FanFest this year was on February 5th and it was a giant success. Let me take that back. It was over the top successful since the Giants had to close the gates at AT&T Park at 12:30 PM and warn people on KNBR to stay away. It is estimated that over 40,000 fans flooded the ballpark by the bay. That makes for a big crowd when people are not seated and are instead waiting in line for autographs.
I was resolved to getting there early on Saturday morning and waiting with everyone else for the free 11:00 AM gate opening. Season ticket holders were privileged to get two early passes for 9:30 AM for each seat they held. Lucky for me my Bonds Navy buddy Mark Busch had four passes from his mom’s season tickets. He contacted me on Friday night to let me know his son cancelled and he had an extra pass. I was in like Flynn without any swashbuckling.
I got to the ballpark on Saturday at about 7:30 AM. Parking Lot A was starting to fill up which surprised me even though I knew parking was free instead of the usual $30-$40 like during games. I crossed the Lefty O’Doul Bridge and was greeted by a line already forming for the 11:00 AM opening at the O’Doul Gate Entrance next to the Juan Marichal statue. A separate line to see the World Series Trophy was cueing along the Portwalk at the free game viewing entrance.
I made my way down the Portwalk to the Marina Gate to find about a hundred fans ahead of me. The crowd was friendly even though there was a strong stench in the air from the low tide nearby. I impulsively shouted out “I smell a Dodger fan!” and got some laughs from the crowd. After a short while the stadium gatekeepers took the single line and broke it into a separate line in front of each turnstile. After a long wait another more privileged group was allowed to enter the park earlier than us. Who could these people have been since they did not appear to be handicapped? I figured they must be relatives of the owners and staff even though I had no concrete reason to believe that.
At about 10:45 our line started to move inside. I then realized I should have been in the left line since everyone had to enter by climbing the stairs on the left to get to the promenade level. My plan was to get to the autograph booth on the third base side near the Giants’ dugout. I walked as fast as I could and made my goal in a couple of minutes passing many along the way. There were about 70 people ahead of me in line. I soon learned that we had Brian Wilson, Will Clark and a third player in our booth which was good news.
The line slowly inched forward and I made it down the steps between sections 125 and 126 next to the field in about 30 minutes. I retrieved three World Series baseballs from my backpack to get them ready. I took pictures as I moved along the table. Brian Wilson was first and he was wearing a Giants jersey over a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over his Pac-Man hat. I handed him a ball and he signed it. As I was moving left to Will Clark someone behind me said something to Wilson about his appearance on Lopez Tonight where he dressed up a like a seaman. I turned and said “Captain Wilson” which Brian acknowledged with a smile and a nod. He truly is the most interesting man in the world.
I got Will Clark’s signature and then a Giants’ player whom I didn’t recognize. I learned later it was Emmanuel Burriss. I’m not used to seeing players without their baseball caps on especially when they don’t play much.
Armed with three autographs I headed to the View level to get in line again. I figured that most fans wouldn’t want to climb the long ramp to get to the top. I guessed right and the line wasn’t too long. As I waited the trio at the table switched out and was replaced with Rich Aurilla, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross. Thirty minutes later I had three more autographs.
As a new strategy I decided to get back in the same line and wait for a new group of players to arrive. After about 30 minutes two new faces exited the freight elevator and I chose not to wait for their signatures. Instead I headed for the exit at about 1:30 PM. A large crowd was waiting out front to get in and the line was stopped because the ballpark was full. Poor souls didn’t have a chance at signature before the 3:00 PM closing. My advice for the next FanFest: get here early especially if the Giants win another World Series.
I predict 2011 will be The Year of the Panda for Pablo Sandoval and the San Francisco Giants. The 2010 season was a personal disaster for the panda both on and off the field. This was in spite of his team winning the World Series. Compared to his peers last season Sandoval was just average but compared to his own rookie year Pablo slumped badly.
The majority of Giants’ fans I speak with don’t know the origin of his panda moniker. Let me share the official story:
The Panda nickname was bestowed on Pablo Sandoval at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 19, 2008 during his rookie season. The stage the top of the 5th inning as the Giants were visiting their archrival. Pablo was standing on second base and Randy Winn on third as Bengie Molina dropped a single into center field. Matt Kemp fielded the ball and made a throw to home plate. Winn scored first and then Sandoval as he leaped sideways to avoid the lunging tag of Dodger backup catcher Danny Ardoin. Barry Zito shouted from the dugout “Kung Fu Panda!” at the instant of the acrobatic feat. Greg Maddux and manager Joe Torre rushed to the plate to argue with umpire Alfonso Marquez that the rookie ran out of the baseline. But the call stood to the jeers of the Dodger faithful.
