I love watching a city watching a game. My city, the city I’ve adopted as my own, had a team in the World Series this week. In the years past when the Giants have won the Series, the street around the corner from my house was blocked off for hours after the final pitch, with people reveling and rioting in the same measure. In 2012, people burned a bus two blocks from my apartment, standing atop nearby cars, waving orange towels and shirts. In a picture from their 2010 win, Mike Patton stares at the camera, Giants hat firmly in place, eyes and arms wide, as a trash can burns behind him. Open and confrontational at the same time. I had been wandering exactly where Patton’s photo was taken, but had quickly gone home, before the fires started – I had to get up in the morning to grade.
The sweet generality of the calls, “Let’s Go, Giants!,” (I’d just heard their Kansas City echoes belting “Let’s Go, Royals” on the radio on the way home), hits me in the heart. Storeowners, tacking plywood to their grates in expectation of mischief, seemed more excited than annoyed. I don’t know how that could possibly be the case, but it was. And each store I passed on Mission was a little nested set of black rectangles – windows, doors, windows –framing bright white lights, and at the back of each store was a flickering pitch.
As I walked home from the train, I passed the game in strobe-light time, a flash of blue here, a smudge of orange there. The score was still 2-2 then. That soon changed, but not by much. Cars honked when a good play was made; a cheer swelled from El Trebol kitty corner to my apartment. An hour later, as I walked to get a burrito, I saw a short, blonde policeman talking, joking, to a patron already well into his cups. The policemen’s arm moved in a smooth arc, demonstrating something; the patron’s head nodded gently, softly on his neck. The policeman had a bunch of zip-ties stuck in his belt loop.
We don’t have a TV that could show the game (horrible, I know), so I was “watching” the stats tick along, checking Twitter, and listening. I’m not really a baseball fan, so much as a fan of being a fan more generally, but towards the end of the game, you could feel the city. The streets themselves made sounds that were crystalline, that were as clear and as legible as words. As Perez went up to bat, the street became silent, an intake of breath.
Bumgarner had pitched so much; Perez was batting .348. But, then, when Bumgarner’s last, magical, 68th pitch flew across the plate, I didn’t have to be watching to know what was happening. An entire neighborhood screaming in unison is something else. The honking and yelling interrupted by loud booms – fireworks in garbage cans, whoops and hollers. At one point, a pair strolled past our front window playing violins, the tang their bows made punctuated by cars’ yips and the hazy sound of a crowd screaming.
But this was at nighttime. After the Giants had won the World Series. For the third time since I moved to California, and for the seventh time in the franchise’s history. Earlier in the evening, the twilight was blue and pink, with a streaky salmon cloud hovering just above my building. There are lots of problems in San Francisco in 2014 — rents are too high, wages are too low, and a lot of people are really tense and worried. But sports change that, if only temporarily. Sports license love in ways that nothing else can. Aesthetic objects have pros and cons. Politics often incite argument without nuance or care.
There are plenty of people who disdain sports and all they stand for. And, of course, there are plenty of people (I live with one!) who are happy to watch sports if they are on, but don’t really follow them. Who don’t feel a thin rill of joy zip through their veins when something marvelous happens. But, sports can – and frequently do – incite collective marveling, the kind of shock that makes you sit back on your haunches and gape, open mouthed, at the person next to you: “OHHHHHH! Did you SEE that?” The fuzzy edge between pleasure and madness can rarely be so potent – and can never be so potent collectively – as when you win.
And, honestly, even though it’s painful, I relish the keen intensity of the fans waiting when their team is in trouble, barely able to watch for the exquisite pleasure of it all. All of these feelings are familiar to me, I’ve felt them, and, right now, I’m jealous. I’m jealous because, this year, my own fandom will come tinged with sorrow – no, not sorrow, that’s too epic an emotion – a pale gray version of sorrow. Worry. Concern. Mild antipathy. Because I’m a Carolina fan, and last week, as the Giants rounded their path into the World Series, a report was released that claimed longtime, widespread academic abuses across the Tarheels’ sports rosters.
Despite all of this, I can’t exactly stop being a fan. I’ll be examining the box scores and injury lists, sizing up the competition from my living room couch. I’ll probably even watch the games, hovering over my ipad, swearing at the refs. But, this week, I envy the Giants fans the purity of their fandom, and of their fandom’s objects. I’ll walk out this morning to survey the damage to the neighborhood, because there has been damage, but I went to sleep last night pretty early, all things considering. I know baseball players get paid a lot, I know there’s corruption, there, too. Even if the coaches use every pitcher in the bullpen, even if the bruises take the entire off-season to heal, their players are compensated. And although compensation can come many ways, in 2014, in San Francisco, it sure feels like enough.
Claire Jarvis: Welsh Witch