SAN FRANCISCO -- Excuse me, can this be Candlestick Park? Can this toasty becalmed jewel by San Francisco Bay be the notorious 'Stick? Oh, thou loveliest of ball yards, how you have been maligned.
All of us have some personal odyssey to complete. To some, it's visiting the great cathedrals of Europe or the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean. Others collect live performances of Shakespeare's major tragedies or want to play the best golf courses in the world. For me, it appears that a visit to every major league park is the big lifetime quinella. For some years, the 'Stick, as they call it here, has been the gap in my collection.
Not that I minded. To say that you have driven past Candlestick, but never actually seen a baseball game there, is a sort of perverse badge of honor since the unanimous opinion in the game is that The Parka should've been demolished before it was ever built. Burned on the architect's drawing board. Drowned in infancy.
"Candlestick is a toilet bowl with the lid up," said St. Louis Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog this week. "A nightmare," added Cardinal Ozzie Smith.
Yes, Candlestick, known to San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo as "the pigsty." The stadium that so enrages Giants owner Bob Lurie that he says he'll sell his team if a vote next month does not ensure him of a new park. Speaking for many -- no, make that speaking for absolutely everyone -- was Giants vice president Corey Busch when he said: "The general consensus is that this place stinks."
If it weren't for the names and dates, the transcripts and the sworn affidavits, I wouldn't believe any of it. How can people say such terrible things about what might be the most beautiful ballpark I've ever seen? Or pretty close anyway. Of course, I've only seen one game in Candlestick. The temperature was 80 degrees. The wind was a balmy peck on the cheek. And the playoff game between the Giants and Cardinals here on Friday night might as well have been played under a dome for all the impact the 'Stick had.
Personally, I'm rooting for a typhoon on Sunday.
Everybody here for the National League Championship Series is extremely unhappy. Every known Candlestick story has been gathered. And the stupid wind won't blow. The thermometer won't drop.
Is this the park where the flags blow straight up? Was Stu Miller really blown entirely off the mound in the first 1961 All-Star Game? Was a grounds crewman, holding the corner of a 100-foot tarp, actually thrown seven feet in the air by a gust at the '85 All-Star Game?
This season, pitcher Ed Lynch of the Cubs watched as his cap blew all the way to the center field fence, then stuck halfway up. Once, the Giants put Jack Hiatt's entire uniform against the right field fence, including shoes, and it stuck for an hour. "We could put Jose Uribe up there and he'd stick," said Giants pitcher Mike Krukow, the same man who says he doesn't know how to pitch here until he determines which fence the hot dog wrappers have stuck against.
In Wrigley Field, outfielders have to dig balls out of the vines. But here, it's routine to dig doubles into the corner out of knee-deep refuse.
As Orlando Cepeda noted on the day the park opened 27 years ago (and Richard Nixon threw out the first ball), "Much wind."
The only person who's ever played in this joint and not ripped it was the pope last month. But nobody hit him a popup. Ken Boyer once ignored a foul ball as it headed into the stands, then chased it as it blew back into play and finally watched it land fair for a double. Umpire Eric Gregg admits he called the infield fly on a triple off the fence. Nobody forgets 'Stick lore. Why do they call it the 'Stick? Why, because the wind blew the Candle out.
Willie Mays got so messed up playing center field here that he gave birth to the joke that San Francisco was the only town that would cheer Nikita Khrushchev and boo Willie Mays. Willie McCovey wasn't so happy about the place either, especially after the night when he called time to go into the clubhouse and find out whether his face was bleeding from the sand-blast combination of wind and infield dirt.
These, we must add, are not tales of early April and late September. We're talking about June, July and August here. The cold months. As in Mark Twain's line that the coldest winter he ever spent was one summer in San Francisco.
In a single game here this season, three apparently normal fly balls were hit to Chili Davis and became two inside- the-park home runs and a triple. At least he didn't suffer Alan Knicely's fate. He was knocked stiff by a flyball, then found a bull's-eye painted on the top of his hat the next day when he got to his locker.
Local wisdom has it that Candlestick is on its deathbed. Come back in a couple of years and the new yard will be downtown. Comfy, normal.
Who knows, however, when we'll pass this way again. With a pennant at stake, how can the 'Stick take all this lying down? So what if autumn is really the least frigid and turbulent season hereabouts. That's no reason why it should have been 102 degrees last week.
What is this, Candlestick's last sick joke? Or is something special still waiting.
Pretty please, as the sadists by the Bay say these days, Hummmmm, baby.