The panda name stuck with Giants’ fans due in part to Pablo’s striking resemblance to the DreamWorks character Po from the Kung Fu Panda movie. The Giants beat the Dodgers 7 to 1 behind the masterful pitching of Barry Zito and thanks to his outburst a new superhero was born.
I think this is the Year of the Panda even though the panda is not one of the twelve Chinese calendar symbols. The Kung Fu Panda 2 movie is coming out in March 2011 and it’s a harbinger of the Panda’s forthcoming season of awesomeness.
In Sandoval’s 2008 rookie year he achieved a batting average of .330, hit 25 homeruns and mustered 90 RBI’s for a stat of 330/25/90. Last season he was only a disappointing 268/13/63 and failed to rise to the level of extremely awesome.
Pablo was interviewed in the middle of January and asked “what are your goals for this season?” His reply was to do 300/30/100. The Panda’s personal goal is clear and achievable. Various sources in January and February have him working out hard daily and losing weight. He reports on February 19th to Spring Training and is under pressure by Manager Bruce Bochy to meet his weight and fitness goal or be sent to the minors.
I think the Panda has seen the light and is highly motivated to regain his place on the team. So it is up to him to make it the Year of the Panda again. The alternative is unspeakable to his many fans.
On Tuesday February 1, 2011 I received an email at 12:53 PM from McCovey’s Restaurant in Walnut Creek. They informed me that the World Series trophy would be in their dining area for photos between 6:00 – 8:00 PM that day. The trouble was that I didn’t see the email until my Bonds Navy buddy Martin Wong pointed it out to me about it at 2:19 PM. He said Big Mac would there. Now that’s what friends are for.
I thought about it for a while and impulsively decided to head on over at about 3:30 PM. I grabbed a few World Series baseballs and a McCovey bobblehead and jumped in my car hoping to get Stretch’s autograph on at least one of them. On the way I called my daughter and asked if I could take my 8-year old grandson with me. She said she would talk it over with him and call me right back. A minute later she called and said he could go and that he was excited about the opportunity. I stopped by their house which was in the same city and picked him up.
I chatted with my grandson on the way in the car as he played a video game on his DS. We arrived at McCovey’s at about 4:30 PM and were pleasantly surprised to find out that we were first in line. We decided to order dinner on the patio so we could hold our place in line outside. My grandson ordered a tri-tip sandwich and I ordered the sliders. We both decided on a milkshake as a chaser. McCovey’s has great food and I highly recommend them. Besides it’s a baseball museum in its own right and often you will have the chance to see Willie McCovey in his private dining area.
It was obvious out front where the trophy would arrive. A parking spot was blocked off with two chairs. Sure enough at 5:50 PM the trophy arrived by car and was unloaded in large black Pelican case. It was wheeled in as it was being filmed by the KTVU news crew. It was quickly positioned near a table on the west wall near the entrance. A man in latex gloves removed it from the case and set it up on a table covered by a cloth. The trophy came out of the box covered in a teal colored cloth. The cloth was removed revealing the gleaming trophy to the applause of the many fans present.
As it sat there in all of its glory, a passing presumptive patron posed next to it with his arm outstretched for a photo. To everyone’s shock he put his hand directly on the back of the trophy. He was quickly escorted away and the cover was put back on the trophy.
A little later Willie McCovey arrived in his black Infinity luxury car. Several assistants removed a wheelchair from the trunk and quickly assembled it. Willie got out of the right front seat and into the chair. He was escorted into the restaurant as he touched the outstretched hands of several fans. After ten minutes inside he finally arrived at the trophy stand and was positioned to the left of it. It was decided that the table was too tall and a shorter one soon replaced it.
A privileged few were allowed to pose for photos first. Then the line was brought in from outside and the fan photo session began. Everyone was advised to have their camera ready to hand to the photographer when it was their turn. The line moved quickly and I posed with my grandson, Big Mac and the trophy for our group photo. I retrieved my camera and we exited the restaurant.
It became obvious to me that since Willie was posing for photos he would not have time for autographs between 6-8 PM. I greeted my good Bonds Navy buddy Martin Wong out front with his wife and young daughter who arrived late. I decided that since it was a school night I needed to get my grandson home. I was glad to have had the opportunity to share the evening with him in the company of the World Series trophy and a Giants legend.
An interesting trivia fact is that McCovey missed winning the World Series trophy in 1962 against the Yankees. In Game 7 in the bottom on the 9th with two outs and Willie Mays on second and Matty Alou on third, McCovey scorched a line drive which was snared by second baseman Bobby Richardson. If it had made it into the outfield it might have won the game since the Giants were trailing 1-0.
