What America can learn from the San Francisco Giants
Baseball is still America’s pastime, though the final game of the World Series on Sunday may have been eclipsed by the fear of Hurricane Sandy, as well as the public’s love of that other game, the brutish football. Indeed, Sandy’s enormity, claiming lives, destroying property, and leaving millions without power, has put into perspective the hyperbole of any team that dares call itself the “Giants.”
And yet, this year’s fall classic, as most championships tend to do, gives the nation something it needs badly at this very moment.
Considering Sandy’s devastation, our nation’s sluggish economic situation, and the political polarization we find this election cycle, is there anyone who’d doubt our country’s desperate need for someone or something that is worth cheering for?
How about 25 of them? An everyman team of nobodies who weren’t even well regarded enough to be considered a sub-species of underdog.
As a team, the San Francisco Giants, the 2012 World Series victors, are more inspiring than any single baseball hero from a home run thumper like Ruth to an all-purpose slugger like DiMaggio.
Unlike the Yankees and Dodgers, big market organizations that attempt to buy championships by collecting and contracting individual superstars, the Giants by comparison are a frugal sort, a team that wins big the old fashioned way.
They bring together ordinary men whose great gift is to play exceptionally well as one.
It’s called teamwork, and in crisis mode it comes in handy when faced with adversity.
This post-season, the Giants knew a thing or two about being on the brink of disaster. In both the divisional and league championship series prior to the World Series, the Giants faced sudden-death elimination in six games. You simply win or go home, do or die. Down two games to none to the Cincinnati Reds, and three-games-to-one against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants found a way to play one more game. They won six straight games, four on the road, stunning everyone.
Maybe even Lazarus.
In game 7 of the National League Championship, it did appear as if some divine force was at play when a slumping Hunter Pence hit a ball that broke his bat a first time. That bat then splintered twice more in a split second, each time hitting the ball a second and third time. The effect was to give the ball a wicked spin that both faked out the Cardinal shortstop and made the centerfielder misplay the ball. It scored three runs for the Giants who went on to win the game and the National League pennant as the rain fell in San Francisco.
I was in the stands and couldn’t tell why the ball seemed to have a mind of its own. But it didn’t matter to Giants fans who let the rain pour on them like champion’s champagne.
All that was left was the World Series against the American League champs, the Detroit Tigers, who featured the best pitcher in the game (Justin Verlander), baseball’s first Triple Crown batting champion in decades (Miguel Cabrera), and a bona fide slugger (Prince Fielder). The Giants looked wimpy and overmatched. The vast majority of national writers predicted a Tigers beatdown.
But in four games, the Giants quickly dispatched the very vincible Tigers behind a historic three-home run opening game from Pablo Sandoval, the Giants faux Ruth who hit only 12 home runs all year. To beat the Tigers, the Giants pitched with cunning, caught every hard hit ball with amazing skill, and though their bats often seemed lifeless, when needed they put the ball in play and scored runs when making outs. Not hits, outs. Sacrifice flys. Double-play RBIs. They “manufactured” enough runs to sweep the defanged Tigers. The go ahead run in the tenth inning to win the series typified a Giant rally. Ryan Theriot, not a superstar, singled to center. Brandon Crawford, a young gifted shortstop, bunted him to second. Angel Pagan, a former Met, struck out. But then Marco Scutaro, a balding 36-year-old journeyman, singled to score Theriot, who slid home to give the Giants the lead. Nothing sexy. No big bruising home run from a slugger. Just Giants baseball, the little things done well.
So now the Giants will parade on Wednesday in San Francisco in a likely repeat of 2010, when the Giants won the World Series for the first time in more than 50 years. Tens of thousands, with estimates into a few hundred thousand, showed up to cheer the team. This year, with a different roster of talent, at least as many, if not more, are expected to celebrate the team.
You could make the case that the Giants are Asian America’s team. The city itself is more than 30 percent Asian American, with a Chinese American mayor, Ed Lee, perhaps the team’s number one Asian American fan. There’s even the pitcher Tim Lincecum, the half-Filipino American pitching star, who had a subpar year but shined brightly as an unhittable relief pitcher in the post-season.
But for what this team did this year, there’s more than enough inspiration for an entire nation.
The Giants’ president and CEO Larry Baer has compared the team to a “public utility.” In a way, like PG&E or ConEd provides power and energy, a team provides a community with a sense of pride and spirit. And this year’s team because of how it won, doing the unexpected, overcoming all odds, made things seem even more special.
Can you relate? To a person, the Giants know what it’s like to be underestimated, overlooked, and ignored. They know what it’s like to stare fate in the eye.
And they overcame it all in exemplary style as a team, playing for each other and together, as one.
Sounds to me like a good lesson for America.