticket holder. He never attended more than a dozen games a year, (unless you count listening to KNBR next to your dog in your garage as attending, then he “went” to 160-plus). He wasn’t a guy you’d recognize from any other dad in the stands. He had a hat and jacket and never forgot to keep score, but he was a quiet fan. If you asked him what he thought of AT&T he would say it is a “very nice ballpark.” If you asked him what he thought of Candlestick, he’d say “it was home.”
He taught me the most important lesson of watching baseball live: the game is about the small spaces of time between pitches. He would gaze at the scoreboard or comment that a batter was “stepping in the bucket.” He routinely would point out babies in the stands and muse whether this was their first game. He ate his garlic fries with mustard and never left before the final out.
He never quite figured out how the seagulls knew when the game was almost over.
As the shadows grew long over the infield and the May 25 game took on a narrative of its own, my father’s face, hollowed out and ashen from both the disease and the gut-punching treatment of it, turned dour. He shifted and slumped in his seat. We offered him hydration and extra food, but he turned it down. My mother met me in the concourse during the top of the seventh and simply said it was time to call it an afternoon.
I agreed, and we made arrangements to quietly say our goodbyes, coax my dad from his seat and maybe get him back to the room in time to watch the final outs on TV.
When we got back to our section, he was gone. My sister said he went to the bathroom and to get something to drink with her husband, himself a family practice doctor who was in part there to be with his family and in part there to help monitor my dad.
They returned by the seventh inning stretch and though there was no “miracle” rebound, my dad had a little color back in his face and was ready to buckle in for the final outs. The man was not going to leave before his time.
And so it was, the game went into extra innings. We stirred after Colorado took the lead in the top of the 10th and nodded to go. I tried to pick my father up from his seat by grabbing his forearm and he simply rested his hand on mine, his gesture signaling me to sit down.
Then the bottom of the 10th. Brandon Crawford got on base and from our seats behind home, we watched Pagan’s drive loop long and lazy toward the most troublesome part of the ballpark, triples alley. My father was the first to rise to his feet. Our family screamed and jumped as the ball bounced off the brick and back toward the infield like a chicken sprung loose from the coop. Pagan was already rounding second. “He’s going to score, he’s going to do it,” my dad shouted waving the Giants’ leadoff man home from our perch 180 feet away.
Pagan beat the tag and it was over.
The crowd roar took over but my father, exhilarated and exhausted, was instantly spent. He flopped to his seat. His breathing labored. His eyes welling almost to shut. By the time the crowd died down, we had already helped him down the ramp and into a waiting cab. When the door was closed, he held up his hand and waved to the statue of Willie Mays.
And that was his Giants farewell.
My father passed away on a Wednesday. It was January 15, 2014. Topics that day included how it wouldn’t snow in Tahoe because he wasn’t there and how spring training starts less than a month. He smiled. His Matt Cain ball and his Giants hat by his bedside, surrounded by his family. Forever a Giant.
As pitchers and catchers report this week, there’ll be one less fan in the stands, but one more watching from above — and an entire family with you, win or lose, for one more season.
So, on behalf of my father, Craig A. Pridgen, thank you San Francisco Giants. Thank you for one last game.
– Andrew Pridgen
And the Giants’ reply:
Thank you so very much for your touching email and for sharing such a bittersweet story with us about your father and his love of the Giants. Your eloquent depiction of his dedication to his beloved team, down to the details of his last game here on the shores of McCovey Cove is heartwarming and lovely. We’re proud to have had him — and all of you, his family — here at AT&T Park.
It’s true fans like you that make the Giants a franchise like no other.
I looked closely at the photo you attached and the wonderful representative that visited your father with the gifts appears to be Vicki Kelley, whom I’ve copied here so that she is able to know the impact her actions had on you, your father and your family. Vicki works her magic with our ballpark operations and guest services teams and makes a habit of making people happy. I know that she will be touched to read your email, as I was.
Again, we all appreciate you as a true fan and as a product of a true fan! Your love for your father is inspiring and it’s stories like these that make our jobs meaningful.
Please accept our most sincere sympathy for the loss of your father.
All the best,