Friday, October 1, 2010

* * THEY BLINKED! * *

Shift #82

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2010 -- Folsom/Main to Battery/Vallejo -- $8.05


THE WHOLE OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
is reeling this morning, trying to recover from having its collective breath sucked right out of its sprawling body -- temporarily, I predict -- by last night’s 4-2 Philadelphia Phillies victory over our 2010 San Francisco Giants.

The forty-four thousand of us packed into the stadium, plus millions watching on t.v., were prepared for a wild celebration, were prepared to see the Giants make it three straight wins in three straight nights against the Phillies -- and bring a World Series to San Francisco next week. But during the third inning our guys played sloppy baseball for about a minute and a half -- they blinked -- and the Phillies put up three cheap runs -- gifts! -- against Tim Lincecum. The series still stands at three games-to-two, Giants’ favor, and we go back to Philadelphia to play one more. Or possibly two...


ONLY ABOUT ELEVEN HOURS HAVE PASSED since my wife and daughter and I shuffled out of the ballpark with thousands of other dejected, deflated fans and made our way back home to Oakland. Now I’m in front of the Courtyard Hotel, first-up in the cab line. From here I can see the brick fa├žade and the light towers of the stadium, a five-block shot down Second Street.

I’m up on the sidewalk next to my cab, with my right foot propped on the trunk to stretch out my hamstring. Over near the hotel entrance I notice two middle-aged guys wearing Giants gear and smoking cigarettes.

I call over, “Sad night at the ballpark…”

One of them calls back, “We’ll get ‘em tomorrow.”

And then, behind the smokers, I see a striking couple wheeling suitcases through the hotel’s front door. They’re both young enough to be my offspring, and they look so handsome and so well put together that they could be clipped from a magazine ad. The man has short, sandy blond hair and a short, short beard. The woman is tall and has long, straight brown hair. The man catches my eye and nods. I’m thinking: Airport.

Before the Courtyard’s distracted doorman can spot them and steer them into one of the nearby pirate limos, I jump behind the wheel and pull my cab into the covered driveway -- it’s drizzling this morning, and the portico will keep them dry. I am (or at least I once was) six-feet-two, and as I’m relieving the man of his suitcase I note that he’s taller than I am. When we’re settled in, the first thing that happens is that he quickly places a twenty-dollar-bill on the console between the two front seats, and says, “The ballpark, please.”

Earlier today I heard on the radio that the Giants are meeting at the stadium this morning to catch a bus to the airport. “You’re a ballplayer?” I tuck the bill under my clipboard on the passenger seat.

“Yes,” he says.

Me: “Oh, great -- what’s your name?”

“Chris Ray.”

Me: “Well, you’ve had a great year!”

Chris Ray: “Thanks.”

I’d not heard of Chris Ray until July 1, when the Giants acquired him in a trade and then, two days later, went off on a 22-6 roll. I recall hearing Giants announcer Mike Krukow pinpoint Chris Ray as a huge factor in that equation and speculate that Ray was throwing the ball as well as any reliever in the National League. In August Ray strained a rib muscle and had to go onto the disabled list. He rejoined the team in September and finished strong.

Me: “You came in with a bang. All of a sudden everyone was saying, ‘Well, who’s this guy?’”

He chuckles.

Me: “How was the mood in the locker room after last night’s game?”

He, sober, confident: “Fine.” No problems here. “If it wasn’t tough, it wouldn’t be any fun.” He says this not with a macho, but a philosophical tone.

As we’re talking, it occurs to me that I haven’t noticed Chris Ray’s name mentioned in the papers or on the radio for a while, and I wonder if the Giants found that they didn’t have room for him on the playoff roster -- but I keep this thought to myself.

I ask: “Where were you playing last year?”

“Baltimore. In the off season I was traded to Texas, and then in July I was traded to the Giants.”

Me: “Oh, you were part of the Bengie trade?”

He: “Yes.”

