A Giant leap for a fan
When the end came, the celebration about to begin, Dick Johnson was sitting by himself in a Red Robin restaurant, sipping a beer and watching the World Series on TV, a needed respite as he made his way home to Boston after a day in Manhattan. Edgar Renteria’s fly ball went over the wall in Arlington, Texas, and right there, at that moment Monday night, Johnson started hooting and hollering.
The San Francisco Giants, his beloved San Francisco Giants, were about to be crowned World Series champs.
“I just let out this yell — couldn’t help myself,’’ said Johnson, who for nearly three decades here in Boston has been curator of the Sports Museum. “I knew it was over. They won!
“I looked around the restaurant, and suddenly I could see I was like the crazy guy in the subway that no one wants to sit near. I was just a nutcase.’’
Johnson, who will celebrate his 55th birthday tomorrow, has been flying higher this past week than a towering Willie Mays homer. He has been a Giants fan for going on a half-century, hitching on to the Black-and-Orange soon after New York’s other team departed the Polo Grounds for the West Coast following the 1957 season.
“I’m bedazzled by it all,’’ said Johnson. “I’m still in a state of wonderment, and that’s not something someone my age often gets to say. Bedazzled. Just bedazzled.’’
As only a curator would, Johnson fixes his official first day of Giants fandom as that day his older brother, Robert, left the family home on Beechmont Street in Worcester for boarding school in the mid ’60s. Robert caught the Giants bug in the ’50s, when he and his dad went to the Polo Grounds and saw Mays hit a home run. The day he left for school, Robert handed over his Giants scrapbook, the one with the headline, “Memories are Made of This,’’ across the cover.
“Just a headline he clipped out of a magazine,’’ recalled Johnson. “Ah, the wisdom of adolescence. I didn’t know until years later it was actually a Dean Martin song.’’
From that point on, Johnson was a young man of dual baseball citizenship, rooting for the AL Red Sox, as any Worcester kid would, but keeping a candle lit, too, for that NL team in Candlestick Park.
“I was 10 years old and I knew it was OK to root for both,’’ he said. “Remember, these were the Roman Mejias/Chuck Schilling Red Sox. And there was no way those Red Sox were one day going to play the Jim Ray Hart/Willie Mays San Francisco Giants. I mean, are you kidding? Just was not going to happen.’’
How amazingly easy it is today to be a fan of an out-of-town team. The Internet. Cable TV. Satellite radio. The connection is simple, instant, sustained.
A kid in Reykjavik can pull on his Cubs hat and follow the distant sons of Ernie Banks pitch-by-pitch, blog-by-blog, no matter what the distance. A front-row seat at Wrigley Field is just 12 strokes on a keyboard. Beam me up, Harry Caray.
Not so for a Giants fan in mid ’60s Worcester. To keep up on Mays, Marichal, McCovey, et al, Johnson relied on the box scores in the Worcester Gazette and feature pieces in the New York Times.
“We had a home subscription that came by mail,’’ Johnson recalled. “The Times covered them a lot, in part because it hadn’t been that long since they left New York, and in part because they had one of the best teams in all baseball.
“And no question they had the best player in Mays. I still say Willie Mays is the game’s Pelé. Baseball’s Bobby Orr.’’
Hearing the Giants on radio was out of the question, unless they were in Philadelphia or New York and, by some miracle of lunar alignment or low pressure front, the Mets or Phillies radio signal skipped all the way to central Massachusetts.
Otherwise, Johnson scurried to a local deli after Sunday Mass and purchased the latest copy of The Sporting News.
“I lived for ‘Giants Jottings,’ ’’ he said. The box scores typically were at least a week old.
Once or twice a year, recalled Johnson, the Giants would be one of the teams featured on Saturday’s “Game of the Week’’ telecast. The Giants. Right there on the screen on Beechmont Street. Could Christopher Columbus ever have spotted anything as foreign, as beautiful?
“I would plan my whole Saturday around that,’’ said Johnson. “I knew, from 2 o’clock on, till the end of the game, I wasn’t going anywhere. Forget it. Me, the TV, and the Giants . . . just glued to the TV. Nothing else. It was like Easter or Christmas in our house. Everything stopped.’’
Decades later, Johnson is able to watch every Giants game on cable at his home in Braintree, a total of 3,111 miles east of AT&T Park. Just like being in a box seat. He doesn’t have to plan his day around it anymore, though he admits to squeezing in a nap after dinner for those games that begin at 10 p.m. or later.
The last out often has him turning in well past 1 a.m.
“Incredible how different it is now,’’ he said. “It meant a little more then because it was harder to follow a team not in the city you live in. You really had to work at it.’’
All the work and all the wait came to an end Monday, not the minute that Renteria’s three-run homer slipped over the wall, but soon enough. For the first time since 1954, the Giants were on top of the world, and so was that guy at Red Robin, the one clutching his tattered “SF’’ ball cap in his hand, hooting and hollering at the TV.
Moments after the game ended, Johnson’s cellphone rang. It was Robert Johnson, now 62 years old and the recently retired curator of Portraits and Drawings at the San Francisco Museum of Art. Not to worry, his younger brother told him, the scrapbook had room for the latest memory.
“My brother’s there, so he’s at the parade,’’ Johnson told a caller Wednesday, with downtown San Francisco about to stage its first World Series parade. “I’ve got my DVR set to record it. It’s on the MLB Channel, thank God.’’
Kevin Paul Dupont’s “On Second Thought’’ appears on Page 2 of the Sunday Globe Sports section. He can be reached at email@example.com.