Twenty-one years ago, when I was a stat-devouring pre-teen baseball fan, the San Francisco Giants made it to the World Series for the first time in my life. And then the earth shook at 5:04 p.m., on October 17, 1989.
The exact time is burned in my mind, pixelled and orange, like ballpark clocks still are, because I was there in Candlestick Park, a few dozen rows behind home plate, while my Giants warmed up to play their American League alter-egos, the Oakland A's, in the appropriately billed Bay Bridge Series. As a 12-year-old kid whose dad had taken him out of school early to make it in time for batting practice, I distinctly remember looking at the skyboxes that afternoon, and seeing their windows vibrate just above the clock.
"Why are they shaking?" I asked my dad, looking up at him. He followed my gaze, kinda shrugged, and said, "I don't know...."
Seconds later, we all knew why, as the ground swayed and rolled for a good bit. Though just a seventh grader from East San Jose, I was plenty used to a temblor now and again. Like most of the Bay Area crowd, my dad and I laughed it off, and turned our heads back to the field, waiting for the game to start. But rather than tossing and stretching, the field was consumed by people the families of players, we'd later learn, who'd been beckoned to the grass when they heard reports that Candlestick's stone walls were cracking. The power also seemed to be out, so as the skies darkened, people began flicking their lighters and holding up mini-flashlights, shouting "Play Ball!"
We joined them with the shouts, but then portable radios scattered amongst the fans broadcast the news: the Bay Bridge had fallen into the ocean; San Francisco was on fire; freeways were collapsing; chaos everywhere. Like a cruel game of telephone, the facts were amplified, the already tragic realities exaggerated into even mightier cataclysms. Suddenly, the calls for baseball fell silent and turned into the scurry of 40,000 or so pairs of feet heading to their cars.
Worried about running the inner-city gauntlet of Hunter's Point outside of the 'Stick, my dad started talking about "looters," a word I'd never heard before, and still failed to comprehend when he explained that they were people who took your stuff during disasters. Since we were driving a cheap Mazda pick-up, I doubt they'd want much from us, but I get the feeling my dad was more worried about my welfare.
Luckily, even Hunter's Point's feared looters were apparently in shock with the rest of the Bay they were nowhere in sight, even as traffic grinded ever so slowly toward 101. After reaching the freeway and finding it a slow-moving parking lot, we pulled off the road to eat our sandwiches, which, for some reason, I remember were ham on soft rolls with mustard, rolled up in aluminum foil. I couldn't eat though, too sick with concern about my mom and brother and grandparents and rest of my South Bay family those were the days before cell phones, so there was no checking in from afar. The radio reports didn't help: so the Bay Bridge didn't exactly fall into the ocean, but parts did collapse; not all of San Francisco was on fire, but the Marina district was; some freeways did fall; the epicenter was closer to San Jose; downtown Santa Cruz was in rubble. We eventually made it home, and everyone was fine save for the chimney of my aunt and uncle's house in Cupertino, which had tumbled.
Still, the aftershocks rattled me so much that I would turn bright white whenever I felt any movement below. I soon learned that bridges in shopping malls and seats in movie theaters were extremely sensitive to any subtle shaking. It took me until I was nearly 20 to shift those sensations back to the not-an-earthquake part of my brain.
I don't really remember the make-up game, which happened in Oakland a week or so later. My poor Giants, you may recall, were swept, but the whole series at that point seemed an afterthought.
Today, the Giants are once again battling for baseball domination in the World Series, this time taking on the rascally Rangers of Texas. Not since the shaking days of '89 do I remember caring so much about the boys in black and orange but this time, Giants, let's do it with a few more victories and a little less disaster.