On July 1, the Giants traded popular-but-slumping veteran catcher Bengie Molina to the Rangers in exchange for Ray, plus a minor league pitcher and some cash. The Giants turned their catcher’s job over to twenty-three-year-old phenom Buster Posey, and now, as we’re riding to the park this morning, both Buster’s and Bengie’s teams (the Giants and the Texas Rangers) are one win away from a matchup in the World Series.

I tell Chris Ray and his quieter companion that my thirteen-year-old daughter and I have been to a dozen or maybe fifteen games together this year, which makes the season a total win for me no matter what happens from here on out.

“That’s great,” he says, and he seems genuinely pleased to hear this.

I catch the woman’s eye in the rearview. “What do you do to stay calm through it all?”

She, too, seems nice. She smiles at me and says, “I think I’m pretty used to it by now…”

And then we’re pulling through the players’ gate, out behind the left field wall, the bleachers section, the giant Coke bottle, and the giant baseball mitt. I stop the cab next to two large coach buses parked there and turn to face the back seat. “Every day for the last fifteen or twenty years I’ve given away one free ride…” -- I extend Chris Ray's twenty-dollar-bill back toward him -- “and I would really, really like it if you’ll let this be my free ride for today…”

One of the Giants’ logistics folks has opened the rear passenger door: “Chris Ray…! How you doing, Chris?”

But Chris Ray is momentarily preoccupied with the adoring-fan-cab-driver situation. He’s looking directly at me, he’s smiling -- he gets it. “Oh, thank you,” he says, “but I want you to have that. Really. But thanks…”

A second Giants employee, happy, smiling, is at Chris’s door now: “Chris Ray… Great to see you, Chris…” And the moment passes.

The woman and I both step out on the left side of the cab at the same time. I think: Is she taller than me, too? I unload their suitcases, both of them thank me and say good-bye, and then they’re swept into the warm arms of the Giants family, off to Philadelphia…


SEVEN BLOCKS LATER I’m flagged by a woman who moved to San Francisco from Seattle thirteen years ago and has had her own architectural/graphic design firm for the last “eleven or twelve” years. Yes, she says, she certainly is a Giants fan. No, she wasn’t at the game last night, but she watched the whole thing on t.v. “What a heartbreaker!”

Me: “I’ve been to all the playoff games so far, and last night’s was by far the toughest to take. I’ve been telling myself that this team’s already gone farther than I ever thought it would, but now… Now I’ve got my hopes up, and last night hurt…”

She: “Around the office we’ve all been asking, ‘Who in the world has tickets?’ You’re the first person I’ve met, or even heard of, who actually has any -- how’d you get them?”

Me: “I got lucky. Back in March I pulled out my credit card and bought season tickets, and now I have tickets to all the playoff games and, if we get there, to the World Series. But I have to admit, I’m relieved there’s no game today -- I’m exhausted! It’s a lot of work being a baseball fan!”

At the end of the ride, I tell her, “The last person to sit in your seat was Giants relief pitcher Chris Ray.”

She: “No way!”

Me: “Yep. And I told him that every day for fifteen or twenty years I’ve given away one free ride -- and I tried to give today’s ride to him, but he insisted on paying me -- he probably makes five million dollars a year. So, if you’ll allow it, I’d like this to be my free ride today...”

“Oh, I would be so happy to allow that -- are you kidding! Thank you so much!” She’s got a major league smile. “You know,” she adds, “I don’t make five million a year...”



(NOTE: After work I do an online search: Chris Ray is six-three, weighs two hundred and ten pounds, played baseball at the College of William and Mary, was drafted in 2003, has been in the big leagues since 2005, had Tommy John surgery in 2007, is 28 years old, and in 2010 earned a salary of $975,000. Not five million, but still... I am, however, saddened to see that Ray has in fact not been included on the Giants postseason roster, but I think it’s a wonderful thing, and right in line with the current ownership’s class-act reputation, that Ray and his pal are nonetheless going to Philadelphia with the team.)

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2 comments:

  1. This is San Francisco's year, Brad. Count on it! I know- I'm a BOSTON RED SOX fan! We know about "meant to be"!

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  2. Great piece, Brad - glad to hear Ray is such a cool guy. If SF wins the WS, Ray deserves a ring - he was nails in midsummer.

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