I was always jealous of fans who got to enjoy a universally-acclaimed great team. Why couldn’t I have got to experience what it felt like to follow the 1986 Boston Celtics, 1978 Portland Trailblazers or the 1970 New York Knicks, squads whose unselfish team-play became the high watermark in the NBA?
Or a football team like Barcelona who annually impose their beautiful style on opponents as they pass, pass, pass their way to domestic and European titles?
The World Series triumph of the San Francisco Giants has changed all this for me. I can’t pretend I’ve been a fan long enough to enjoy Bruce Bochy’s men bringing an end to 56 years of torturous hurt. I don’t have the privilege of being from the Bay Area and rejoicing in the story of my local team winning it all.
Hell, I live more than 5,000 miles away from The City. But, as I outlined a week or so back, the Giants are a team that even someone halfway across the world can (and, in my case, did) fall in love with. They are a team worth taking an 11-hour flight to see in the flesh (at least) once a season.
Even people who were closest to this Giants team will acknowledge they won’t be remembered for being as dominant as the teams mentioned above. They didn’t have the best hitters. People said they didn’t have the best pitchers (until results proved otherwise). They epitomized team play and selflessness in a different way. They humanised it.
This team triumphed not because of a huge payroll or MVP-calibre players.
They triumphed through qualities that are much less tangible: clutch performances under pressure; defensive work-rate; the ability to park individual egos, work together and enjoy each other’s successes.
No wonder Giants fans responded the way they did. This was a team that made you want to take a day off work and travel south to take over an opposition ball park. And this fervent support just served to invigorate the players that much more.
So many sporting triumphs end up getting credited to one or two players. Rarely is a championship attributed to the hard work of the entire roster. In this Giants season, every player had a chance to be a hero and most of them grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Edgar Renteria’s hitting and the shutdown pitching of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and bearded phenom Brian Wilson seem the standout performances right now. But wind things back a week or two and you’d be citing Juan Uribe’s clutch hits, Cody Ross’ emergence as a play-off clean-up slugger, Javier Lopez’s almost unfair dominance over the vaunted Philadelphia offence.
That’s not even counting Madison Bumgarner’s victorious eight inning effort in game four of the World Series. Or Jonathan Sanchez’s pitching (and hitting) against San Diego that got the Giants to the playoffs in the first place.
This team will be remembered for its collective strength and unselfishness. Aubrey Huff laying down the first ever sacrifice bunt of his long Major League career might jump out here. Or Pablo Sandoval, despite losing his starting spot, staying ready to produce a meaningful pinch hit late in a game.
I’d prefer to highlight how Barry Zito handled the embarrassment of being kicked off the post season roster only to attend every single game, in uniform, ready to offer advice and assistance to the team’s young pitching guns.
In an age where egotistical athletes, egged on by their agents, often make team chemistry seem like an unattainable fantasy, Zito – however hurt he must have felt inside – was a class act. More than anyone, he deserved the cheers he received from the orange multitudes at yesterday’s victory parade.
That’s why, as an Englishman who watched or listened to about 90% of this season’s games (as I’ve done for the last three years) and saw four of them live (much to my wife’s ongoing chagrin), I can say I’ve never enjoyed supporting a team as much as this. Regardless of the geography, you can’t call me a bandwagon jumper.
This team made me want to live and die with them so many times this year. It’s just that I was usually empathizing with them between 3am and 6am.
The national media can call the 2010 Giants castoffs or misfits. Some Bay Area fans may be offended at this description. I don’t think it matters. And here’s why.
Behind the rally thongs, facial fuzz and references to Prop 19 lays the collective heart of champion. I know this because I watched Buster Posey get interviewed during the procession to Civic Center Plaza.
The interviewer tried to tell him not to expect this sort of thing to happen every year. Buster’s reply? “Why not?”.
And he’s right. The Giants have young pitching talent, heart and time on their side. This World Series triumph shouldn’t be viewed as the end of a title drought, rather the birth of something truly special and (whisper it) the start of a potential a baseball dynasty.