Beyond Golf — 23 December 2013 by Jim Street
Candlestick Park evokes memories

One of the oldest — and most maligned — stadiums in the country ends its long run on Monday night when the 49ers face the Falcons in what is expected to be the final event at Candlestick Park.

During its 53-year history, there were six World Series games played at Candlestick, two All-Star Games, several college football games and the final Beatles concert.

Constructed over a two-year period — 1958-59 — Candlestick was the second home for both the MLB Giants (1960-1999) and the NFL 49ers (1971-2013). But let’s be honest. It was built in the wrong place (too windy and cold) and for the wrong reason (cheap land owned by a shady dude, George Christopher).

That being said, to those of us who grew up on the West Coast in the 1960s and later, Candlestick Park was like heaven. We could watch some of the best baseball and football players in the world show off their skills right in front of our eyes.

How cool was that.

The first time I walked into Candlestick Park was Memorial Day weekend in 1965, when my dad drove us from our home in Dorris, CA, some 350 miles north of the San Francisco Bay Area, to attend a Saturday afternoon game between the Giants and the Cardinals, his all-time favorite team.

It was sunny, but windy and chilly, that day. Jackets were needed at Candlestick, perhaps the only place in the region where there was a chill in the air – and hot dog wrappers blown onto the outfield iron-link fence.

The original Candlestick Park

The original Candlestick Park

A couple of years later, as a student at San Jose State, I attended a handful of Giants games. On one of those occasions, it was so hot in San Jose during the day we decided to wear shorts and short-sleeve shirts to the night game at Candlestick. It was a bad decision. It got so windy and cold we had to leave midway through the game.

The ‘Stick became my work-place on weekends during the mid- to late-‘70s as the49ers and later the Giants beat reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. Oddly enough, the weather in SF was warmer in September and October during the football season than it was during the baseball season.

Cold nights and bad Giants baseball teams made for plenty of empty seats in those days.

In ’77, for instance, from Sept. 12-16 the Giants played a series of games against the Braves and Astros that drew, in order, “crowds” of 1,092, 1,029,1,033, 1,612 and 3,014. Traffic in and out was a breeze.

Believe it or not, each of those turnouts was better than the 877 fans who attended a Giants-Braves game in Atlanta a week earlier.

As “Demolish Candlestick Park Day” approaches, the rundown facility has been remembered for as many positives as negatives, like “The Catch” –Dwight Clark hauling in a Joe Montana pass to score a touchdown that provided the points needed to beat the Cowboys in the NFC championship game on Jan. 10, 1982.  I was one of the lucky ones in attendance that day, being part of the Mercury News’ coverage team in the upper-deck football press box.

It was the same press box that was shakin’ like the dickens prior to Game 3 of the 1989 World Series.

Football Press Box survived quake of '89

Football Press Box survived quake of ’89

For the first (and only time), the Fall Classic was interrupted because of an earthquake. Several national writers, sensing that the press box could collapse and fall into the seats, scrambled across the front row table top, dancing over computers and telephones, trying to get the hell out of there.

It also was a little weird to watch some fans’ reactions when the rock and rolling stopped. Many of them cheered, unaware that part of SF was burning, a large section of the Bay Bridge (which Tacoma baseball writer Larry LaRue and I had driven over less than two hours prior to the ‘quake) had fallen and there were many casualties in Oakland, where the viaduct leading to the Bay Bridge
collapsed.

Getting from Point A (Candlestick) to Point B (a location that had working electricity) was no easy task. It took almost two hours to travel the 30 or so miles south to Palo Alto, the northernmost city south of SF that had lights.

Even so, a story that had been written in the dark in the back seat of a car and then sent to the Post-Intelligencer via word of mouth thanks to a small flashlight, was a story in itself.

Candlestick’s turf, both natural and fake, included footprints from the likes of MLB Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, and NFL HOFers Montana, Jerry Rice, O.J. Simpson and Steve Young, along with HOF broadcaster Lon Simmons and HOF writers Bob Stevens and Nick Peters.

As time marches on, and the “San Francisco” 49ers move into their state-of-the-art stadium in Santa Clara, Candlestick Park will be mentioned less and less each year. Maybe a few fans will even miss it.

 

 

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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