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San Francisco Embraces Sweet Torture, Giants

SAN FRANCISCO - Strange about baseball and the West. The ballplayers always have come from California: Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Tom Seaver, Barry Bonds, George Brett. Yet the sport is more important in the East, in New York, in Boston, in Philadelphia.

More large cities. More tradition. More passion. More history.

And not to be overlooked, more tabloid back-page headlines from April through September, providing an edginess which is inescapable.

As someone wrote, in New York the schedule isn't 162 games, it's 162 incidents. Every day it's another "Now what?''

Out here, true to the old label, baseball has been more pastime than sport.

We buy the peanuts and Cracker Jack. We don't buy the rhetoric or rivalries - excluding Dodgers-Giants, that is - or the idea it's a life-or-death proposition.

Robin Williams, the comedian, who has Giants tickets, was asked once whether he worried about being accosted by other fans at the ballpark. "No,'' he answered, "they're too busy talking on their cell phones.''

It's different this year. The phones have been clicked off. The excitement has been turned on. The Giants are winners, and the region is well, if obsessed is too strong a word for the "ain't we cool'' folk, let's say more than mildly interested.

Or is that not strong enough when someone on Stubhub asks $9,000 for a set of three bleacher tickets to the NLCS playoffs at AT&T Park?

You have to live out here to know wariness. We've been disappointed on too many occasions. That refers as much to the way the games are handled by television as the way the teams are handled by the opposition.

Of course we're paranoid. That three-hour time difference between EDT and PDT makes us crazy. We're treated second-class, because rarely does anything along the Pacific Coast get a mention on ESPN or in the New York Times. Or the Boston Globe.

It is difficult to ignore the Lakers or for a few years to ignore USC football. Otherwise, we're a pain in ratings, an anomaly which disturbs the execs who think 8:30 is too late for an NFL game when it's 5:30 in the Pacific zone and too early.

Basketball: Celtics. Football: Patriots, NY Giants and Jets. Baseball: Yankees, Red Sox and even though they're awful, the Mets. Oh yes, and because they're deserving, the Phillies.

But nobody pays attention to the San Francisco Giants.

That matters. That also doesn't matter. California has too many other problems and too many other interests.

Our ground shakes. Our hills burn. Our budgets are unbalanced. To much of America, our citizens similarly are unbalanced, a fact in which there is great pride.

As lately there is great pride in the Giants, the team virtually nobody knows east of the Sierra Nevada.

The team, that since it moved to San Francisco in 1958 hasn't won a single World Series, arguably a reason for the people east of the Sierra Nevada not to know about the Giants. Or if they know not to care.

San Francisco baseball? Windy nights at old Candlestick and basket catches by Willie Mays, who received attention more because his career began in New York than because he was the best player of all time.

And, oh yes, Barry Bonds because of steroid allegations and the hundreds of home runs.

The probability is the Giants of 2010 are as great a mystery as anything Agatha Christie ever penned. Both in how they have succeeded and how they were dismissed.

If, as the New York Post invariably calls them, the Yankees are the Bronx Bombers, the Giants must be the Bay Bewilderers.

They can't score. Five times during the regular season San Francisco lost games, 1-0, and twice it lost one-hitters thrown by its own staff. But they can pitch, the Giants recording the lowest earned-run average in the National League.

That isn't necessarily entertaining. You want to watch balls fly over fences or balls slip past batters? But it has been quite effective. And for Giants' fans excruciating. All four games against the Braves in the best-of-five National League Division Series were decided by one run.

"Sweet torture,'' is what Mike Krukow of the Giants local TV crew labeled the process. Now even the manager, Bruce Bochy, uses the slogan.

The Giants go up against the Phillies, the battle-tough, long-ball Phillies in this next playoff. Philadelphia has Ryan Howard, who hits them into the seats. Philadelphia has Roy Halladay, who has thrown two no-hitters this season, including one in the playoffs.

Not life-or-death, just torture that for the Giants could be anything but sweet.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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