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Posts Tagged ‘World Series’


I had omitted to mention in my last post that, shortly after Alicia and Jerry joined us in our Chicago house, they presented me with my birthday presents – two t-shirts from their Land of the Sun store in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. I wore the Watchtower” tie-dye today, not only as a token of my gratitude but also because it was one I had been pursuing for some time, and was so excited to receive it.

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It was accompanied by a touching “card”, adorned with Aiden and Ely’s artwork.

Alicia was queen of the kitchen again, this time serving up scrambled eggs and bacon, providing us with the necessary fuel for what was to prove a long, exhausting but thoroughly enjoyable day.

Ely held court in his armchair while he waited for everybody else to get ready.

Our first port of call was Millennium Park, a former railroad yard in an industrial corner of Grant Park that had been reclaimed to celebrate the turn of the twenty first century. It is now a popular and successful attraction, especially for those interested in art, architecture and the performing arts.

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The extraordinary piece of sculpture, Cloud Gate, was the primary reason for our visit. Designed by British sculptor, Anish Kapoor, it resembles an enlarged, reflective kidney bean, prompting its nickname, The Bean. Wherever you stand on its perimeter, you experience a different, dazzling and somewhat disorientating reflection of the surrounding skyline.

Since the days of ER, one of our favourite US drama series, I had wanted to ride the “L”, the elevated trains that run overhead, providing a great rooftop perspective on the city going about its business.

We walked to the nearest station to Millennium Park, Adams/Wabash, serving, amongst others, the Brown Line, and took it in the direction of Kimball.

Aiden and Janet were happy to be riding the rails.

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Although most of the stations we passed through were quite plain, there were others with gorgeous murals.

We had learnt while standing in line for Willis Tower on the previous day that Jerry’s former business partner and his wife were also in town, and it had been agreed that we all meet up for pizza at 5pm today. With that in mind and time passing we alighted at Belmont on the North Side in search of lunch. Cheesie’s Pub & Grub opposite the station looked enticing, so we took our chances there. There was some confusion initially over what we should have, but my grilled cheese sandwich was certainly worth the wait.

Judging by the baseball memorabilia, we were in the vicinity of Wrigley Field, the fabled home of the Chicago Cubs, World Series Champions in 2016 after a 108 year wait.

While we waited for our food, the boys and I had a few vigorous games of table (ice) hockey. Although Ely may have not been especially tactically astute, his more rudimentary, enthusiastic style made him a match for both Aiden and I.

Cheesie’s was renowned for its root and craft beers, of which Jerry partook, but less so for its coffee. The Osmium Coffee Bar a few blocks away was recommended and we made our way there. We were able to sit in the backyard where all the wooden tables were painted beautifully .

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We took the return to Adams/Wabash. Ely decided that he was no longer with us and needed his own space. We were not the only passengers to be charmed by his subsequent siesta.

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It was time to honour our reservation at Pequod’s authentic Chicago deep dish pizza restaurant. We arrived around twenty minutes early which allowed me the opportunity to do something I had been starved of on the trip so far – look around a bookshop. The large branch of Barnes & Noble called to me from across the street and I escaped from the rest of the party for a few minutes. I did not, however, make any purchases.

Oh, but I could have with more time and money!

We met Joyce and Artie and sat down to dinner. I’ll confess that both Janet and I prefer the traditional Italian thin crust pizza, but there is no denying that our cheese, extra cheese, onion and black olive deep dish version was tasty – and certainly, filling, so much so that we requested a “box” to take back to the house. Jerry and Alicia did the same with their meat pizza. But more of those leftovers in the next chapter.

The final instalment of the day returned us to the Blues Highway theme that had triggered this trip in the first place. Janet, Alicia and I had bought tickets to Blues legend, Buddy Guy’s club, for the evening.

Jerry had expressed his willingness to stay behind at the house looking after the boys. This might just have had something to do with his desire to watch the San Francisco 49ers at the Green Bay Packers live on television in peace.

But if that was the plan, it was thwarted before we even left the house to pick up our Uber. Despite ploughing through what appeared to be hundreds of channels, we could not locate a live transmission of the game. To add insult to injury for Jerry, we discovered that the blues club was showing it on several television sets!

After checking in at the club, we found what appeared to be the only empty table close to the stage – though we may have annoyed a large group of women who had begun to place additional chairs around it as we arrived. Playing dumb was a successful tactic.

I took the opportunity before the outstanding house band, led by singer and guitarist Jimmy Burns, began their first set, and our server arrived with the first gin and tonic of the evening, to look around. Original guitars and photographs of some of the greatest Blues musicians adorned the walls.

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Towards the end of the first set, it was announced that there was a special guest in the house – none other than the venerable owner of the club himself, Buddy Guy, a guitarist revered by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name but a few guitar gods.

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Belying his eighty two years, Buddy delivered a suggestive, knowing and brilliantly phrased performance. He had the entire audience smiling and applauding, in particular holding women young enough to be his granddaughters in the palm of his hand.