The moment was immortalized in the Peanuts comic strip on Dec. 22, 1962. Charlie Brown and Linus were commiserating the loss when finally Charlie Brown blurted out “Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?” Then again on January 28, 1963 in the same setting Charlie Brown shouted out “Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball even two feet higher?” Now the Giants have put the issue to rest by sharing their trophy with Willie McCovey.
One of the fun things about the playoffs is that the number of fans in the Cove expand exponentially and the costumes they wear just make you want to smile from ear to ear. Here are a few of the fans that caught my eye the past two weeks.
I consider this the best Giants “fro” and his sidekicks aren’t too bad either!
We all know there is a lot of smoking in California and here a fan implores the Giants to “smoke” the Phillies. And we did!
Best “thong” sail in McCovey Cove. This was a no-brainer! Go Aubrey Huff!
Best “Car” in the Cove. It appears you don’t even have to look like a boat to get a great spot there!
Best bros in support of breast cancer. They went “pink” and won our hearts!
More hot dogs eaten in the Cove than ever thanks to Larry Ellison who feeds the the Bonds Navy and everyone else. Here, Missy from Sacramento enjoys a brat compliments of Larry!
And finally “pole” dancing (not the May pole type) in McCovey Cove. Truely a sight to be seen, ha, ha!!
Today the Giants clinched the NLCS Pennant. With a 3-2 lead in the bottom on the 9th in Game 6, two outs, runners at 1st and 2nd base, full count on Ryan Howard and Brian Wilson struck him out looking. What drama and torture at the same time! Congratulations to our Giants.
Games 1 and 2 of the World Series are at AT&T Park with first pitch around 5:00 PM. If you will be joining the Bonds (Old) Navy in McCovey Cove be sure to bring the correct equipment so the SFPD doesn’t kick you out as has happened to some in recent playoff games. If you want to rent a kayak contact City Kayak on Pier 40 at 415-357-1010 to reserve a boat. I guarantee it will be crowded as boaters come out of the woodwork to participate in this spectacle.
Here is a suggested list of items to bring:
- Some type of floating craft. If you bring an inflatable boat be sure to pump it up tight to compensate for the shrinkage when it contacts the cold water in the bay. Shrinkage, you know like on the Seinfeld episode with George.
- Life Jacket for each person. You don’t have to wear it but you will be required to show it.
- A light of some type: headbandlight, kayak pole light, etc. It will get dark before each game is over. Even though it is like daylight with the stadium lights on, the SFPD enforces you must have a light rule. You can get one at Walmart for $5.00.
- Warm water resistant clothes: wetsuit, dry suit, splash jacket, etc. An unlucky boater at the last playoff game fell in with only bluejeans and a sweatshirt on. He got very cold and left before the game was over. He came unprepared.
- Something to eat and drink in a storage container. I bring hot dogs and buns to cook on my JetBoil portable stove. Oh I love the smell of hot dogs in the morning.
- A radio to listen to the game on KNBR so you will know what is going on inside the ballpark.
- A waterproof camera or camcorder if you have one to record the event.
- A spirit of adventure. I recommend at least one cove experience for almost everyone.
If you have your own boat, then you can launch at Pier 40 off Embarcadero Street or at the public boat ramp next the Bay View Boat Club on Terry A. Francis Street about a quarter mile south of the Willie McCovey statue. It is about a mile around the two big ships anchored at the endof Pier 54 and takes about 15-20 minutes to paddle to McCvoey Cove. Some people launch on the rocks next to McCovey Cove which might be prohibited as in the past at major events like the All Star Game. There is also a boat launch at the end of Mission Creek (past the Third and Fourth Street Bridges) under the I-280 overpass. Parking is limited so come early.
The best place to park is the lot next to the Bay View Boat Club. Boats with trailers and cars with roof racks can park for $5.00 for up to 24 hours. If you don’t have a roof rack then be sure to leave a picture on your boat in the window of your vehicle next to your parking stub. No guarantee that there will be room if you don’t get there early. It has been OK in the past to park in the long boat trailer stalls which will hold two cars with roof racks. I’m sure everywhere else to park will be $40 – $50 with dynamic pricing in effect. What a ripoff!
Come on out I will share some of my strategies for getting splash hits. See you in the cove.
Yesterday Pablo Sandoval hit his fourth splash hit. Dave Edlund jumped out of his kayak and retrieved the ball just barely beating Bill Ogle in another kayak and Joe Dirt from the Portwalk with a custom fishing net. This was Dave’s 6th homerun ball this season and it puts him in first place with all ball hawks nationwide at every ballpark. As a member of the Bonds Navy he makes us proud and a bit jealous at the same time.
