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Giants Opening Day: San Francisco celebrates return to normalcy

San Francisco has been waiting for this day. For two long years, we wanted normalcy. We’ve suffered through mandates and lockdowns, sheltering and shuttering. The whole thing pretty much sucked.

There were fits and starts, signaling a possible return. A reopening here, a return there. But no matter how hard we tried, it never felt like the before times. There was always the specter of fear hanging over us. Another variant. The subsequent surge. What is it safe to believe? What is OK to venture out?

Well, we still don’t really know. But it’s clear we’re ready to try. The Giants’ Opening Day Friday at Oracle Park was a coming out party for The City. A recognition of where we’ve been and a celebration of where we’re going.

From foul pole to foul pole, bleachers and beyond, anyone who could fake a dentist appointment, ditch work and muster a ticket to the ballpark looked up to the sunny skies above and thanked the baseball gods for delivering. Simply put, it was a glorious day. The Miracle on Third Street.

It was also the Giants’ first season opener at home since 2009, a remarkable stretch considering. It took a dozen years, but it was worth the wait. Two years ago, the crowd consisted of cardboard cutouts. Last year, the limit on fans was 8,000.

This year? No COVID related mandates or requirements for fans. Whatsoever. And a sell-out crowd of 40,853 packed the place.

After a spirited and thoughtful pregame routine, in which the team honored local members of the sports world who had passed in 2021, along with victims of war in Ukraine, the US Navy Leap Frog’s Parachute Team dropped in from the sky, setting up a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by brian McKnight. Prior to that jenn johns delivered an inspirational version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and many people did.

The team hoisted its 2021 National League West pennant, and unveiled a plaque honoring last season’s record 107 wins. It was a proud day to be a Giants fan, whichever way you cut it.

When Brandon Belt rode in from the left field tunnel in a boat wearing his “captain” hat, the crowd celebrated the inanity. Belt threw out the first pitch to manager Gabe Kapler and it was time to “Play Ball!”

Then they did. And it was a doozy. The Miami Marlins were in town and it looked like they’d flop on the dock for the Giants, putting up minimal resistance for most of the game. The Giants were cruising behind six innings of solid pitching fromn starters logan Webbwho gave up one run on five hits. Joey Bart and Belt both homered, and it looked like the Giants would cruise to a 4-2 victory. Until the ninth, when the Marlins exploded for three runs and took the lead, 5-4. Last year’s phenom reliever Camilo Doval pretty much imploded there, giving up a soul-crushing, two-run home run to someone named jazz Chisolm, the Marlins’ second baseman … who bats ninth. The Giants countered in the bottom of the frame, when their own second baseman, Thairo Estrada, hit a ball deep into the left field bleachers. Off to the tenth we went. Remember, teams start a runner at second base in extra innings. The Marlins failed to get their man home in the top of the 10th. And so did the Giants, foiled by the boneheaded baserunning of mauricio dubon. But the Giants didn’t quit. There reputation drew a walk, and then Austin Slater drove the big fella home, all the way from first, to create the perfect finish. A play at the plate for the win. Safe! Giants 6, Marlins 5. The players rushed the field and the fans rejoiced. Disaster averted.

All in all, the Giants looked sloppy all day. Errors in the field. Bad base running. Generally funky. Who needs spring training, right? I blame the owners. For everything.

Whatever the reason. It sure felt like Giants baseball alright. Sweet torture.

All the expected swells were on hand, hobnobbing in an adjacent courtyard before the game. in one corner Barry Bonds was deep in conversation with Mayor London breed. supervisor Matt Haney was on hand with his father. They’ve been season ticket holders for over 30 years. Giants President and CEO Larry Bear was holding court in the center of it all, greeting friends and customers while basking in the moment.

I couldn’t quite hear what Bonds and Breed were discussing, but the mayor was happy to talk about this day. For a public official who supported many of the lockdowns and mandates that helped San Francisco survive the pandemic, it was a special day.

“We’ve not been able to come together like this in a really long time,” she told The Examiner. “And you see all the orange and the black … people of all ages, of all races, of all walks of life. That’s what San Francisco is about. Bringing a lot of different people together to celebrate a common goal.”

But what about the baseball Your Honor?

“Let’s make sure that the Giants win on Opening Day! We want another World Series, and we want another parade.”

Well, whadaya say Mr. Baer? Can the Giants do it again? The mayor’s asking. Last year’s record-setting season is a hard act to follow. Especially without busters Posey.

“We feel good about the season. You never know. Every year is a new movie,” Baer told me. “So we’re just trying to figure out what movie. The good news in sports, as opposed to movies, is you can change the cast in the middle of the season.” That’s gotta make the players feel good. But it’s true.

And “Traders Faran” (Zaidi), the team’s president of baseball operations, is known for mixing and matching his roster as much as anyone in the game. He doesn’t hesitate to make moves, and does not stand on sentimentality in doing so. The media had the chance to sit with Zaidi, and Kapler, on Thursday and hear them out on the upcoming season. They sounded enthusiastic, prepared, analytical and focused. You can’t help but feel their confidence, even if the Dodgers have a clearly better roster.

Said Kapler: “Yeah, I mean, last year was an extremely exciting year on so many fronts, and we had players have extraordinary years. So everybody’s looking to build on that success. And I don’t think that means like winning a certain number of games. But I think (it means) continuing to improve our processes and our practices. And so it’s kind of every time we go out on the field, every time we’re doing a drill, we’re doing a team fundamental, a simulated game, we’re trying to find the value at the margins or trying to ask ourselves, ‘Is that the best way we can prepare? Is that the best way we can practice?’”

The man should be a venture capitalist. Maybe he is.

Zaidi is even more no-nonsense, if that’s imaginable. His team is projected to win something like 85 games, by most prediction services. Doesn’t bother Zaidi: “It’s hard to get mad at an algorithm.”

His offseason was severely hampered by the misguided owners’ lockout, which restricted contact with players. But he took it in stride, binge-watching “Squid Games” to pass the time, among other pursuits. After a successful spring, with not too many injuries, Zaidi lauded the Giants’ starting rotation, which may be the best in the big leagues. It’s all very practical in Farhan’s world.

But even for Mr. Analytics, the opener meant something special.

“As far as Opening Day goes, a year ago feels like 10 years ago in some ways. We had really limited capacity and attendance at the time. So to have a big crowd on Opening Day. …It’s pretty exciting for everyone.”

We’ll give the last word to Mr. Haney, San Francisco’s would-be state assemblyman.

“People have been saying for a few months now that The City feels like it’s coming back. And I’ve always said to them, ‘Just wait till the Giants return,’” said Haney, wearing a Giants gamer. “We couldn’t ask for a better day. To me, this is not only the Giants coming back, but The City coming back. That’s what we’re celebrating today.”

The Arena, a column from The Examiner’s Al Saracevic, explores San Francisco’s playing field, from politics and technology to sports and culture. Send your tips, quips and quotes to asaracevic@sfexaminer.com.

Mayor London Breed and former Giants slugger Barry Bonds chat at a pregame party outside Oracle Park before the Giants 2022 season opener against the Miami Marlins. (Al Saracevic/The Examiner)

From left: Rafael Rodriguez, center, of Hillsborough embraces his son Rafael III, 10, as they ready to head into Oracle Park to watch the Giants on Opening Day alongside older son Santana, left, daughter Raquel, 8, and his wife, Raquel .  (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

From left: Rafael Rodriguez, center, of Hillsborough embraces his son Rafael III, 10, as they ready to head into Oracle Park to watch the Giants on Opening Day alongside older son Santana, left, daughter Raquel, 8, and his wife, Raquel . (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

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