Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Giants Win the World Series

I don’t believe in God, certainly not in the old-fashioned sense of a Man on a Throne. But I do think God is a pretty good heuristic.

“Heuristic” means to me “as if.” You don’t really believe this is so, but it’s useful to believe it. Now, that’s not Pascal’s Wager, which tells us to bet on the existence of God, because if God does exist you will be rewarded, and if he doesn’t, well, what have you lost? That’s not a heuristic, that’s a cost-benefit analysis.

Here is a good example of a heuristic: if you play the stock market, it is useful to believe that there is an “operator” who is manipulating the market to draw you in and take your money. There used actually to be operators, but they don’t exist anymore, or so we are told. Still, the market acts as though there were one. It goes down to scare you, and then down again, and then again so you finally sell your stock, and now that the operator has bought your stock at a cheap price, up goes its price with you on the sidelines in frustration. The mythical operator has struck again.

So, I don’t believe in God. But it’s useful to think that “God will provide.” You can’t plan everything, you can’t be sure of everything, sometime you just have to take a chance, move to America and leave the Old World behind, and think that “God will provide.” It might be you yourself who will provide, or the Massachusetts Indians, but it’s useful to think of God up there to help you.

And so it is with baseball, itself the holy of holies. Not that “God will provide,” because anyone who has grown up rooting for the Phillies, the A’s, the Giants – in fact, I guess everyone except the Yankees – you know that God will not in fact provide. You will lose and lose and lose, and be drawn into thinking that this might be the year, and then you will lose again. So I have always figured that if our team is not mathematically eliminated in September and the games still have even theoretical meaning, it was a good year.

It helps to remember Job, and believe that sometime, maybe at an unexpected time, the plagues will finally relent. Maybe. And that great turn of your luck will not depend on any particular virtues of yours, but it will simply be a gift from a heuristical God.
And so it was this year. There was no reason to think this year would be any different for the Giants. None. Excellent pitching, which they had had before. A lack of bats, severe, I thought. So all through the year GM Brian Sabean brought in people and tried them out. Some worked – Aubrey Huff at first – and some didn’t – Bowker in left. Most famously, the “accidental Giant,” Cody Ross, became a Giant off waivers only because the Giants didn’t want him to go to San Diego. And then he comes up with five homers in the playoffs. It’s skill on Sabean’s part, and on manager Bruce Bochy’s part, and luck, and chance, and happenstance, and you could say it just was the fact that God decided to smile on you, for no particular reason that we can figure out.

For me it was particularly amazing, since my beloved brother Bobby is a die-hard Phillies fan and season ticket holder. While the Giants were making their amazing run at the collapsing Padres in September, when it seemed that God was just determined that they should win, Bobby and I faced the prospect of rooting against each other. After 34 years in the Bay Area and being partners in Giants season tickets I am acculturated – the Phillies are my second-favorite team. (Actually, if the A’s recover, that might not be true – but they will definitely be my second favorite team in the National League.) So the best we could hope for would be that the Phils and Giants would not face each other in the first round although the odds were against it. But fie on the odds – God provided, and they faced different opponents in the first round, so we could root for each other’s team, and both teams won. Voilá!

Then our Giants were on to the powerful Phillies, with their winning experience and very solid lineup, featuring the great Shane Victorino (inside joke – he’s from Maui and has a featured box on the Maui News sports page every day, really funny home town boosterism, “Victorino and Phillies advance to League Championship series!”)

How was every desire coming true? Where was this coming from? How was it that every move worked out? The new players produced, Wilson kept saving games, Uribe hit an 8th inning homer to beat the Phillies. How did we beat their great pitchers? Ryan Howard looked at a third strike when he should have been protecting the plate. Bobby and I communicated carefully with each other, since we each knew where we stood. From not believing they could catch the Padres, to the World Series. Why was he smiling on us?

God smiled again. I was due for tickets to the 6th game but my partner Jim wanted to trade his 1st game tickets for my 6th game. It’s a deal, Jim!

Ann, as my wife, always has first call on the tickets, but usually says that someone else will appreciate it more and gives them up. But this time I prevailed on her to go with me, to both the Phillies game and World Series #1 game against the Rangers. While she was reserved for the Phillies game, she said it was great. Then for WS #1 the reserve evaporated. It was a wonderful night. Balmy. Mellow. Joe Montana was sitting two rows ahead of us across the aisle. Other SF notables popped up here and there. We belonged there; these are our seats, our city. Tony Bennett sang I Left My Heart in the second inning because he was late – took Muni to the ballpark. 83 years old, but the voice is there. It was November, but it was in the 60’s, calm, comfortable, perfect, the whole night. (The next night it was Steve Perry from Journey singling “Lights” about the City, and when they stopped playing that, the crowd kept singing. A sports writer from Texas who repeatedly trashed the Bay Area had to write as he visited here, “I take it back. I love this city.”)

Ann said, “Look at the sky!” It was remarkable. It was like slate, but a bit uneven, blue-black, some parts darker than others, but not moving at all, perfectly still. Aaron, one of my partners with the tickets, turned around and said, “Look at the sky.” Look at the sky.

It was tight, and then the 5th inning happened. We kept scoring and were a couple of runs ahead. Then Uribe hit a three run homer to push us way in front. Everyone around us looked at each other, gave high fives, and then literally said stopped and said to each other, “My God.” There was singing and I was dancing as Ann laughed at me, and laughed with everyone else. In the 7th Tony Bennett sang God Bless America and so did we.

I’ve heard that hospitals are the modern equivalent of medieval cathedrals, but now I think it might be sports stadiums instead. At the ballpark we were one, knit together, being blessed. How else can you look at it? It was just a gift from a heuristial God, and it was our job to take it, to accept it, to appreciate it, to be blessed with it.
It’s probably the best sports experience I’ve ever had, in a lifetime of watching sports. And blessedly, my brother Bobby was good enough to send me a text that said, simply “congratulations.” The Phillies have had three great seasons, and Bobby has been through enough to know that when your games still mean something in September, and you make it through the playoffs to the second round, you, too, have been blessed by a heuristical God.

What a night, what a series, what a set of playoffs, what a season, what a sky, what songs, what a crowd. What a life.

Budd Shenkin

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