10/29/10 9:15 PM ET
World Series ballparks are perfect backdrop
By Peter Gammons / MLB.com
The fanbase has long been here. Simply hearing the tales of two Rangers fans about the hazing they took in the streets after Thursday's game was enough to emphasize that this year's Giants team has aroused this region more than the 2002 squad, or 1989 and '62, when they played at Candlestick Park. Northeast Corridorians like to think they are the real baseball fans, but Giants fans are not only from the sixth-biggest market in the nation, they are as phonetic. Forget the tired California typecast; there are five or six Californias, and San Francisco is not like any of the others, because it is an old city. And while some refer to it as "Eastern," it is not; it is, simply, San Francisco, period.
One looks out across the Bay Bridge and watches the FOX shots, and it's easy to remember what the ballpark was before Peter Magowan used his own private financing to build it. It was an abandoned warehouse area, that when one ran the Embarcadaro, was clearly a place to run at 7 a.m., not visit after dark. Magowan has loved baseball all his life. He loved the Giants, even moving from New York the same year that Horace Stoneman moved them from the Polo Grounds. When he was a student at Stanford in the early 1960s, I was a student at Groton School, and we had what was a dinosaur kind of rotisserie league -- only Peter always ended up with Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Jim Ray Hart, et al, and I ended up with Gary Geiger and Lou Clinton. If you look up below the seats over which McCovey Cove homers fly, you'll see a faux copper roofing that was modeled after a shared place in our baseball lives, the roof of Hundred House at Groton, where we both played so many hours of stickball.
Pac Bell/AT&T is purely a baseball stadium built by someone who loves the game. The Ballpark at Arlington similarly was designed and built by George W. Bush and Tom Schieffer.
"We both love baseball," said Schieffer, back from his duty as ambassador to Japan in the Bush Administration. "This is a World Series played in ballparks devoted to a genuine love of the game."
There are endless Bush baseball stories. He named his favorite dog "Spot Fetcher" because his favorite player as Rangers owner was Scott Fletcher. When Tim Russert died, Bush called his widow, Maureen Orth, and asked to pay his respects before the wake began, because he did not want to be noticed, thus taking away from the grieving for a great journalist.
After spending time with the family, Bush made his way out, but not before stopping to shake the hand of Russert's close friend Mike Barnicle, and add, "Is Chase Utley a great player, or what?"
There are no glorious scenics in Arlington, Texas, unless you like the rides at Six Flags. It would be nicer had Tom Hicks continued with the original landscape plans of Bush and Schieffer, which emulated the style of Frederick Law Olmsted.
But the park is a fan's park, and the interest in the Metroplex -- which some calculate as the fourth-largest market in the country, which would make it the largest baseball market with only one baseball franchise -- is wildly higher than at any time since the Rangers moved here from Washington in 1972.
There are those who obsess about television ratings, as if to claim that few across the U.S. care unless the Yankees, Cubs or Red Sox are involved.
Still, these are teams with wildly compelling player storylines, which may be why the fans in the Metroplex and Bay Area are so passionate about each team. As well as the fact that you have to be eligible for Social Security to remember either of these teams winning, as neither San Francisco nor Dallas-Fort Worth has ever experienced a World Series championship.
Cliff Lee has become a marquee player. Josh Hamiton certainly is one. Tim Lincecum is not only an elite pitcher, but he has a Mark Fidrych-like curiousity factor.
Otherwise, these are just baseball teams that haven't got Nike commercial faces or stars that signed contracts worth hundreds of millions.
There are many compelling faces: of Michael Young because he selflessly abandoned his All-Star positions for the good of the game; of Elvis Andrus because he exudes such joy; of the cerebral Brian Wilson because he's made himself into The Prince of Darkness; of Buster Posey because he is young and good, and full of wide-eyed excitement.
But in many ways, the face of this series is Matt Cain. He has no pretense of having an "it" factor. In the last two years, he's 27-19 with a 3.02 ERA and the lowest run support on his staff. He's thrown 441 innings in those two seasons, hasn't missed a start, has failed to finish the fifth inning three times and finished the eighth and/or the ninth 26 times.
He has thrown 21 1/3 innings in three starts in this postseason against the Braves, Phillies and Rangers, and has not allowed an earned run. He has allowed one hit in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"That's his competitiveness," says Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "From day one, he's been our most consistent pitcher. He's a very special guy at a young age."
Cain turned 26 on Oct. 1.
When he went into the interview room after Game 2 of the World Series, he began by crediting Posey for his pitch-calling; remember, it was Cain who originated the nickname "Magic Fingers" for the rookie catcher.
Cain throws into the mid-90s. He elevates in on right-handed batters, away on lefties. His breaking ball is crisp, his changeup superb.
"I approach every game the same way," he said. "I just try to do what I have to do. Buster does a great job guiding me."
He doesn't need LeBron attention, he doesn't beg for the camera. Matt Cain just pitches. And in a postseason of fan-favorite ballparks, scenics, Uribe moments and The Beard, right now he is Mr. October. Just don't expect him to host "Saturday Night Live."
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.