It was interesting during the game that Duane Kuiper made the following comment on TV in the third inning: ” he broke the official kayak rules, he left the ship”. And then a little later the said ”I’m not sure if there are rules out there, but I think that the last one was broken.” It is rather humorous considering that during the Bonds era it was common to see people bloody in the stadium as they were escorted to safety by the security staff as the person clutched a milestone baseball. There are no rules in the stadium and it is every person for himself.
Some of the rules are assumed. The first rule to be broken was the one where the Giants organization thought they would be able to control access to McCovey Cove after the stadium was built. They wanted only Portuguese Water Dogs to be able to retrieve splash hits. Their plan quickly disolved when it became clear after opening day that the Giants couldn’t restrict access in a navigable waterway. Nice try! When I saw the dogs they were not too excited about getting into the cold water.
The first hard and fast rule came about because of the careless use of motorized Zodiacs in the cove. Several times kayakers almost got run over in the mad dash for a Bonds splash hit. Fortuneately The SF Port Authority intervened and installed buoys next to the Portwalk to prohibit access by motorized craft. This was actually a very sensible and practical rule. Thank you, Port Authority and Jim Meisenbach!
Some rules are meant to be broken. I remember sitting at home watching a game on TV as Bonds hit a home run into the cove. I noticed my friend Jay Austin on the TV screen paddling his kayak toward the floating ball. I said outloud “Jay is finally going to get this first splash hit!”. As he neared his target unchallenged, out of nowhere a passing jogger dove off the Portwalk into the bay in front of him and snatched the ball to Jay’s astonishment. The funny thing about it was there is a sign posted on the Portwalk which says “no diving or swimming”. The person who dove in was an attorney of all people. So much for rules. Jay should have sued him.
I wish they would make a rule prohibiting the use of nets from the Portwalk. It is actually dangerous having a metal object fly past your head on the path to a baseball. Joe Dirt is the king of the wharf rats and has many splash hits to his credit. It is unusual when Joe misses a game and this rare occurence always brings members of the Bonds Navy great joy when he is absent.
So Kuip it is a free for all going after splash hits in the cove just like going after homeruns in the stadium. The difference is that we are more civilized about it and don’t hurt other people in the process. I’m sure it has a lot to do with having fewer people and the natural separations caused by the kayaks.
It was the second inning and I did something I try not to do. I took my radio off my head to talk to a fellow ballhawk friend of mine that I had not seen in over 6 months. My wife was inside the game on the edge of the stadium and she could see I was not paying attention to the game. She was yelling “Pablo, Pablo” as he (Pablo Sandoval) was coming up to bat, but I did not hear her. For whatever reason, I have had my most memorable HR grabs from Pablo aka the Panda, so my wife knew I needed to be ready. All of the sudden I hear the roar of the AT&T stadium crowd. I have heard that roar before and I know it usually accompanies a HR or a very big play. I looked up at the edge of the stadium and saw the fans looking up which confirmed the ball was coming my way (right field – McCovey Cove). I did not see the ball in the air, but I saw it hit the water. My kayak was pointing in the wrong direction and time was ticking away. I had no choice and did what I had to do. I lunged off my kayak, only in my bathing suit, hoodie and baseball cap and started swimming for the ball. There were three of us going for the ball. One was kayak buddy Bill Ogle and the other was Joe Dirt the guy who casts his net from shore with a fishing rod. I jumped in the 60 degree water and bee-lined for the ball. At one moment Joe’s net was a foot from the ball and Bill and my hands were inches from the ball. There was white water everywhere. But for some lucky reason, I was able to get my right hand on the ball seemingly 1/100 of a second before Bill did and I held on tight. I lifted it up to the Giant fans that where standing along the Arcade wall and Portwalk and they roared back! The Giants now lead 1-0 and eventually won 4-1. I was soaked, but so very happy.
It was the 55th ever Giant splash HR and my 4th career HR grab from Pablo Sandoval. Pablo has 5 splash HR’s in his career and that makes him no.2 lifetime to Barry Bonds who hit an amazing 35!
