Sunday, May 6, 2012

The San Jose Giants

It was ‘round ‘bout the time that we watched a fan throwing rolls of Toilet Paper at the orange gorilla in the Port-a-Pottie on 3rd base that I knew we were strangers in a strange land.

For the last 12 years Admiral Karen and I have been regulars at A.T.&T. Park, cheering on our beloved Giants. We’ve averaged as many as 6 games a season, and always had a great time (with the possible exception of game 161 of the 2010 season where we could have clinched the division but instead Zito decided that walking in runs was more fun.)

Last September though I was laid off from my job of 7 years and New Regime was installed on the household budget. Item #1: No more Giants games.

Big kids (left) and baby Giants (right).
Photo from
Ah, but there are always alternatives. If the San Francisco Giants are out of your league, might we suggest the San Jose Giants? This is the single ‘A’ division of the Giants farm system, the place for recent draft picks and wide-eyed college and high school graduates to get their first taste of professional baseball.

First off, the stadium. The big kids get to play at A.T.&T. PARK, while the lowly teenagers grind away their nights at Municipal STADIUM. Something is backwards in that. If this is a stadium, then I live in a castle.

Capacity 4,200 (at the BBQ place inside)
Muni Stadium is made of bare concrete and hand-painted plywood and was built by the Works Progress Administration while Pearl Harbor was a smoking ruin. But it has been lovingly cared for during its 70 year life and has the charm of a small county fair, which is a nice feel to have in the middle of the Industrial Downtown of San Jose.

Muni Stadium has been home to the San Jose Owls, JoSox, Bees and Missions over the years and has seen its share of weddings and dog shows as well. One level of seats, no outfield bleachers, Hand painted wooden ads lining the outfield wall, just like they had in the 30’s and 40’s. Planes making their final approach to San Jose Airport loom overhead every few minutes.

I swear we were closer to the batter than the pitcher was.
The field is regulation size of course, but you sit so close to the action that the mound looks like it’s only about 30 feet from home plate. Even Tim Lincecum must have looked like a hulk when he pitched here in 2006 at the age of 21.

I went to get dinner for Admiral Karen and I. All of the food vendor stalls had 4 or 5 employees and almost no one in line. Not even the garlic fries place (Not as good as A.T.&T. park but better than the Oakland Coliseum). Farther on I found where everybody was: Turkey Mike’s BBQ employs about 30 people and the place was PACKED.

You won't see THIS at A.T.&T. Park!
An efficient you-fill-it-out paper menu system, runners who assemble your order on large plastic trays from the various BBQ pits, spits and grills, an elaborate line system for you to quickly furble your way through, a separate counter for potato salad and coleslaw and 4 separate lines for check out. And every couple of minutes an air horn blasts, everybody ducks and a screaming foul ball comes flying in and puts another dent in the smoker, the counter or a customer or two. Fun!

I asked Admiral Karen how the ribs were but she was too busy tearing into the heaping mound to answer. So I looked around at all the other plastic trays in the crowd and began to get the idea that this place was really a BBQ joint with a baseball sideshow.

NOMNOMNOMNOM - oh hey, a baseball game -NOM
Actually the baseball was a distant third on the entertainment schedule. The focus of the evening was definitely on all of the games, raffles, bingoes, lucky numbers, lotteries and contests that were going on before the game, inbetween innings, and during the at-bats of the sometimes amused, sometimes annoyed players who were trying to concentrate on the looming pitcher that was only 30 feet away.

This is a stadium that knows its fans and what these fans wanted was a Chuck E. Cheese bingo parlor apparently. I mean, out-and-out Blackjack was one of the games going on next to first base, and the announcer didn’t even have to explain the rules to the crowd.

In addition, we also got to witness a race around the bases, golfing from the dugout roof to a kiddie swimming pool, adult tricycle races, (slaloming through the surprised infielders who are trying to get to their bases), smash the headlights on an auto parts truck, musical chairs, air guitar battles and on and on and on and on.

It's an institution, apparently.
Meanwhile in the middle of at-bats we were informed about the bingo game, the keno contest, what the winning number for the 5th hit was, the prizes for the 15th batter, and who was the designated “Beer Batter” for the opposing team.