If this were not enough of a gift, he agreed to sign t-shirts during the interval between sets. Alicia and I soon joined other starstruck fans in line for this unexpected and thrilling experience.

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It had been a great evening, the perfect ending to a lovely second day in Chicago in the company of our San Francisco family.

The only disappointment? The 49ers went down to the Packers in the last three seconds of the game. In some respects, it was probably a relief that Jerry had not had to witness it.

 

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It’s near two hundred days since I slouched atop green Bernal Hill,

Dismissing the dogs drooling over my “Progressive Grounds” wrap.

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I watched with increasing heavy heart the planes fly towards SFO,

Doleful omens that my own flight home grew ever nearer. 

Now, finally, my next pilgrimage is as close as the last,

But it might as well be another two hundred years as days;

With the city again in the grip of World Series fever,

I yearn to bask beneath the evening city’s orange glow.

So much I miss about this cool, gorgeous, dirty, expensive place.

The soulful song of the foghorns out across the Golden Gate.

That heart stopping moment when you crest the hill at Hyde  

And pier, park and prison under a pristine sky come into view.

Community singing with Elvis and Snow White in Club Fugazi 

Before following Casady, Kerouac and Ginsberg to Vesuvio Cafe

Where I sit beneath James Joyce with a glass of Anchor Steam.

Bowing dutifully to Emperor Norton as he leads his latest star-struck

Subjects round the now scrubbed and polished Barbary Coast.

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Standing on stairways in Sunset and Bernal,

Gazing open-mouthed as Karl the Fog weaves his moody magic,

Slicing Golden Gate Bridge and Sutro Tower in half before 

Rendering them clear and whole again in a heartbeat.

Mouthing along to “O Mio Babbino Caro” 

While wrestling a ristretto at Caffe Trieste.  

Devouring warm, thickly buttered popovers by the Pacific

Among the toffs and tourists at the Cliff House.

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Scouring for the latest tie-dye tees in still heady Haight.

Getting through a minor novel on the F Streetcar as it

Clanks and clatters down Market and along Embarcadero.

Savouring the scents of jasmine and lemon on the backyard patio.

Marvelling at the Mission murals and their passion and exuberance

Reassures me this changing city still harbours an independent spirit.   

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Sharing stories of Dead concerts at Lyceum and Fillmore 

In the line for breakfast at Martha’s on Church,

Where the Blackpool boat tram glides past and waves

Its bunting at “Lovejoy’s” ladies taking tea and tiffin. 

Shovelling down “Gilroy’s” garlic fries at the ballpark before 

The circling seagulls, mindful of each innings slipping away,

Prepare to swoop to reclaim their birthright.

Watching a liquid sun decline over the serene lagoon 

Of the soon to be centurion Palace of Fine Arts,

What better resting place after the Lyon Street Steps descent?

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And breathing a sigh of relief as the recycling police

Leave me alone for yet another week. 

These and many more images flood my brain.

But never mind.

For now at least, there’s more baseball torture to

Endure from afar in the dark of the night.

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With the 2013 Opening Day a heartbeat away, it seemed as good a time as any to showcase some of my photos of the World Champions’ home. These were taken during the official tour of AT & T Park on in April 2010 and the opening home game against the Pittsburgh Pirates last year.

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Is there a better setting for a sports stadium anywhere in the States?

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Three hours to the first pitch. Go Zito!

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Filling up – yet another full house taking shape.

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So disappointing to learn that I’m too old to ride the slides inside the Coke bottle!

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Or play in this miniature ballpark! I think even I could hit a home run here!

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Taken from the “Ride the Duck” tour – audio deliberately omitted.

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The eventual World Series MVP starts the season how he means to go on.

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“There have been only two geniuses in the world”, actress Tallulah Bankhead said, “Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare”. A trifle exaggerated perhaps (is Shakespeare THAT good?), but the former Giant was arguably the greatest baseball player of all time.

William Howard “Willie” Mays Jnr. was born on 6th May 1931 in Westfield, Alabama of talented sports playing parents. He came to prominence through playing for Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro American League and, having been declined by the Brooklyn Dodgers, was signed by the New York Giants on the day he graduated from high school in 1950.

After an impressive early season spell with the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association at the beginning of the following season he was called up for his Major League debut on 25th May 1951. Despite career lows in batting average, RBIs and HRs that year he was still voted Rookie of the Year.  His speed and agility in centre field were gaining notice, and in one game against Pittsburgh, he stopped a 475 foot drive with his bare hand.

Missing most of the 1952, and all of the 1953, seasons through Army service, he returned to the Giants in 1954, helping them to win their last World Series before 2010 and being voted National League MVP.  His phenomenal over the shoulder running catch in deep center field off Vic Wertz at the Polo Grounds, which is still regarded as one of the most spectacular pieces of fielding in baseball history, was instrumental in securing a first game win against the Cleveland Indians, leading to a four game sweep of the series.

