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  • Writer's pictureMarc Johnson

So Long to The Stick

This photo could have been taken during the first game I saw at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. I think it was 1987 or maybe 1988. Will “The Thrill” Clark was thrilling that afternoon and had a career day – seven RBI’s my memory says – and about 1,500 people showed up for a game in the middle of the week. I loved it all on a beautiful summer day. Love the Giants still and, while I’m ready for Christmas I’m really ready for spring training and harboring a strangely nostalgic feeling about The Stick.

The 49ers football team will play the last game at The Stick tonight and one more old ballpark will go the way of the wrecking ball. Most will say “good riddance.” I’ll be left, like so much that is my life with baseball, with memories. I fell in love all over again with the great game at The Stick all those years ago.

With some friends on another trip to see the Giants we left Union Square in the heart of downtown San Francisco for the bus ride out to Candlestick for a night game. It was August and a glorious Bay Area afternoon – sunny, about 72 degrees with a pleasant light breeze. By the third inning the notorious Candlestick Point fog was rolling across the stadium and from our vantage point in seats up above the third base line you could barely make out Kevin Mitchell in left field. The wind was swirling, hot dog wrappers were circling the field faster than a player could circle the bases, and beer was out of the question. Too cold. Stocking caps and gloves came out – it was August remember – and ballpark vendors were hocking hot chocolate. It wasn’t very good hot chocolate, but it was selling fast. I held the cup to keep my hands warm.

NPR had a great piece this morning on The Stick. Reporter Tom Goldman remembered that Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham signed the deal to build at Candlestick in 1957 during a morning visit when the wind was calm. Stoneham subsequently visited later in the day. “It’s said he asked a worker,” Goldman recounts, “Does the wind often blow like this? Yeah, every day, the worker replied. But only in the afternoon and early evening.”

Willie Mays played a good deal of his career at The Stick and slapped his 3,000 hit there in 1970. The Beatles packed them in during a 1966 concert. In recent years, with the Giants off in the cozy confines of their new park South of Market, Candlestick has been the football home of the 49ers, but that will end next year when the team decamps for a new stadium further south in warmer Silicon Valley. It can’t possibly be as cool as The Stick and in more ways than one.

I’ve reached the age where I don’t like to see anything torn down. OK, maybe, the Berlin Wall, but not old buildings and not icons like Tiger Stadium in Detroit or the real old Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. [Every rule has its exceptions. Mine would be the Kingdome in Seattle. Good riddance to that concrete monster.]

Instead of humming Christmas carols today I have the old Sinatra song stuck in my head.

And there used to be a ballpark where the field was warm and green And the people played their crazy game with a joy I’d never seen And the air was such a wonder from the hot dogs and the beer Yes, there used a ballpark right here

While the kids wait for Santa in a couple of days, I will note that there are about eight weeks until pitchers and catchers report. Once The Stick is gone they’re putting up a shopping center. Not a fair trade – memories of The Say Hey Kid for a Dillard’s. I hope its windy and cold when they open.

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