My First Thrill

By: Noah Frank

 

I moved to
California when I was three years old, the son of a single mother who was
raised a San Francisco Giants fan in the Bay Area. When I was four, my mom took me to my
first baseball game, a sunny, warm, matinee affair between the Montreal Expos and
the Giants at Candlestick. It was late May of 1987, and we were
headed to this specific game because– as a precocious four year-old– I had
decided my favorite player was Expos outfielder
Hubie Brooks. I had even
written to Brooks, and he had responded with a hand-written letter of his own
and an autographed photo to boot.

So there we
were at the ‘Stick, mother with son in tow, mom wearing the home 

expos hat.jpgorange and
black while her child, blissfully oblivious, sported the classic red, white and
blue Montreal hat.

I seem to
recall that we sat in the upper deck, though the only thing I can be sure of is
that we were on the first base side. When the starting lineups were announced,
I realized, to my dismay, that Brooks was not playing that day. No matter,
though, I would simply root on the Expos, since they were still Brooks’ team,
after all.

The Giants
scored first, something I remember only now when I look back at the box score.
Expos starter Floyd Youmans balked home a runner in the top of the first, which
I suppose explains why my normally meticulous memory of the event is fuzzy. Try
to explain a balk to a preschooler in the first inning of his first baseball
game.

The Expos
struck back for three runs in the top of the fourth, something I remember very
well. The Giants’ hurler, now broadcaster,
Mike Krukow allowed a two-run single
to Tim Wallach, who scored himself on an RBI-single 

candlestick_enclosed.jpglater in the inning. I was
in ecstasy, my beloved ‘Spos on top, 3-1. That’s when I was introduced to the
man who would shape my very perception of the game.

In the
bottom of the frame, with one out and nobody on, up stepped
Will Clark. With
one mighty swing, he took Youmans deep to cut the lead to one. It was the first
time I’d ever seen a home run, ever considered the thought of it really. This man had hit the
ball so hard that it had left the playing field entirely, leaving me shaken and
bewildered. The fans around me cheered, while I worried what would become of my
Expos, without Hubie Brooks to save them. Even with the score still 3-2
Montreal, I was upset.

Neither team
scored in the fifth, but then, leading off the bottom of the sixth, there was
that man again. Will Clark. The cheer of the crowd was louder this time,
reminding all– especially me– of what he had done the last time he batted. And
just then, sure enough, he did it again, sending another Youman pitch rocketing
past us through the California sunshine, into the unused seats over the outfield
wall.

Candlestick
exploded in joy, and I lost it. It was all too much for a poor little Expos fan
to take. Normally a quiet and well-mannered child (according to my mom’s
accounts of my youth), I threw myself on the concrete beneath our seats,
crying and wailing away as Clark circled the bases. How cruel was this, to 

WillClark(4).jpghave
my team take the lead only to watch this Giant of a man rip it away from me?
What had I done to deserve this? I hated this game, and all I wanted was to
disappear.

My mother
grabbed me off the ground, sat me in my seat, and spoke words that I will never
forget. Remember, this was still years before
A League of Their Own and the famous Tom Hanks quote that “there’s
no crying in baseball”. My mother looked me in the eye and threatened that if I
did not stop crying right then, right there, that she would never take me to
another baseball game again. I pulled it
together, thankfully, and made it through the end of not only that game, but
hundreds if not thousands since. Looking back at the box score, I chuckled upon
discovering that the Expos had actually rallied against Krukow for three in the
eighth inning, going on to win by a count of 6-4. Clearly that memory had been
superceded by the other, of the Giant man with the left-handed swing that sent
baseballs screaming, lost, into the recesses of the concrete bowl.

My Hubie
Brooks infatuation was gone by the late ’80s, but I would never forget Will
Clark. I would see him again over the years,
single-handedly crushing the Cubs
in 1989 on my television set to lead San Francisco to the World Series. Then, most
notably, watching Game 1 of the Series in Oakland in person, where he had two of
the Giants’ five hits, including the only double off Dave Stewart in a 5-0 defeat. But
I will always remember him for that first thrill, the first time I’d ever seen
a man transform the landscape of the game, of an entire generation of San
Francisco baseball fans.

Will Clark will be a special guest at the 50th
Anniversary
Hot Stove Gala
taking place Thursday, February 3rd at
the Fresno Convention Center.

“Really?” I
asked him, skeptically. He smiled, shrugging his shoulders.

Having grown
up in California and knowing only the slogan of the Anaheim branch of the
Disney Empire as “The Happiest Place on Earth”, this was a new one to me. But I
thought about the deeper meaning it might hold for those in baseball. See, the
Winter Meetings rotate locations around the country, stopping every five years
or so in Orlando. Because of the setup of the hotel, everyone working in Major League and Minor League Baseball as well as those looking for a job were all under the
same roof. As such, certainly dreams came true for some last week.

They did for
Jason Werth, who landed a larger-than-expected contract from the Washington
Nationals. They must have for Carl Crawford, who will spend his next seven
years
as a highly-paid outfielder for the always competitive Boston Red Sox.
But what of the other 

jobfair.jpg

players, teams, general managers and, of course, job
seekers?

