[by Vincent Getz, New York]
MATT COLLECTED baseball cards, especially rookie ones. Every Saturday he would head down to the comic shop at the wharf and buy at least one, sometimes ten. It didn’t matter who it was, as long as it was a rookie. To him, there was no difference between a 2001 Albert Pujols and a 2009 Chris Jakubauskas. But there was one team for which this was different, his San Francisco Giants. He kept those rookies separate from the others.
For the first time since he was seven, in 2002, the Giants were in the World Series. They lost to the Anaheim Angels back then, a crushing blow. When Matt was eight, his hopes were dashed again when the Giants lost to the Florida Marlins in the 2003 National League Division Series. Since then, nothing…until this year. The Giants won the pennant.
Matt’s uncle John gave Matt his first baseball card. He had a longer memory. He remembers when the New York Giants moved to the bay in 1958. They lost the 1962 Series to their old rival the Yankees in seven games and again to their new one, the Oakland A’s, in 1989, swept in four. People always talk about the Cubs’, Rangers’, and retired Red Sox’ streaks these days, but the Giants are no slouches themselves. They haven’t won a World Series in 56 years, longer than their AL opponent, the Rangers, who have only been around for 50. It’s hard to complain, though. The Giants franchise, founded in 1883 as the New York Gothams, has won more games than any other professional North American sports team.
Matt kept the 2010 Giants rookie cards bound in a rubberband. He snapped off the band and flipped through them. Not a Hall of Famer in the bunch, well maybe Lincecum, but it’s too early to say. It was a group of mostly relative unknowns. That was part of what drew Matt to them, this scrappy, intense, perhaps destined team that had the perfect mix of inspiration and cool veteran experience. He had all the rookies but one – one of the more well-known Giants, leftfielder Pat Burrell, who won the Series two years ago with Philadelphia. His namesake Matt Cain, Buster Posey, and now, Cody Ross were his favorites.
Pitcher Matt Cain and rookie catcher Gerald “Buster” Posey would be the battery for Game 2. Cain started his up-and-down career with the Giants, his record suffering along with bad teams in ’07 and ’08. Posey, a fan favorite, batted .305 with 18 homers in his first campaign and is possibly looking at Rookie of the Year honors. Catcher Bengie Molina was traded to the Rangers to make room for him. Outside of Cain and Posey, every other starter on the field began their career with a different team.
Journeyman rightfielder Cody Ross played his first game for the 2003 Detroit Tigers. Four teams later, he would find a home in San Francisco, in the 2010 NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies. In the Game 1 win, he took Halladay deep twice. In the clinching Game 4, he drove in the tying and winning runs. The unleashed Ross was so far this postseason the Mr. October of the Giants. Centerfielder Andres Torres also began with the Tigers. He struggled his first seven years, including a mid-career, three-year minor league stint before being given another chance in 2009, this time with the orange and black.
The rookie cards of the Giant infield were a medley of black, white, navy blue, red, silver, and “Marlin Blue.” Gritty first baseman Aubrey Huff started with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2000. 2010 was his first year as a Giant, his fifth team. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez started with the Boston Red Sox, only to be traded to the cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates the year before the Sox won it. Just two years ago a World Series berth was unimaginable to him. Before this year, he and Huff had 18 years of experience between them, on 7 different teams, without a postseason.
The left side of the infield, on the other hand, owns a couple of rings. Third baseman Juan Uribe, who started with the Colorado Rockies in 2001, won it all with the Chicago White Sox in 2005. And Edgar Renteria, veteran of the infield, was brought up by the Florida Marlins in 1996. They won it in ’97.
There was one more home-grown talent on the team, though, that Matt was hoping to see trot out onto the field in the 9th inning tonight – the oddly-quaffed, black-bearded closer, Brian Wilson. Wilson, who redefines “freak” and has fans screaming “Fear the Beard,” led the majors in saves this year, with 48.
Matt heard his mother come home from work downstairs. He wrapped the rubberband twice around the cards and put them in his pocket. It was a pocket full of journeymen. Many fans took special pride in their team’s home-grown talent. Matt understood that and players like Lincecum, Cain, Posey, and Wilson reinforced that feeling for him, too. But he was quite proud of what the Giants put together here – taking a piece from this team and a scrap from that one, hopefully creating a championship patchwork.
“Dominick! Matthew! Anthony! Time to eat,” his mother called from the base of the stairs. Matt ran down and saw his mother standing in the entryway to the kitchen, smiling. His eyes glanced over the dining room table.
Pat Burrell. Phillies. 2000.
Good ol’ mom.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Check out SB Nation, an excellent sports feature and blog site.