Here is a video of the action:
I could not make the Saturday (August 28th) game at AT&T park, but I watched it on TV and two HR’s were hit into McCovey Cove. The first HR was grabbed by Joe Dirt and it was hit by Pablo Sandoval. Joe’s 17th lifetime HR grab! But late in the 9th inning, red hot hitting Adam LaRoche of the Diamondbacks hit another splash (his third lifetime now) into McCovey Cove. It went way out there towards the buoys, about 425 feet from home plate. The kayakers in the Bonds Navy could not make this game, so it was only Joe Dirt fighting by himself for the ball. It was a long throw for his net but after two casts (one that just barely missed the ball) the HR ball sunk to the bottom of McCovey Cove. Balls only float for 2-5 minutes and in this case, the ball floated for only 2 minutes!
I carefully watched all the TV broadcast clips of the HR before it sunk (on both Comcast and on the Arizona Diamondback website) and looked at the McCovey Cove buoys for their relative position to the ball so I could try to recover it on SCUBA on Sunday. The McCovey Cove waters are murky salt water and the bottom of the Cove is mucky black silt. Since I am a professional diver by day hunting golf balls in zero visibility conditions in golf course water hazards and recovering thousands of golf balls every day, I felt I could find this ball. So I got my equipment together and paddled out on McCovey Cove before the Sunday game and first checked it out the Cove with my depth-sounder. It was a flat bottom of 18 feet deep. Not too deep, something I could easily dive. So I anchored at the spot where the ball sunk the previous day and got on my scuba tank. I jumped into the water and followed my anchor to the bottom to find visibility of about 1 foot in the 60 degree water. I used the same patterns I use for golf ball hunting and zig-zagged the target area underwater moving my hands back and forth in hopes of finding the HR ball. Within 2-3 minutes I had the HR ball and I came up to see that I was a mere 20 feet from my anchored kayak! The ball was clean and un-stained from the black muck that covered the bottom of McCovey Cove as it had been in the water for less than 24 hours. I decided to broaden my search to look for other items lost in the Cove and I spent the next hour having more fun. I found a pair of new sunglasses, a 10 pound lead anchor, a plastic give-away toy shaped like a baseball player, a small net used for scooping up HR balls and 3 old stained baseballs. All three of these baseballs where not in the target area and all three were stained black on portions of them from the mud. The staining told me they were old balls. Anyhow, it was a fun experience ballhawking on Scuba. Here is a photo of the ball and the small net I found.
Pablo Sandoval had not hit a HR in nearly 2 months, but at his first at-bat today, he hit a ball 415 feet to deep center and got a long triple out of it! I knew he had he stroke back and was ready when he got up 2 innings later in the fourth. I positioned myself maybe 15-20 feet from Joe Dirt (the number 1 ballhawk who works from the Portwalk and uses a net) and figured while there were others in the Cove, he was my main competition. Anyhow, I heard the “deep to right” radio commentary and looked to the sky/arcade. I next saw the ball barely clear the Arcade wall and in fact I think one fan jumped up and barely touched it, but it continued on its trajectory and a second later hit the waters of McCovey Cove. It nearly hit Joe Dirt and couldn’t have been more then 10 feet in front of Joe. I charged and Joe’s net got tangled around his rod and he did not even get a toss off. For about half a inning, they did not post it on the stadium Splash hit meter, but after close review of the video, they said it was #54! It is now listed on the Splash hit list on the Giants site too.
Back on June 27th, I grabbed the 1st inning Splash HR that David Ortiz (aka Big Papi) hit deep into McCovey Cove. It was the 20th ever Splash HR by a non-Giant and a very special one due to Big Papi’s popularity. As I have done with other Splash HR balls (Panda, Winn and Klesko), I wanted to get a player signature on the balls sweet-spot. But getting Big Papi to sign would be difficult. He was not a Giant with 82 appearances each year at AT&T park.
My ultimate strategy was to go to the A’s/Red Sox game of July 19th and to make a special sign in order to get David Ortiz’s attention at batting practice (BP). There seemed like thousands of folks at BP that day trying to get Red Sox signatures and many were cute 6-10 year olds wearing Red Sox hats and Ortiz jerseys. And here I was an aging kayak paddler wearing a Bonds Navy hoodie amongst all these kiddies. But when Big Papi finished BP and started to walk back to the dugout, I waved my big sign (from the edge of the dugout) and yelled, “Big Papi, sign your splash HR”. I did this in a friendly upbeat manner, but pretty loudly. He immediately zoned on me, nodded his head and smiled. Then he said in his beauiful Dominican accent “toss me your ball Mr. Bonds Navy”. He went into the dugout for 5-10 seconds and came out with a signed in the sweet spot ball and it included his special Big Papi initials and player # on it. Then he tossed it up ten feet to me and I grabbed it out of mid-air. Mission accomplished! Big thanks to the Bonds Navy members who supported me in this effort to get a Big Papi signature! I am grateful!