In 1957, the last season of the Giants’ tenure in New York, he won the first of his 12 consecutive Golden Glove awards. There were few more exhilarating sights than Mays in full sail, chasing a long fly ball, oversize cap flying off his head as the ball sunk into his enormous, wide-palmen hands.  He perfected the “basket” catch in which the glove was held waist-high and face up like a basket.   Along with Joe diMaggio he is also reputed to have had the greatest throwing arm in the game.

His reception in San Francisco, following the Giants’ relocation in 1958, was not a particularly welcoming one – he was booed whilst the locals took rookies like Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey to their hearts and he and his wife experienced racial prejudice in their attempts to find a home in the city.   His wholehearted, stylish performances won over the fans and in 1961 he hit 4 home runs against the Milwaukee Braves in County Stadium and was on deck when the Giants’ final innings closed.  He is the only Major League player to have a 4 home runs and a 3 triple game.

His final World Series for the Giants was in 1962 when, having beaten the Dodgers in a three game play-off, they lost in seven to the Yankees.  He won his second league MVP with a career high 52 home runs.  He played in 150 games for 13 consecutive years between 1954 and 1966, another Major League record.  Despite hitting his 600th home run in 1969 he had an injury hit season, but returned to his best form and helped the Giants win the  National League West in the following year.  He was named “Player of the Decade” for the sixties by The Sporting News in 1970. 

In May 1972, unable to guarantee him a retirement income, the Giants  traded the 41 year old Mays to the New York Mets for pitcher Charlie Williams and $50 ,000.  He made his debut on the 14th against the Giants, hitting a home run.  His final home run, number 660, was made against the Reds on 17th August the following year.  He also made 3,283 hits and ran in 1,903 batters in his career.

For his two seasons in New York he was the oldest regular position player in baseball and the oldest to figure in a World Series Game during the series that the Mets lost to the A’s.  He stayed with the club until the end of the 1979 season as hitting instructor.

 

On 23rd January 1979 he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, colecting 95% of the ballots.  But the period after his retirement was a difficult one, culminating in his being banned from baseball for working, along with Yankees legend Mickey Mantle, as a meeter and greeter for Bally’s Casinos in Atlantic City.  Although the ban was eventually rescinded, the decision affected Mays badly, inducing him to shun many public appearances, including All-Star games.  

In 1999 he was included in the Major League All-Century team in a popular vote by fans.

There is no doubting the affection in which he is held, not only by Giants’ fans but the citizens of San Francisco.  Since 1986 he has served as Special Assistant to the President of the San Francisco Giants, a lifetime appointment.  The address of AT & T Park is 24 Willie Mays Plaza and a larger than life statue of Mays in full slugging mode stands proudly in front of the main entrance. 

Although his #24 shirt had been formally retired, and even when Mays offered it to his godson Barry Bonds, who had visited him in his locker room in search of bubble gum when just five years old.  Such was the esteem in which he is held, however, that Bonds refused and opted to wear the #25 jersey instead.  

At former mayor Willie Brown’s instigation, and with the subsequent endorsement of mayor Gavin Newsom, he is now commemorated every 24th May in San Francisco which has been designated Willie Mays Day.  On his 79th birthday in 2010 the California Senate proclaimed Willie Mays Day in the state, and three years before, he had been inducted into the California Hall of Fame by Governor Arnold. Schwarzenegger.

For all the adulation and honours accorded him in California, it should not be forgotten that he is no less idolised on the East Coast for his services  to New York at the beginning and end of his career.  This was evident when he  joined the Giants organisation on 21st January 2011 in parading the newly won World Series trophy, visiting the grade school built on the site of the old Polo Grounds in Harlem, answering the students’ questions and distributing memorabilia.  

Willie Mays visits PS 46 in Harlem, next to the site of the former Polo Grounds, where the new York Giants played before moving to San Francisco in 1958, on Jan. 21, 2011 in New York City.  The Giants hadn't won the World Series since 1954.

I can’t finish this piece without reference to more of Mays’s remarkable playing achievements:

  • selected for the All-Star Game a (tied) record 24 times, including 20 consecutive years between 1954 and 1973;
  • MVP in the All-Star Game twice (1963, 1968);
  • the only player to have hit a home run in every innings from 1 to 16;
  • a record 22 extra innings home runs;
  • only one of five National League players to have hit at least 100 RBIs in eight successive seasons;
  • stole 338 bases; and
  • 7,095 outfield fielding putouts – Major League record

But the statistics and records do scant justice to his genius – constantly on the move, athletically and mentally, whether at the plate, on base or in the outfield, he was a menace to the opposition from start to finish.

I started with a quotation and I shall end with one.  Mays, who, in all modesty, believed himself to be the best baseball player ever, summed it up in these simple words: “If you can do that – if you run, hit, run the bases, hit with power, field, throw and do all other things that are part of the game – then you’re a good ballplayer”.  Well, he could do all of those things with a level of skill, style and, above all joy, unparalleled in the game’s history.

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