…I only wish my father had lived to see it.
My mother and sister handled the day-to-day of my father’s cancer treatment. Living 280 miles away, I was pitching in on the weekends. Sometimes — though I know how this sounds and I know it wasn’t supposed to feel that way — I was brought in as babysitter.
One such evening, I found myself alone at my sister’s house with my dad watching the Giants game. Everyone else, including my niece and nephew, went out to dinner. He didn’t have much energy so we stayed in and I ran point. It was late-September and by January he would be gone. It was tough for me to think about it in those terms then, but it was clear to the rest of my family that these were precious moments and we needed some time together, just the two of us.
No big things happened. No mea culpas or resolutions or “I love you dads”/”I love you sons.” We made small talk but he got bored. He decided he wanted peanuts and there weren’t any in the house so he got up to walk to the store. OK. So we walked. And we walked some more. And then more and more and more. An hour went by. Then the better part of another. The walk turned into a slow-motion chase scene through stucco neighborhoods and well-lit alleyways.
He traversed greenbelts, stumbled in and out of bike lanes and repeated traffic circles. Eventually, I figured out when I got slightly ahead of him, like a basketball defender, I could kind of dictate the direction. My only goal was to have him back in the house before dark/before everyone returned.
He was also starting to tire and get frustrated. I won’t write here the things he said to me, they weren’t nice, he didn’t mean them, they are for me. But I also knew then as I know more now as a father that there were some very ready-to-pop kernels of truth in there. One of us, at least, got to say what he needed to say.
Just after the moon came up, I got him about a block from the house. I said, “Don’t you want to watch the end of the Giants game?”
He turned, took two steps closer and poked me in the chest and said, “Fuck the Giants. I liked it better when they sucked.”
I laughed. Because… what? Really? At that moment, they were a team with two World Series wins in three seasons and, unbeknownst to us, another one on the way. This was a grand time to be a Giants fan, the best time. If he and I had agreed on one thing it’s that we toiled in anonymity and were mired in disappointment — for decades — before we had suddenly been spoiled by riches. How could he say that? How could he even think it?
So I let it go.
Turns out, that was the Last Conversation. Any other differences we had, disagreements that festered or things unsaid, well — they remain that way. It was downhill running into hospice and triage from there. I never apologized for my stuff and he didn’t say he wished he’d done better either. He wasn’t the best dad in the world, but I was a way worse son by comparison. So, whether it was on purpose or not, we left our relationship at, “Fuck the Giants. I liked it better when they sucked.”
And that remark not only hangs in the air for me, but I totally get it now.
The full stadium, its come-lately occupants, the improbable regularity of comebacks, the increasingly gentrified demographic makeup of The City, the wifi distraction, the disappearance of the long-suffering fan, the clever TV spots where players smirk and wink and seem approachable — bah!
Sure, we’d been delivered from so many miserable seasons at the ‘Stick: the unfulfilled promise of the Roger Craig era, the overachievers of the Dusty Baker era, the threat of moving to St. Petersburg and finally, the opening of a cushy if not generic new waterfront ballpark — custom tailored for the steroid/Bonds era in full. There were threats of a World Championship and they even came seven outs away from one in 2002, but those threats were mostly just that — idle missives passing over like hot dog wrappers turned up in a ninth-inning gust with the gulls screaming and circling overhead, white sea vultures presiding over heartbreak.
But as my father’s five-decade career as a Giants fan wound down, the team delivered miracle on top of miracle. He couldn’t believe it. (I know this because he said often, “I can’t believe it.”) Was he happy for their success? Yes. Everyone loves a winner. But there was something a little forlorn in his voice when he spoke about them after 2010. Like something had been taken away.
It came down to this: He liked them better when they sucked.
To the extent that I am my father’s son, so do I.
Cubs fans are going through that transition now. How do you stay lovable and a winner? How does spring hold so much hope and the pinnacle look so grand once you’ve already summitted? Every championship, especially in this era of baseball, seems engineered not earned. Your superstitions and delusional fandom…whether you took more than 10 sips of beer in an inning somehow changing the outcome…is no longer a thing. It’s about predictive analytics, scouting from the time they’re twelve, pivot tables on spreadsheets and correct allocations of cash flow based on an algorithm.
Like my father, I prefer sad songs, movies with ambiguous endings, conversations that are too long and jokes that aren’t that funny till you think about it again later.
In a sense, that’s what being a Giants fan was like most of my life.
That’s what it’s like again now.
This year, seeing them on the bottom of the standings — the worst team in baseball, the easiest ticket to get in town — I feel for the first time in a long time that they’ve come home.
And maybe if I were to go to a game, he might be there among the empty (and inexplicably green) seats keeping score with a golf pencil, reveling in disappointment and feeling a tinge of something that resembles hope once more.