As a boisterous, sold out crowd at AT&T Park looked on, the team almost dropped their home opener before mounting a rousing comeback victory today in the bottom of the 12th inning, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4.
It was a fitting end to a day full of celebrations and ceremonies marking last year’s historic World Series title, the first for the Giants since 1954, and the first since the team moved to San Francisco.
Thousands of fans began to gather outside the ballpark long before the gates opened at 10:35 a.m., with a human tide of orange and black ebbing and flowing, a sea of fans eagerly awaiting the Giants’ first home game of the 2011 season.
Jubilant fans young and old, decked out in all manner of Giants’ gear, arrived early to soak in festivities, and experience all that opening day had to offer.
Mike Travers of Fairfield, who was near the front of line at the main gates before they opened, arrived at the park with his daughter at 9 a.m.
The longtime Giants fan, wearing a new gold-lettered Tim Lincecum jersey, was looking forward to the start of his first year as a season ticket holder.
“Plus, it’s our first opening day ever, so we’re really excited,” Travers said.
Next to the Willie Mays statue in front of the stadium, Paul Stavros of San Francisco was waiting to meet a friend before heading into the park.
“I’ve been a life long Giants fan–ever since they came out in ’58 and started playing at Seals Stadium,” Stavros said.
Last year’s World Series victory was especially sweet for Stavros, who added, “I was in the stands in 1962 when they lost to the Yankees in Game 7.”
Pointing to his World Series champs sweatshirt and hat, he said, “These don’t come along too often!”
When the gates did open, a loud cheer arose from crowd, which quickly began streaming into the park, heading for the souvenir stands and excitedly buying up special “Opening Day” T-shirts, pins and baseballs.
The merchandise, emblazoned with imagery of the World Series trophy, was selling briskly, as fans seemed to want to continue to capture the magic of last season’s victory.
The throngs settled into their seats by the time the pre-game ceremonies began around 12:45 p.m.
From a podium placed near home plate, longtime Giants’ broadcaster Jon Miller introduced the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, then welcomed the Bay Area Grammy-award winning band Train, who performed their signature song “Save Me, San Francisco.”
As the tune neared its crescendo, confetti streamers shot up from behind the center field wall, a section of panels opened up and the 2011 Giants team came jogging into the field, led by manager Bruce Bochy, all greeted by thunderous applause from the crowd.
“When the crowd just erupted, I got chills, goosebumps,” said Cody Ross, the National League Championship Series MVP, in the clubhouse after the game.
As Train finished the song, the members of the group joined in on clapping for the defending world champions, who gathered in a long row stretching out along the third base line.
The World Series trophy, which Giants representatives have toured around the country since the team won the Fall Classic on Nov. 1, was then brought out and set on a pedestal in front of the team, sparkling in the springtime sun.
Each member of the roster was then announced one by one, drawing growing roars from the fans, especially for players key to the Giants’ post-season campaign victories, including Matt Cain, Brian Wilson and Tim Lincecum.
Miller introduced a video clip, shown on the scoreboard screen, featuring footage of Wilson securing the final out in Texas for the World Series win, and the ensuing on field celebration that followed.
After re-living that magic moment, Wilson was then asked to come forward, accompanied by James Sammet, introduced to the crowd as a Giants fan who has been a season ticket holder since the team moved to San Francisco in 1958, and was chosen to represent the millions of fans that the team has had over the years.
Wilson proceeded to pull out the ball that he had thrown for the last pitch that secured the win, and in a symbolic gesture, handed it over to Sammet, to represent the connection between the team and their fans. The ball will eventually be put on display at AT&T Park for all to see.
“We didn’t just win this individually, we didn’t just win this as a team,” Wilson said. “We won this as a community.”
The proceedings took a serious and somber turn when the entire team gathered together in the infield to pay tribute to Brian Stow, the Giants fan who is still in a coma after being brutally beaten in Los Angeles after a game at Dodger Stadium on March 31.
While Stow’s photo was shown on the scoreboard screen, a moment of silence was held in his honor. At the end of the gesture, the crowd started chanting “Beat L.A.!” over and over.
The ceremonial first pitch was then delivered by the entire team, with Matt Cain, the longest tenured player on the Giants’ roster, throwing to Bochy, himself a former catcher.
For many, the highlight event for the day was up next, as the team
re-gathered along the third base line and Giants’ great Willie Mays emerged
from the dugout carrying the 2010 World Series championship flag, which he handed to Bochy, who in turn passed it along to the team, each player handing it off to the next.
At the end of the line was the man for whom “Fear The Beard” was coined, closing pitcher Wilson, who set off on a run across the field as his theme song “Jump Around” began playing. The still-bearded fan-favorite then scaled the outfield wall, made his way past the edge of the bleachers, and up to the arcade area where he helped raise the flag, all while more than 40,000 fans went crazy.
With the pre-game pageantries over for the day–the team will receive their World Series rings before tomorrow night’s game–the Giants then went on to win a back and forth game and ended the day on a high note for the players, coaches and all involved in the Giants’ organization.
In a post-game interview session, Bochy summed it up from his managers’ viewpoint.
“This was a very emotional day with the special pre-game ceremony and raising the flag-plus it was a great game,” Bochy said.
Former Giant Will Clark–who began working for the club as a special assistant in January 2009, and was part of the 1989 team that lost the “Battle of The Bay” World Series–was particularly proud of the team that brought it all home.
“It’s been awesome. Three years back with the ball club now, and they win a World Series championship,” Clark said. “For a guy who was an alumnus, and now being back in the organization, it’s pretty special.”
William Neukom, managing general partner of the Giants, encapsulated his emotions of the day quite simply: “A lot of joy, a lot of pride, and a lot of humility.”
Sean McCourt, Bay City News