For those
who don’t know, the other side of the Winter Meetings is a massive cattle call
of a Job Fair that draws hundreds upon hundreds of young folks looking to break
into the business of baseball. Many of us who work in the game were ourselves
in that position just a few years prior. They mingle with the rest of us for
the week, soaking in everything that the offseason baseball event of the year
has to offer.

Here is a
basic breakdown of my crazy, wonderful, stressful week that was the Baseball
Winter Meetings.

Sunday

kurkjian.jpg

After a few
hours of socializing, my old intern (who kindly let me crash with him for a few
nights near the hotel) showed up and we retreated back to try to catch some
sleep, but not before a nice meal of Orlando’s finest delivery pizza and hot
wings. It’s always nice to start a busy week with a night of massive
indigestion.

Monday

Monday is
where the “meeting” half of the Winter Meetings begins in earnest, with the Bob
Freitas Business Seminar in the morning and a series of roundtable discussions
about the various departments of a baseball organization in the afternoon. In
the middle is the annual awards lunch, where the Giants took home Organization
of the Year honors. Ho hum.

Following
the afternoon session, and a quick stop in on the PCL travel meeting, every
Giants minor league affiliate met with the big league club for an hour, then
headed upstairs for our private, organizational dinner. Four different tables
of food, including fresh sushi, and an open bar are a nice way to say thank you
for a season of hard work that ended with the Commissioner’s Trophy headed to
San Francisco. I was even lucky enough to sit at the same table with Giants
manager Bruce Bochy and former manager Felipe Alou (sorry, no photo for that–
you’ll just have to take my word for it).

After
dinner, as it was every night, I headed back down to the lobby, this time with
the always entertaining staff from the Richmond Flying Squirrels, our Double-A
affiliate.

Tuesday

I grabbed
lunch with a couple of the minor league broadcasters I met on the trip, one of
whom expressed his anticipation for Wednesday, when, as he put it, “the bright
eyes and bushy tails of Monday turn into the boulevard of broken dreams” at the
Job Fair. While this characterization may be a bit melodramatic, the difference
in mood is palpable. Once bustling hallways abuzz with the excited gasps at the
myriad possibilities of exciting future career paths, is replaced by the
treacherous silence of hundreds of young people waiting anxiously for their
phones to ring.

Wednesday

My favorite
highlight involved one of the baseball entertainers looking to get booked for
promotional days around the country. He would stand perfectly still in front of
one of the apparel stands, in full uniform with a catcher’s mask on, waiting for
passersby. When someone would casually approach too closely, he would make a
sudden move towards them, usually scaring their socks off. I had the pleasure
of watching Omaha Storm Chasers broadcaster Mark Nasser get duped by a colleague into a false
sense of security, then get frightened so badly he nearly fell over on the
Trade Show floor. Good times.

Wednesday
night brought the Gala, the chance for everyone to come together one last time
before we all headed home to our respective corners of the country. After meeting
up with some friends from the Tacoma Rainiers, we ended up departing to the
karaoke bar in the 

rule5draft.jpg

hotel and closing the place down. The last thing I remember from
the night was heading to the 24-hour cafeteria for pizza at 3am, then waking up
to the sound of my alarm…

Thursday

My main
reason for going to the Draft was to see if our southpaw reliever Joe Paterson
would survive the process. Any player not on his team’s 40-man roster with a
certain amount of service time is eligible to be selected, and Paterson fell
into that category. There was a difference of opinion amongst the baseball
operations folks at the Giants organizational dinner a couple nights prior
about whether or not he would be selected, but I had a bad feeling.

Surely
enough, Paterson was snatched away by the division-rival Diamondbacks, going
third overall
in the Major League portion of the Draft. I was really looking
forward to having him back in Fresno this year, and we still may see him, as
Arizona must keep him on their Major League roster or else he will be returned
to the Giants, per the rules of the draft.

As the
masses retreated from the draft back to the lobby, gone were the bars that had
been set up there for the week, as well as the crowds that accompanied them. A
mass exodus was checking out and heading for the cab lines to the airport. That
left me the chance to talk with the godfather of baseball, Peter Gammons of
ESPN, who was just wrapping things up at that point, no longer running from
executive to executive, looking to break the next piece of hot stove news. If
you ever get the chance to speak to Gammons, make sure you take advantage. I’ve
been lucky enough to do so twice, and it’s always worth the time.

All in all,
it was quite a week. I learned a lot, met a ton of people from all around
baseball, and hopefully will be able to use all of that to help get ready for
April 7th, 2011. After all, there are just 61 days until pitchers
and catchers report to Spring Training.

(Photos: Top- The bustle of the Job Fair; Middle- ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian, one of the many faces of the Winter Meetings; Bottom- The Rule 5 Draft. I know it’s a bit fuzzy, but it is an accurate reflection of how it looked through my eyes. All photos courtesy of my best friend and worst enemy, my iPhone)

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