(In this game, for every at-bat, everybody gets half-priced beer if the poor schlub strikes out. Needless to say, the biggest cheers of the night were for this poor fellow as the strikes piled up and “The Beer Barrel Polka” blared throughout his at-bat. Deafening chants of “BEERBEERBEERBEERBEER” accompanied his every swing. (If you ever wondered how Major Leaguers keep so cool and calm under such intense pressure, well, here is where they learn.)

Gigante, racing off to the next contest.
All of this was lead by a happy go-lucky stadium announcer who was definitely earning his pay, and a bizarre orange gorilla mascot named Gigante who was everywhere all evening, including in my hair – since we have basically the same color fur.

My question for all this impressive sideshow carnival action is this: What if the 5th hit, the 15th batter and the “Beer Batter” turns out to be the SAME GUY? I think the whole stadium would explode, and they could finally build the mini-golf casino that this crowd is yearning for.

Not sure which character the fellow on the left is
supposed to be.
The crowd? Well let’s just say that it was as different from A.T.&T. Park as Division “A” baseball is from the Big Leagues. In the middle of the game we found out – during a contest of course – that tonight was “Jersey Shore” dress-up night, and Admiral Karen and I hadn’t been able to tell before that.

It WAS very family friendly though, down to the bouncy castles just inside of the main (only) gate. Many of the on-field contests starred kids. We guessed that between one thing or another at least half of the 1,000 paid attendance was on the field at one time or another, dancing, singing or bouncing down the 3rd base line on inflatable horses.

No Photoshop - this really did happen. In public.
The prizes for all of this endless carnival barking were negligible. At the Big Park you might win a car – here at plywood stadium you win a carwash for your car. It’s all a matter of scale.

Somewhere behind all of this county fair zaniness there was a baseball game trying to be played. It’s the same game as the Big Leagues of course, familiar to any player you might want to bring back from 1950, 1920, 0r 1890. But here at the single ‘A’ level there are only two umpires. One for home plate and one “Free Range” ump who follows the baserunner from station to station. If there are multiple baserunners or an extra-bases hit both umps scamper around the infield, trying to arrive at the base before the play that they have to make a ruling on.
The only disputed call of the night though was right at home plate, where a Stockton player was called out on strikes when the pitch was clearly too low. I didn’t get the Ump’s name (drowned out by that nights lucky lotto numbers), but I think it was either Took, or Baggins, or Brandybuck. So low strikes were natural for him.

From our deluxe $16.00 seats we were looking right over the Manager’s shoulder in his dugout and he saw the same thing we saw. Blown call. He charged out, tossed his player aside like a sack of potatoes and proceeded to give the ump some serious smack. Hobbit Ump threw him out with an extravagant gesture and this so incensed the Manager that he then proceeded to cover up home plate with dirt before stomping off.

Not sure if this guy was the 5th hit, or the 15th
batter, or the 'pick six' winner, or what. I was
totally confused by this point and paying much
more attention to my churro.
Yes folks, these kind of things really do happen, and here is where they occur. The cheers for this argument were almost as loud as the potential half-price beer batters. Almost.

And again, somewhere in all this there was a baseball game going on. The pitching was mostly fastballs and change-ups. Not much movement or specialty stuff from these kids yet. The batting was totally SPAZZY. In the whole night we saw exactly two batters actually TAKE pitches.* But hey, we’re talking about young men in their early 20’s. At that age there isn’t a lot of waiting around or over-thinking things. Guys that age will have a go at just about anything that comes their way. And no, we’re not just talking about baseballs.

Over the very unauthorized chant of “Let’s go, San HO” our baby Giants scored in the 10th inning for a walk-off win over the Stockton Ports, who play in a city that is 80 miles inland. Hmmm.

But like our spazzy young batters, try not to think too hard about that. Just grab some BBQ, a half-price beer, the best churros you’ll ever have in your life, your bingo card, raffle tickets and personal lucky number sharpied into your program and spend a fun evening at the downtown ballpark.

Let’s go San HO! We’ll be back!

Angus McMahan

*Joe Panik and Ricky Oropesa – Clearly the class of this team and destined for promotions in the near future. We also liked Carter Jurica and Luke Anders. Someday we’ll be able to say “We say them when” like smug SJ Giants fans NOW say about Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo, all of whom spent time dodging tricycle races around the infield of Municipal Stadium.

Yes, there really WAS a game that night: Game Recap

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