In San Francisco, a Whole New Ballgame

BY Spencer Michels  October 28, 2010 at 1:34 PM EST

San Francisco Giants

Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum takes the mound for Game 1 of the World Series in San Francisco. Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images.

The San Francisco Giants beat the Texas Rangers, 11-7, in Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night. PBS NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels has been keeping an eye on his hometown Giants this season and has a few observations…

Like many San Franciscans, I wasn’t paying attention to the Giants most of the year. They were losing games, they had a bunch of players I had never heard of, and Barry Bonds was no longer part of the mix, to say nothing of Willie Mays. We thought there was no way they’d be part of the postseason, much less the World Series.

And who cared, anyway? Here on the Left Coast, we had elections looming, one that would even legalize pot, plus a fall season of plays and operas, and Halloween — always a favorite here.

Then along came September, and the team started winning. Maybe they’ll have a shot at a wild card slot if they can catch the Padres, we thought, maybe even a chance to win the division.

Of course, hardly anyone on the East Coast was paying any attention. West Coast baseball usually happens too late for newspapers or TV in the East. But San Franciscans started to figure out that something amazing was happening. Within a few weeks, this self-satisfied and self-centered town, where organic produce and lefty politics usually preoccupies the populace, had Giants fever. People started conversations with strangers by saying, “How ’bout them Giants?” That’s not even how we talk in S.F.

Tickets for home games in beautiful AT&T Park became hard to get; there were lines for the sushi and crab cakes. Finding a spot at the free “peephole” section, just beyond the outfield, became problematic.

Meanwhile, as the election campaigns for California governor and senator ramped up, the Giants made the playoffs. In two series of tense outings, they bested the Atlanta Braves and then the Philadelphia Phillies, showing no respect for no-hitter pitcher Roy Halladay and even less for Roy Oswalt. The games became officially known as “torture”; the Giants specialized in one-run victories.

San Franciscans began memorizing the names of players they never heard of: Cody Ross, a New Mexico native who grew up wanting to be a rodeo clown, picked up on waivers from the Florida Marlins toward the end of the season because the Giants didn’t want him to end up in San Diego. In the National League Championship Series, he hit three home runs and was named most valuable player.

Buster Posey, 23, became the starting catcher, replacing tried and true Bengie Molina –who’s now playing for the Texas Rangers. Posey — a fresh-faced kid — has become a legend in just a few months. He’s good catcher and a better hitter, and he’s the respected shrink for the pitching rotation.

Then there’s Tim Lincecum, the starting pitcher in Game 1 of the series, a skinny, long-haired, two-time Cy Young-award winner who looks like anything but a ballplayer. Lincecum wigs have become all the rage at the ballpark. Even in San Francisco, he’s known as “The Freak.”

Brian Wilson, the ace closer, is a fair-haired pitcher who grew a fearsome beard and then dyed it black, inspiring a raft of signs reading “Fear the Beard.” Wilson has done wonders saving games against tough hitting.

What better collection to face George W. Bush’s old team from Arlington, Texas?

The Giants haven’t won a World Series in 55 years. When they played (and lost) in the World Series in 1989, an earthquake shook Candlestick Park. This time, the Giants have shaken the city, and not-so-smug San Franciscans are feeling its effects.