I wish I could join all my Bay Area friends in celebrating the Giants' third World Series win in five years, but I can’t. This is my confession. Despite going to high school and college in the Bay Area, despite attending dozens of games, despite once actually hot-tubbing on the late night with Giants superfan Ashkon, I can't call myself a Giants fan.
I simply arrived at the wrong time from the wrong place.
In 2003, I moved to the Bay Area as a 15-year-old high school sophomore from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was the Era of the Asterisk. Barry Bonds was inflated with steroids and on track to topple Hank Aaron's home run record. Everyone everywhere hated him. Or at least, everyone outside San Francisco hated him. San Francisco, to my surprise, loved him.
Giants games in those years were one-man home run derbies, with a season's big moments defined not by a Dodgers rivalry or a playoff berth, but by kayaks racing after a tiny white dot knocked into McCovey Cove by bald guy with a big head. He was a slugger to San Francisco, but a juicer to everyone else.
No city hated Bonds more than Pittsburgh, my birthplace and home until the move. Truly, I can't understate how much Pirates fans hated Bonds then, hated him even before steroids, and still hate him to this day. Drafted by the Pirates in 1985, Bonds had seven seasons and two MVP titles with the team. In 1992, he left Pittsburgh for San Francisco, burning every bridge his notoriously dick-ish personality hadn’t already and cursing the city he got his start in.
I was four years old when he left and, after his departure, the Pirates went on an unprecedented two-decade losing streak. It wasn't until last year that the team had a winning season again. Much like Bonds' home run record, nothing like it had ever been seen in sports, nor will ever be seen again for a long time. The Pittsburgh Pirates had the longest losing streak of any professional sports team in American history.
Forget the Curse of the Bambino. It was The Curse of Barry Bonds. Even the Red Sox’s famous 85 season drought between World Series titles still included more winning seasons than losing ones (48 of 85). The Red Sox’s incredible 2004 curse-breaking season was also the year Bonds was at his peak in San Francisco, hitting better than any other player in baseball history, as measured by OPS. With a father from Boston, I rooted for the Sox breaking the curse and did my best to ignore the hometown juggernaut.
To be fair to baseball's more famous curse, the Red Sox did lose sixteen straight seasons immediately after 1918. That's still no twenty though, and those twenty seasons were the Pittsburgh Pirates I grew up watching: cheap season tickets next to the Three Rivers home bullpen, never expecting to see the post-season, but loving the nachos, foul balls, and Jason Kendall singles.
Giants Fans Taking Selfies in Front of Fire: A Photo Gallery Celebrating the Win I collected some photos from Matthew Roth's Flickr album of last night's celebrations, all from his San Francisco Giants 2014 set and all under Creative Commons license
Moving from Pirates to Giants country felt like an inversion of every sports movie plot ever. Suddenly, I had to switch from rooting for the downtrodden underdogs to rooting for the shiny top dogs and their grand villain. It was a bizarro world where Benedict Vader was to be cheered for rather than cursed at. Even Bonds aside, the teams were night and day. While the Pirates went longer without a winning season than any other team ever, the Giants have more winning seasons than any other team ever.
Winning isn't a bad thing, but the contrast played into a broader anxiety about my new home. Pittsburgh was a blue collar industrial city still picking itself up off the pavement, but San Francisco seemed like a shiny and self-content Valhalla: nice weather, beautiful scenery, and lucrative stock options. Pittsburgh was the American Dream Deferred, while Silicon Valley was the American Dream Accomplished, and comfortably so. It was rusty steel versus shiny silicon. Just as my Dad and I would self-consciously (and unfairly) separate ourselves from a place where people wore parkas in sixty-degree weather, we’d also separate ourselves from fan-base that rooted for a juicer home run machine.
Today, I’m as much a Californian as I am a Pittsburgher. I came around on the Bay Area: it’s a wonderful, complex place and no small bit of my anxiety came from being an angsty teenager given license to further angst by a cross-country dislocation a year into high school. That said, it was too late for me on the Giants. I love baseball. More than any other sport, it’s characterized by great writing, a love of data, and a sense of history. Baseball is also the sport of nostalgia though. I simply arrived too late, and from the wrong place, for any Giants nostalgia.
Last night, the season ended with San Francisco winning the World Series. But it began in March with Barry Bonds returning to Pittsburgh. On Opening Day, the Pirates' last MVP came back to present the award to its newest MVP, outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Some things had changed after two decades: the Pirates had broken their losing streak with a 94-68 record and finally returned to the playoffs. Of course, some things hadn’t changed at all: Bonds was booed by the fans. Perhaps, now that my Pirates have gotten over their season losing streak, they can begin a World Series losing streak to rival my Dad’s Red Sox. They already have a Curse after all.