The faces, and hands, of baseball
You can’t go to a minor-league park, even in the off-season, and not be reminded why you love baseball.
I drove down to San Jose Municipal yesterday morning to listen to the SF Giants and San Jose Giants announce a new partnership. (The major-league team has bought 25 percent of the minor-league team.) I figured I was in for a bunch-of-suits press conference, and certainly there was some of that.
But there’s something about a small park with outfield signs for Rotten Robbie and Sheet Metal Workers International Association that puts you in mind of hot dogs dripping with pickle relish and the smell of Sea & Ski on already-burnt shoulders and third outs coming too quickly.
“When you walk in here as a 5-year-old,” Giants pitching coach and San Jose native Dave Righetti told the audience of San Jose Giants season-ticket holders, sponsors and media, “and watch your dad play ball, and then to be back here . . .”
He choked up like every boy trying to talk about his dad and baseball.
The men on the dais yesterday were a snapshot of the game itself. On one end of the row of chairs sat the great Jim Davenport, man as Southern as pecan pie who, from seven decades in the game, has palms as rough as his old third-baseman’s glove. On the other end sat Pablo Sandoval, a Venezuelan kid with braces just starting in the majors.
There was Giants managing general partner Bill Neukom in his now-trademark black-and-orange striped bowtie, making such a forceful and eloquent case for his “Giants Way” that Sandoval and Buster Posey – the only players in attendance – lifted their eyes from the floor and watched their boss like jurors.
There was general manager Brian Sabean, in Darth Vader black, whose New York growl and knit brow have yet to be softened by 16 years in San Francisco.
And there was Posey, the poster boy, in his crew cut and crisp white button-down shirt tucked neatly into khaki pants. Later, signing autographs in the park’s “Beer Batter” patio with Sandoval, Posey smiled politely and chatted with fans like an usher at a wedding, slightly formal, regally reserved. Sandoval, on the other, seemed like the guy who, with some prodding, might take the mike from the wedding singer. He laughed and joked, easily draping his arm around fans for photos. He wore a black, long-sleeve T-shirt with metallic writing, his sparkly Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses clipped to his collar.
From outside the patio, Linda Pereira watched the two young men like a doting aunt. She has known Sandoval for several years, from his days with the San Jose team, and met Posey when he was with the team for a week last summer. She’s been working for the San Jose Giants for 43 years, starting when she was in sixth grade. Now she’s director of player relations and has been placing players with local families for 29 years.
“One lady had six players in a five-bedroom house,” she said, recalling some of her best host families. Shawn Estes lived with an older woman who, over 12 years, fed and housed 54 players. Estes, the former Giants pitcher, called her every Sunday until the day she died at the age of 88.
Pereira and the San Jose Giants will have Posey again, at least for a while. Then he’ll, too, leave Rotten Robbie and the Beer Batter patio and head out to Connecticut or Fresno or San Francisco and one day, if he’s extremely lucky, be the guy at the other end of the dais with palms as rough as his catcher’s mitt.