I already said goodbye to Candlestick Park, on Sept.30, 1999, so I’m not getting as nostalgic and weepy as 49ers fans and members of the press are over Monday Night’s FINAL game at the much-maligned site. Then again, it might not even be the last game. Depending on how the post-season goes, the 49ers still have a shot at returning for a playoff game. So that takes some of the emotion out of it for me. Sure, those glory years of Montana and Young were special, and some of those Monday night triumphs at the Stick during that era were magical. Yet, I think there’s a significant difference between the closure of a baseball park and the closure of a football stadium, even if it’s the same venue like it is in this case. The 49ers played their home games in the same configuration as everyone else in football — a 100-yard field. There was some wind that might have affected some passes and kicks, but the weather for football in San Francisco was mild compared with the freezing temperatures, snow and storms that other teams faced routinely as the NFL season moves into winter.
Candlestick, in fact, provided one of the mildest climates for football. On the other hand, Candlestick provided one of the most challenging locations in all of baseball. Willie Mays was stunned when he smoked a pitch to left field during batting practice prior to the first game ever at Candlestick, only to see the wind knock it back into the playing field. The wind was so bad that the Giants brought in the fences to lessen the disadvantage for Mays and fellow sluggers Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. I don’t recall anyone suggesting the football field be shortened to 90 yards to help Montana connect with Rice. I do think that the 49ers always had a distinct home-field advantage at the Stick because the turf was softer from its bay-level location, and other teams had trouble adjusting to the footing. I do fear that it was the slower track that stymied the Seattle Seahawks in the 49ers’ so-called statement win recently. The Seahawks look so much quicker on their home field, where I suspect the footing is better, which might explain Seattle dominance there even more than the upsetting crowd noise.
From a baseball perspective, the last days of the old yard might be the time to relive the 10 greatest games or such, but instead of that, here is my list of 10 random memories of Candlestick Park:
1. Opening Day, April 12, 1960. The park was impressive by its size, especially from those of us who had been watching the Giants at their quaint, but minor league Seals Stadium. We sat in the section 17 lower deck reserves, and while it was a sunny day, a cold wind blew through the stands, an ominous sign..
2. The game was it at the Stick. There were no slides, miniature ballpark or e-Café. No one stood up rudely in front of you waving to their friends in the section below while explaining their location on their cellphone. We weren’t entertained with ice-cream eating contests between innings. Organ music was just fine. The tunes were soft enough so we could even have a conversation.
3. Jeff Carter. Talk about multi-tasking. Carter was the Giants PA announcer. He gave you the lineups straight forward, none of that YOUR SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS carnival barker stuff, and delivered a nicely paced national anthem with his pleasant voice. Total pro.
4. Booze: AT&T, thankfully, is a family friendly place. I’ve attended many games there since 2000, and have witnessed very few alcohol-related problems. Perhaps it’s the outlandish price for a brew, so only the one percent can even afford to get drunk there. Candlestick was an alcoholic enabler. I recall sitting in the left field bleachers during Dodgers games. Young people who had already been drinking in the parking lot arrived at their seats and set up bar, pulling bottles out of their coat pockets. Police and security would look the other way until the brawls started, and by the fifth inning, half the section had been ejected or relocated.
5. McCovey’s line drive: I was there. My Dad and I had $8 World Series bleacher seats, but in the 9th, we got up and walked all the way along the promenade, just up from the third base dugout. That put us in perfect position to watch McCovey’s shot travel straight into Bobby Richardson’s glove.
6. The 1960s. I know it’s so easy to go old school, and talk about how an era of your youth was better than today. But in the 1960s, for the price of a $2.50 ticket at Candlestick, I saw Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, Stan Musial, Warren Spahn, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson.
7. Local knowledge: Since there seldom were big crowds, you could usually get a ticket any where you wished. For all the bad publicity the park deservedly got because of the cold, one of the nicest places in San Francisco during the afternoon was the first base side, upper deck box. The price was very reasonable, and you would sit in a warm sun throughout a game. We’d laugh at the bundled-up fans in the same seats on the third base side who sat in the cool shade, and wondered why they didn’t figure our what we did about the Stick’s micro climates.
8. Tell them goodbye. On Sept. 27, 1992, I was one of the saddened 45,630 fans who turned out for what appeared to be the final Giants game in San Francisco. The franchise looked like it was heading to Florida, and the scene resembled the dark days of 1957 at the Polo Grounds, as fans held signs begging the team to stay. After the game, I went down to section 17, to the seats where I sat with my Dad in the 1960 opener. He had passed away two years earlier, but this was my way of saying thanks, and goodbye, once again.
9. Opening Day 1993. A group of investors led by Peter Magowan saved the team, signed Barry Bonds and hired Dusty Baker as manager. I walked into the park on that joyous day, looked over at section 17, and smiled.
10. Gone. The last Giants game at Candlestick Park on Sept. 30, 1999, versus the Dodgers, was a celebration because the team was heading to what appeared to be a magnificent downtown ballpark in 2000. Yet I could still feel the eyes swelling as we headed for the exits. The Dodgers won the game and rubbed it in that they had finished off the Stick with a victory. The Dodgers hated the park and its unruly fans. One of their players, Rick Monday, despised it so much that he once suggested that it be blown up. Now wouldn’t that be a proper farewell: So let’s bring back the former Dodger to pull the switch when they implode the old yard. That is, once the 49ers are done with it.