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Friday, January 14, 2011

When It's Time For A Change

As some of you may know, I had the distinct privilege this past summer of taking a road trip to Denver with my two close friends, Ryan and Ryan. We went to see the Giants play the Rockies and were lucky enough to have an article on our trip featured in the September 2010 issue of the Giants Magazine. The final version that appeared in the magazine (400 words) was an emaciated version of what the three of us actually wrote (1,500 words), so I figured this would be a good platform to display the unabridged director's cut, complete with some photos from the trip.

Keep in mind, all of this was seen and written long before the World Series was even a twinkle in our collective eye. It's pretty cool to look back on and think about considering how things turned out.

The Power of Three Presents:

“When It’s Time for a Change”

By: Frankie, Ryan C. and Ryan W.

Preface: The following tells the story of three Giants fans, Frankie, Ryan C. and Ryan W., on their trip to Denver to celebrate Ryan C’s last days of bachelorhood and to personally pull the Giants out of their slump.

In many ways, baseball seems to imitate life. Or maybe it's the other way around.

When my two friends and I departed on our Giants Road Trip on June 30th, we were all in the midst of major life decisions. Ryan C. was to be married in four short weeks. Ryan W. had just finished his first year as a teacher and was desperately searching for his next step. Having just finished the LSAT exam, I was trying to determine whether or not I should take the plunge into law school. The next few weeks would be turning points in our young lives. 

The same could be said for the team we were about to join in Denver. The Giants, amid the season's longest losing streak, were at a major crossroads. Their offense continued to sputter and even the vaunted starting pitching started to falter. After being swept by the hated Dodgers at home, the Giants were beginning to slide down the NL West Standings. It was gut check time. The next few weeks would likely dictate whether this season would end in August or continue into October.

It's not easy being a Giants fan. All of us in our mid-twenties, we can all too easily remember the pain felt after the 1998 one-game playoff against the Cubs, the disappoint after early playoff exists in '97 ad '03 and of course, the indescribable feelings after Game 6. But in spite of the heartbreak, we seem to love our Giants more each day.

Wednesday, June 30
4:30 am sure came early. Shortly after the alarm clock jolted us awake, we stumbled downstairs in the dark to load up Ryan’s Honda with the essentials – jerseys, gloves and a hefty supply of sunflower seeds. Just like that, we were on the road – Denver or bust.

As we crossed the Bay Bridge and the sun began to peak over the Oakland hills, we bid farewell to our City by the Bay.

By day’s end, we were setting up camp in Zion National Park in Virgin, Utah. Tucked beneath canyon peaks taller than the Transamerica Pyramid, we did what all campers do: cook hot dogs, eat four too many smores and try and get the Giants score on a Blackberry. Another loss. But Bengie was traded -- the trip was already a success!

Thursday, July 1
Considering having slept on an ant hill, we woke up quite well rested. We quickly broke camp and set a destination for the day’s travel – Moab, Utah. After spending some time freshening up in the nearby Virgin River, we were back in the saddle, mowing down miles of I-70 like Tim Lincecum through Houston’s lineup. The scenery through Utah was breathtaking. The forested canyons of Zion soon gave way to desolate red rock deserts. The sky just seemed bigger out there. 

By sundown we had reached Moab, Utah and in the comforts of our Motel 6 hot tub, Ryan opened up about his upcoming wedding. We shared our anxieties about the coming decisions we all faced, but most of all, after hearing of another Giants loss, we discussed whether or not the Giants should trade for a corner infielder.

Friday, July 2
That morning in Moab we explored the nearby Arches National Park where we were saw natural Golden Gates sculpted like clay out of solid rock. After challenging the rock for a few hours, we began the final 6 hour drive to Denver. We weaved along I-70 as it cut through the heart of the Rocky Mountain Range and before long, we saw the skyline of Denver off in the distance. We made it! 

We checked into our hotel just in time to see the Rockies record the final out in their defeat of Tim Lincecum. Seven in a row. Things were looking bleak for our boys in Black and Orange. But that was all over now. We had arrived.

Saturday, July 3
Game day. We arrived at Coors Field with plenty of time to check out the ballpark and soak in that Rocky Mountain air (read: beer). While our nose-bleed seats were literally higher than a mile (by two rows), we knew we could still have an affect on the game. Things started precariously for the Giants yet again, going down 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning. But then came the top of the third – an inning that seemed to spark the entire Giants team for the next 9 games. When Travis Ishikawa connected on the first pitch from Ubaldo Jimenez, all three of us assumed it was a routine pop-out. But as the ball continued to drift back in the thin Denver air, we started to stand slowly in disbelief – a grand slam.

When the ball finally cleared the wall, it was like the quietest explosion we'd ever heard. The silent Rockies fans were even more stunned than the handful of Giants fans around us.

It didn’t take long for the smug comfort of a 7-1 lead to morph into nausea as the Rockies took an 8-7 lead late in the game. With Coors Field rocking, I wondered whether the Giants could come back from such an emotion letdown. But did they ever. After exquisite work from the bullpen and Aubrey Huff's two-run blast in the ninth, Brian Wilson in and slammed the door. We serenaded the Rockies fans with our rendition of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” We had done it. The losing streak was over.

The Original Double Rainbow

Sunday, July 4
After a night of hardy celebration, Sunday’s day game seemed to come even earlier than our initial 4:30 wake up call back in San Francisco. We arrived at Coors Field and took our seats which were greatly improved from the night before – right on the wall down the right field line. We figured there was no way anything could top last night’s game, but that was before witnessing the 15 innings of insanity that Sunday brought. It was torture.

While they weren’t able to come away with the win, the fact that they were able to mount a three-run rally late in the game and get out of some of the most unbelievable jams in walk off situations was reason to be optimistic. They looked like a team that was turning the corner.

So we left Coors Field with our heads held high. While the Giants had been beaten 3-1 in the series, they were able to halt their losing streak and show some serious determination even in a loss.

Monday, July 5/ Tuesday, July 6
After an incredibly refreshing three-day break from driving, we returned to our confines of the Honda Accord and began our long trek back to San Francisco. As the Giants flew on to Milwaukee, we drove west on I-80 through the picturesque prairies of Wyoming and witnessed a spectacular sunset over the Great Salt Lake.

We bunked up for the night in West Wendover, Nevada, where we enjoyed the 24 hour restaurant, penny slots and epileptic neon atmosphere that only the great state of Nevada can provide.

Tuesday was the home stretch. We made a mad dash through the Nevada desert and sped through Sacramento. And then finally, we caught a glimpse – the Bay. We were home.

It was during those final few miles that we started to realize what an incredible trip we were just a part of. We had been able to see some of America’s greatest natural treasures as well as games that when the season is over may very well be considered a turning point in the season – the point where the San Francisco Giants truly arrived.

For a week in early July, our crossroads and the Giants’ crossroads seemed to intersect. And while there’s no telling where we or they are going to end up, our trip proved that both we and the Giants have many reason to be hopeful. 

Epilogue #2:
Almost a month to the day after arriving in Denver, Ryan C. tied the knot. With the Giants trailing the Dodgers 1-0 as the ceremony began, we were thrilled to learn after recessing from the church of the Giants late inning heroics. A friend who had been watching the game on his phone during the ceremony ran up and told us, almost in disbelief  – Pat Burrell launched his game winning homerun the very moment Ryan slid the ring around his new bride’s finger. It seemed the Giants were still with us and we were certainly still with them.

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